The Strange Death of Labour in Scotland

The Strange Death of Labour in Scotland

The Strange Death of Labour in Scotland

The Strange Death of Labour in Scotland


The Scottish Labour Party is in an unprecedented position. Having been the leading party in Scotland for fifty years it lost an election and office to the SNP in 2007. This book addresses, examines and analyses the last thirty years of Scottish Labour, from the arrival of Thatcherism in 1979 to the aftermath of the party's defeat in the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections. It asks fundamental questions about the nature of Scottish Labour, its dominance of Scottish politics, the wider politics of Scotland and whether the decline is irreversible. Covering both contemporary events and recent history, it draws on extensive research including archival sources and interviews with some of the key participants in Scottish Labour.


Scottish Labour has until recently dominated Scottish politics and society. Despite its influence and reach, it has not, astonishingly, been the subject of a serious survey, although there are numerous studies of the history of Scottish Labour, of the rise and fall of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), of the realities and folklore of ‘Red Clydeside’, and assorted studies of some of its most famous figures of the distant past. the sole exception to this is the collection published by one of the authors of this book, The Scottish Labour Party: History, Institutions and Ideas (Hassan 2004).

This book seeks to fill the gap by providing the first in-depth study of a party that has played such a formative role in shaping Scotland’s recent history. Our aim is to offer a detailed account of Scottish Labour’s recent history over the three decades since the 1979 defeat of Labour and arrival of Thatcherism, and even more, since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. This analysis scrutinises the multi-dimensional nature of Scottish Labour, a party operating at a Scottish and British level, and examines the politics and dynamics of the party in the arenas of the Scottish Parliament, Westminster and, to some degree, local government.

There are many paradoxes about Scottish Labour: that it had been Scotland’s leading party for several decades, but never won a majority of the popular vote; that it sees itself as a radical party drawing on a rich set of traditions, but has often embodied conservative practice; and that it has emphasised its own distinctiveness and narrative of difference, while the very idea and practice of what ‘Scottish Labour’ is has always been more complicated and negotiated than first appears.

Our study attempts to grapple with these paradoxes. What kind of party is Scottish Labour, and what kind of politics has it articulated and expressed? in addressing this question we explore the following themes:

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