Mary Lockhart: The ‘Labour maverick’ who still wants independence


Mary Lockhart became a stalwart for the Yes movement during the independence referendum, now she wants to stand for Labour in the Scottish elections

“WE NEED Labour mavericks in the parliament,” Mary Lockhart tells CommonSpace.

The slogan is the former Co-operative party chair’s pitch to join the list for Mid Scotland and Fife for the 2016 Scottish elections. But it’s also the reflection of someone who’s been around Labour all her life and who thinks both the need and opportunity for change have arrived.

The maverick tag comes along with her support for Scottish independence, a stance which caused much consternation in April 2013 when she announced her support for a Yes vote and, like thousands of other Scots, took to the campaign trail.

Treasured memories of the referendum years include speaking at the STUC women’s conference in 2013 in favour of a Yes vote and addressing a miners club in Kelty she first visited as a youngster but which decades later still featured many of the same faces.

Yet her support for independence has left her somewhat on the margins of the Labour left.

“I haven’t changed my mind about independence.” Mary Lockhart

She is not part of the unofficial drive by some leftists in the party to increase the representation of socialists among Labour’s MSPs, including by the Campaign for Socialism (CfS) group, which is the force behind party leader Jeremy Corbyn in Scotland .

She says: “I don’t think the Campaign for Socialism is overtly backing people but I think they do have a possible cross-Scotland slate.

I’m not part of that. I’ve been a member of the campaign for years and still am, and still support it. But the campaign was very active in making the case for a No vote in the referendum.

“I’ve maintained my affiliation because I’m a socialist in the Labour party. But its my own choice to become almost semi-detached. Because I haven’t changed my mind about independence.”

This continued support for independence would indeed make her a maverick among Labour cohorts if she was to enter the Scottish Parliament after the May elections. But she faces stiff competition to get onto that list, not least from the party’s deputy leader Alex Rowley and from sitting region Labour MSPs Jayne Baxter, Claire Brennan-Baker and Richard Simpson.

In fact, as she candidly admits, she doesn’t expect to get on the list, with the results being announced on 4 February. But that’s only as pessimistic an outlook as she has for Labour’s chances in the election. Her belief that Labour is likely to be “gubbed” relates in large part to the damage done to the party during the referendum.

“Labour’s personal animus against the SNP isn’t rigorous or objective.” Mary Lockhart

The cross party Better Together campaign took its toll on Labour. While this became obvious from the election results after May 2015 when the party lost 40 seats, what was less clear to outsiders was the internal damage going on at the height of the campaign itself.

“Labour disappeared itself inside Better Together,” Lockhart says. And it was this as much as anything else that harmed the party’s public image.

However some of the worst pain was inflicted during squabbles over Scottish Labour’s internal review.

Lockhart adresses an anti-bedroom tax demonstration

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Lockhart says: “Part of Johann Lamont’s problem when she was leader of the Scottish Labour party was that some of the things she wanted to do in the review we had after we lost in the 2011 parliamentary elections really were quite different from what the UK party was prepared to accept.

“All that was happening in the run-up to the referendum, and it was very bad for her inside the party.

“She felt that her position as leader of something called the Scottish Labour party was untenable when the articulated views of her and the Scottish members were overruled.”

“There was this great big bang and Jim Murphy is what popped out.” Mary Lockhart

By the 2013 Scottish party conference, Lockhart felt that ‘Project Fear’ was making itself known. Lamont’s speech included an approach of “attacking the SNP” which made her “uncomfortable”.

“It’s become the equivalent of a personal thing, a personal animus. It’s not sufficiently rigorous and objective. That was when we saw the ‘Project Fear’ stuff emerging.”

Like many members of the Labour party in Scotland, this straining of Labour’s identity was also a strain on Lockhart’s membership of the party.

But it was the election of Jim Murphy as leader that led her to briefly discontinue her party dues (though, perhaps providentially, the bank failed to register the cancellation of payment).

Today it seems like Murphy was a frightening but ultimately inconsequential result of the party crisis: “There was this great big bang and Jim Murphy is what popped out,” she says.

And then there was the great turn-around for the Labour left in the UK, leading to some fresh hope for the left in Scottish Labour. Jeremy Corbyn’s election brought some veterans back to Labour, and fresh blood as well.

Lockhart’s policy concerns chime with the new Corbynite agenda. She wants a new generation of council housing and an end to the privatisation of public services. Her candidacy is backed by the Co-operative Party and the building workers union, UCATT.

But it’s not just the left wing policies that make him attractive.

“He’s just so unblemished,” Lockhart says.”Most politicians; people have a general awareness that they are in this for their own careers. I don’t think there’s any sense of that with Corbyn.”

“Most of the people who would have joined for Corbyn had already joined the SNP in Scotland.” Mary Lockhart

Yet Lockhart understands that the soul of Labour remains in the balance. She doesn’t yet believe that attacks on Corbyn have weakened his position: “There aren’t any more anti-Corbyn MPs than there were in September,” she says.

But in Scotland, the grass-roots surge of recent months comprises not only of Corbyn fans, but also of people motivated by their unionism.

She says: “They are people who don’t like the Tories, but they want to keep the union. Most of the people who would have joined for Corbyn had already joined the SNP in Scotland.”

These tensions within Labour haven’t made Lockhart feel that the answer is the independence movement’s main political vehicle: “The SNP has moved to the right since it came to government,” she says.

“A lot of people say that the SNP is economically neo-liberal and socially populist. They forget that neo-liberalism is itself a form of populism.”

What irks her most about the SNP today is that for her it has taken on the image of the spectre that almost forced her from her political home: “The SNP is New Labour,” she says.

For a Labour maverick it seems, the list of political adversaries is a long one.

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Picture courtesy of Mary Lockhart