What now for Scottish Labour?

A new leader can only start the long recovery process – the party should prepare for a generation ou

Following its disastrous showing at the Holyrood elections earlier this year, the Labour Party in Scotland has set-out plans for a comprehensive overhaul of its internal structures.

With the aim of becoming more responsive to the aspirations of Scottish voters, it will get a new Scotland-wide leader with substantial policy making powers, as well as a new base of operations in Edinburgh. Further, local branches will be made to correspond to the constituency boundaries of the Scottish, rather than the UK, parliament and all devolved issues will be decided exclusively by members and elected representatives north of the border.

The most immediate challenge for the newly reformed Scottish Labour Party is to find a way of halting the SNP's momentum. After winning an unprecedented overall majority in May, the Nationalists have gone from strength to strength. The most recent Ipsos/Mori poll registered support for Alex Salmond's administration at 49 per cent - an astonishing achievement for a party of government during a period austerity. Meanwhile, Salmond himself enjoys a 62 per cent approval rating.

Labour cannot allow the SNP to go into the forthcoming independence referendum - scheduled for the second half of this parliamentary session - riding high on a wave of popular enthusiasm. But what can it do to put the brakes on the separatist juggernaut?

The main element in any Labour revival must be genuinely effective leadership. So far just three candidates - Johann Lamont MSP, Ken Macintosh MSP and Tom Harris MP - have put their names forward as potential replacements for Iain Gray. (Attempts to persuade more established figures like Jim Murphy, Douglas Alexander and even Alistair Darling to stand have been unsuccessful.)

As Gray's deputy over the last four years Lamont has direct experience of leading the MSP group in battle against the SNP government and enjoys a fearsome reputation as a tough political street fighter. But in her tribalism, her intellectual conservatism and her almost obsessive hatred of nationalism, she represents everything that burdens Labour in its efforts to reconnect with an increasingly assertive Scottish electorate and couldn't possibly lead the party back to power.

Macintosh's problem is the reverse: he is seen as being too low-key and conciliatory. An MSP since the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, he has never developed much of a public profile. It is easy to imagine him being casually brushed aside - or worse - by Salmond at First Minister's Questions every Thursday.

That leaves Tom Harris, MP for Glasgow South, as the only credible challenger. Harris is almost alone among the party's big hitters in having grasped the scale of the crisis which Scottish Labour faces. In a recent outspoken attack on Labour's "arrogance and complacency", he warned that the UK was "on the brink of the greatest upheaval in its history" and said it was time to recognise that "it's Scotland first, the Union second, the Labour Party third".

Yet Harris, too, is fatally compromised. His long association with Blairism will not sit well with Scotland's social democratic majority, nor with an activist base still struggling to come to terms with the party's right-ward drift over the last two decades. Indeed, it was Labour's advocacy of university tuition fees, the privatisation of the NHS and PFI which allowed the SNP to claim the left-of-centre ground in Scottish politics - a key factor in its success.

But the fact is, even if another, better suited candidate does emerge, Labour in Scotland cannot seriously expect to win the next Scottish election. First of all, barring an extraordinary collapse in support, the SNP, with nearly twice as many MSPs as Labour, will almost certainly remain the largest party at Holyrood in 2016. This means it will retain the 'moral right' to form a third term government. Secondly, the process of re-building a party after a shattering defeat normally takes two elections. Thirdly, there is no guarantee that the proposed reforms will translate into electoral success.

The next leader of the Scottish Labour Party will therefore be forced into a care-taker role, guiding the party through a difficult period of transition. The most he or she can reasonably hope to do is make sure the SNP loses the independence referendum and drops a dozen or so MSPs. Perhaps this explains the reluctance of Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander to give up the relative comfort of the Westminster bubble for the harsher winds of the Scottish political landscape.

James Maxwell is a Scottish political journalist. He is based between Scotland and London.

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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.