Angela Doran-Timson quit Anas Sarwar's Scottish Labour in favour of the Tory party

ONE curious outcome arising from the new Tory populism is the rise in political defections from crumbling Labour to the Conservative Party. Recently we saw Tom Harris, the Labour MP for Glasgow South till booted out in 2015, announce he'd be backing the Tories and become a columnist for the Daily Telegraph. Worse, last week Harris was appointed to an official post advising the (superfluous) Scotland Office. The Tories have also put Harris on the board of the cash-guzzling HS2 train company.

Rumours are rife of more defections in the wings. At the start of this month’s Labour Party conference, the London media was full of stories that three prominent Labour MPs “had opened lines of communications” with Tory parliamentary whips, because of their “despair” at the woeful leadership of Keir Starmer.

Last year, Iraqi-born Faten Hameed - Labour’s candidate for Glasgow Central in the two previous General Elections - announced her decision to join the Tories, citing the party’s “reluctance” to fight “the SNP’s attempts to divide the country”.  She went on: “The Scottish Conservatives have shown they are the real party of blue-collar workers in Scotland”.

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Now comes news that Angela Doran-Timson, Labour councillor for Broxburn, Uphall and Winchburgh and wife of West Lothian Tory group leader Damian Doran-Timson, has switched to the Conservatives. Doran-Timson claims she is motivated by Labour’s supposed failure “to stand up to the SNP”. Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has welcomed her defection as hard evidence that the Tory party is “the real alternative” to the SNP Government.

Some will find Doran-Timson’s sudden change of heart less than convincing. Not that wives cannot have different politics than their spouses, of course. But West Lothian is run by a minority Labour administration with Tory support – your typical “Better Together” lash-up premised on nothing more than keeping the SNP out of administration.  

Doran-Timson's change of colours leaves the balance of power unchanged but puts a bit more Tory pressure on Labour to dance to the Conservative’s tune. Her defection means there are now 10 Labour councillors, eight Tories, one independent and 14 SNP.

If there is a lesson here it is for Scottish Labour to learn. Back in 2017, Aberdeen Labour councillors famously formed a coalition with the Tories to freeze out the SNP from forming a local administration. As in West Lothian, Labour councillors in Aberdeen were less motivated by class issues, good municipal governance or protecting the interests of poor people. On the contrary, pure blind hatred of Scotland’s right to choose led the Labour members to side with the local Conservative upholders of austerity and Brexit.

True, an embarrassed Scottish Labour leadership was forced to repudiate its Aberdeen councillors for making a deal with the Tories. Nine were duly suspended from the party, including council leader Jenny Laing and Lord Provost Barney Crockett. However, the Aberdeen Nine remained unrepentant and kept their council posts and municipal limos - thanks to Tory votes. Last month, they were quietly taken back into the fold and cleared to stand as candidates in next year’s local elections. Labour's executive committee pronounced the nine had shown "contrition" and agreed to seek permission next time, before forming any similar deals with the Tories. So that’s all right then.

Except that the defection of Angela Doran-Timson in West Lothian (and the recruitment of Tom Harris to the Scotland Office) shows the Tory beast has more in mind than a few local council coalition deals. The whole project of the Boris Johnson government is to destroy the Labour Party organisationally and capture its entire voting base – the so-called “Red Wall” strategy. Indeed, so intent are the Tories on removing Labour permanently as a prospective alternative government at a UK level, they are even prepared to risk effective climate change strategy by bribing voters in England.

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Last week the Johnson government deliberately awarded its new, £1bn carbon capture project to consortia based in the English North East and North West – literally hundreds of miles from the only logical CO2 undersea storage wells, which are located in Scotland. This was an obvious electoral bribe as well as a warning to Holyrood to play political ball with London or risk economic isolation.

Labour needs to ask itself: Is a Tory party so dedicated to retaining power that it will eschew tackling the climate emergency in favour of wholesale political bribery, really a reliable political ally? Boris doesn’t care about the planet. And he doesn’t really care about the Union per se. He and his ex-hedge fund, millionaire Cabinet ministers care about power, and only power.

Like the Big Bad Wolf, the Tories will promise Labour councillors and Labour MPs all sorts of blandishments to defect or cooperate. But they will eat you politically in the end.