WHEN I started out as a journalist more years ago than I want to remember, the Labour Party was all-powerful in Scotland, returning a huge majority of Scottish MPs and in control of most councils – and certainly all the biggest. Its tentacles spread throughout civic Scotland and most Scottish newspapers were broadly in the Labour camp.

I remembered those days yesterday listening to Anas Sarwar, the latest in a long line of recent Scottish Labour leaders, talking on Radio Scotland as if those days were still with us. He seemed under the impression that Labour policies still mattered; that his party actually had some hope of getting its policies enacted in Holyrood and in Westminster; as if it had a contribution to make to shaping Scotland’s future.

I know it takes time for a party which once ruled the political roost in Scotland to get used to its new position in the landscape, but really. It’s been years since Labour slipped into irrelevance in Scotland and it should have come to terms with the situation by now.

There’s a lot about what Sarwar says that I like. He’s right when he says Boris Johnson is mounting a terrible assault on the living standards of the poorest people in the UK. He’s right when he talks about the need for a proper recovery from Covid; a recovery guided by the principles of equality and justice. He’s right about the need for a socialist Scotland to stand against the greed and cruelty of the Tories, just as Kezia Dugdale was right when she delivered a similar message what now seems like a long time ago.

Anas Sarwar and Kezia Dugdale are good people, but they can’t honestly believe that the current Labour Party strategy in Scotland has any relevance to the problems faced by those most vulnerable in the country. It has none.

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I spent the 1980s working in towns in Ayrshire, which bore the brunt of Margaret Thatcher’s undisguised attempt to dismantle the institutions of working-class Scotland, to tear apart families and communities and to sacrifice the notion of society on the altar of naked self-interest.

All those towns were within the boundaries of local councils, which talked a good game about protecting local people from the worst excesses of Thatcherism but simply did not have the powers to save their towns from being ravaged and wasted. The scourge of unemployment spread, drug abuse took root in our most deprived areas, more and more families were left isolated and bereft of any real support.

I still remember the day Tony Blair defeated the Tories. For the first time in years there was a sense of hope, a feeling of optimism, a belief that at last we had a government which understood what people needed and was determined to provide it.

In a sense, that air of excitement and a real, tangible possibility of change makes the dreadful failure which followed even harder to bear and certainly impossible to forgive. How could it have come about that those hopes would die on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan? How could Britain have been persuaded to buy an entirely fraudulent argument that there was any connection between that terrible day on September 11, 2001 and Iraq?

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How could a Labour Party which stood shoulder to shoulder with George W Bush on the most ill-advised military operation in modern history still claim any moral authority?

Thatcher and Blair combined to wake Scotland out of its political torpor. Thatcher by showing there was a political chasm between the Tories and Scotland which could never be bridged; Blair by telling us that even on those relatively rare occasions when Scotland got the Westminster government it voted for, Labour could not be trusted with our dreams and our ambitions.

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SIX years later we kicked Labour out of power in the Scottish Parliament. Then to show that wasn’t a one-off aberration, we elected a majority SNP government in 2011, despite an electoral system which we were told ruled out any majority government. Then to ram the point home, we came unbelievably close to vote for our independence in 2014. The SNP have never been out of power since.

What is it about the Labour Party that simply refuses to listen to the message the Scottish people have sent it time and time again?

In his radio interview yesterday morning, Anas Sarwar showed that the Labour Party in Scotland has not learned a single lesson in the last two decades. He believes his party is entitled to be in power in Scotland and simply cannot understand why we don’t agree.

Look at the UK today and weep. We are governed by clowns and charlatans unable even to properly manage the consequences of winning the only big idea they had for Britain’s future. Not only has Brexit not brought us any of the benefits Boris Johnson and his cronies promised, it has plunged us into crisis after crisis as a direct result.

Look at the disasters which have unfolded since Boris Johnson’s much-touted trade deal took effect on January 1. Scotland’s fishing industry on its knees, the decimation of our exports to the EU, staff shortages in hospitality and tourism industries as the predicted exodus of EU seasonal workers became a reality, the moger of the Northern Ireland protocol, the lorry driver shortages which have led to empty shelves, unreliable petrol deliveries and now threaten supplies of Christmas goods and food … it’s literally unbelievable.

And while Brexit chaos has been inflicted on us by the Conservative government, they are not the only ones who deserve the blame. The Labour Party has watched powerless, unable to even formulate a coherent response, never mind an effective opposition. The party’s shadow Brexit minister Baroness Chapman’s response this week? She said Remainers need to “get over it” and move on. That, then, is the Labour Party’s message to Scotland.

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The trouble for Labour is that Scotland has an alternative to getting over it and moving on. We can move on from a UK described this week by a European expert as “well and truly f*****” and move into a new era in which we have control over our own future.

Anas Sarwar continues to stand against not just independence itself, but even the very idea of Scotland being given the ability to vote. He’d rather join his party bosses in London in watching helplessly as Scotland sinks further into post-Brexit chaos, because they are more interested in retaining potential voters north of the Border than in embracing democracy and protecting our industries and our future.

I think Scotland’s march to independence will continue regardless of Anas Sarwar’s actions, but it’s our job to attract as many recruits to the cause as possible to make the Yes majority solid in indyref2. Labour Party members should feel able to vote for independence without feeling they are somehow betraying the party they have belonged to for years. Anas Sarwar should tell them they are free to do so – there is no intellectual and moral argument for not doing so.

The alternative is political oblivion for him and for his party.