AROUND 1200 seats will be in play during next month’s local authority elections and already it’s become clear that the task of fielding a full first team of candidates to fight them is stretching Scottish Labour’s resources to the max.

Last month, it was revealed that party bosses had issued a begging letter to its members asking them to volunteer to stand for some council seats. Addressing concerns that this might involve them having to, you know, actually campaign and know about political stuff the party was eager to put their minds at ease.

A letter sent by the Aberdeen Central Labour Party said: “We are primarily looking for people who will be willing for their name to go down onto the ballot and, in doing so, will allow hundreds of people to vote Labour. Doing anything additional as a candidate will not be a requirement.”

Going by the inert performances of many who represent the purplish thistle at Holyrood “doing anything additional as a candidate” has been pursued with vigour into their work lives. To be fair to party chiefs, it’s absolutely vital that Scottish Labour is represented on the ballot paper. Just because few people want to be seen to be associated with this party doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t still many Labour supporters requiring to be represented. As the party missive acknowledges, Labour supporters in Aberdeenshire would effectively become disenfranchised if no one was prepared to be identified with the party on a ballot paper.

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This week, it’s been revealed that dozens of Scottish Labour’s local authority candidates have been outed as supporters of Scottish independence or, at the very least, supportive of a second referendum. This is despite Anas Sarwar, leader of Labour in Scotland, effectively issuing cease and desist orders to all potential candidates who’ve expressed even the slightest scrap of pro-independence sentiment.

Perhaps, having failed to stimulate any further interest in standing for Labour, the party has quietly dropped its Union Jack provision. If so, it would signal an outbreak of common sense in Scottish Labour. There are now barely three weeks to go until polling day in the council elections. It would be difficult to get round all of these imposters and banish them before May 5.

It’s not really surprising that Scottish Labour has now been forced into such desperate measures simply to field a full complement of candidates at a national election. At the start of the 2014 Scottish independence campaign, support for Yes was running at around 28%. That it finished that campaign on 45% in less than a year was due in no small part to tens of thousands of traditional labour supporters having been persuaded of the merits of Scottish self-determination.

Nothing that Scottish Labour has done inside or outside of Holyrood in the eight years that have since elapsed has persuaded many of them to return to Labour. Indeed, the party’s tactics seemed designed to dissuade them from even thinking about it. During the independence campaign, I encountered several committed Labour people who had experienced an orchestrated campaign of intimidation and ridicule for expressing pro-independence views. They had thought, somewhat naively, that being committed to social justice and fair distribution of the UK’s assets would be sufficient for them still to be regarded as authentic Labour supporters. It seemed though, that party chiefs were more concerned with being loyal to the Union Jack than with being true to traditional Labour values.

At Holyrood, politicians such as Monica Lennon and the former MSP Neil Findlay experienced more than a degree of internal obloquy for daring to suggest that merely backing a second independence referendum was not inconsistent with Labour values.

They, like many others, felt that the continuing dominance of the SNP at every election – both Scottish and UK – represented, at the very least, a mandate for another referendum. Their preference was still for Scotland to belong to the Union, but this was never enough for a party whose shift to the right has been proportionate with the number of votes it’s lost in Scotland.

It’s also expected that Labour’s UK leader, Sir Keir Starmer, will put in a rare Scottish appearance before the council elections. Presumably, party apparatchiks will move quickly to clamp down on any questions relating to the tax affairs of Rishi Sunak and his family. Since it was revealed that Sunak’s wife – heir to a billion-pound family fortune – had used the morally ambiguous non-dom qualification to avoid paying her dues to the UK exchequer on annual £11.5 million share dividends, Sir Keir has been somewhat subdued.

But given that the leader of the UK Labour Party is also a multi-millionaire, any criticism of the status of others in the super-rich category can become a bit of a moral maze. No one is suggesting that Sir Keir is anything other than squeaky clean on paying his dues on his accumulated wealth. But when someone is able to amass such eye-wateringly huge amounts of money and property in the course of half a lifetime it usually means that several others have been stiffed along the way.

Sir Keir has recently taken to placing a huge Union Jack in his study whenever he’s interviewed on television. He’s a very enthusiastic supporter of the British armed forces and making partnerships with business in helping the UK recover from the pandemic. Perhaps he’ll choose to leave his big Union Jack in England when he ventures north of the border. Perhaps too he might put his name to another letter if Scottish Labour are still struggling for candidates who are pure in heart and spirit regarding the question of Scottish independence. This one could be addressed to Conservatives.

Dear Conservative voters,

As you may know, Scottish Labour has encountered resistance in its efforts to field a full complement of candidates for the forthcoming council elections. It’s come to our attention that you were unlucky in your own efforts to represent the Conservative Party at these elections. However, might I extend an invitation to represent Scottish Labour instead?

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As you know, we are wrapped as tightly in the Union Jack as you and we are keen to ensure that no pro-independence voters insinuate themselves into our team. We too love the British Army and we regard ourselves as the natural party of UK business.

We’re not really that keen on trade unions either these days, and we’ve chivvied out all known Socialists from Labour and hunted them since that unhinged radical, Jeremy Corbyn, was in charge.

We have much more in common than you might otherwise have imagined. Please give it some consideration.

Yours in the red, white and blue,

Sir Keir Starmer