Scottish Labour Party (1976)

Scottish Labour Party (1976)

The Scottish Labour Party (SLP) was formed on January 18, 1976 as a breakaway from the UK Labour Party, by members disaffected with the then Labour Government's failure to secure a devolved Scottish Assembly, as well as with its social and economic agenda. The formation of the SLP was led by Jim Sillars, then MP for South Ayrshire, John Robertson, then MP for Paisley and Alex Neil, the UK Labour Party's senior Scottish researcher. By 1979 the Scottish Labour Party had lost its seats in the House of Commons, and in 1981 it was formally disbanded.

Almost immediately the SLP became the focus for entryism from the International Marxist Group (IMG), and at the party's first congress in October 1976 the IMG were expelled, along with a number of branches whose members were not associated with the IMG. The expellees formed a rival Scottish Labour Party (Democratic Wing), and this in turn later renamed itself the Scottish Socialist League (SSL). Gradually those members of the SSL who had not been associated with the IMG dropped out, and the SSL was reabsorbed into the Trotskyist Fourth International.

The SLP had little electoral success, winning only three council seats and polling only 583 votes in the Garscadden by-election in 1978. At the 1979 UK general election the SLP fought three seats, including Sillars' attempt at being re-elected (Robertson chose to step down). Sillars came close to retaining his seat, but this was clearly a personal vote built up over the years he had already served as an MP, as the other two candidates polled very poorly indeed.

This failure prompted the SLP to disband; and members either fell out of active politics, re-joined the Labour Party, or chose to join the Scottish National Party (SNP), which both Sillars and Neil did, with both rising to high office in the SNP.

The SLP adventure is generally looked upon as an ambitious failure, but Sillars has himself put this down to a lack of planning before the decision to launch the party. Unlike the SLP, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) meticulously planned their breakaway from the Labour Party, and were much more successful. Sillars has claimed that the SLP did at least provide a forerunner to the SNP's later dialogue with the left.

The SLP had a number of members who would later go on to achieve a name for themselves as a mainstream Labour politician, including John McAllion who became MP and then MSP for Dundee East, Maria Fyfe one time MP for Glasgow Maryhill, Colin Boyd, the former Lord Advocate, and Charlie Gordon, the current MSP for Glasgow Cathcart. These individuals chose to join (or in some cases re-join) the Labour Party, with the increased likelihood of the rewards of elected office, rather than follow Sillars into the SNP.


H.M.Drucker: "Breakaway: The Scottish Labour Party", Edinburgh: EUSPB (1977)

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