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Row over Scottish Labour ‘branch office’ which is ‘powerless’ against anti-Semitism


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SCOTTISH Labour must be more than a branch office if it is to tackle anti-Semitism and restore faith among members, senior Labour figures and Jewish leaders claim.

In the week that the debate over anti-Semitism was reignited, Ephraim Borowski, head of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, said Richard Leonard was trying to lead his party “with one hand tied behind his back” as he is unable to take action against members accused of racism.

It comes amid growing frustration over several Scottish cases, including one member, from Edinburgh, who set up an anti-Zionist organisation at Labour Party HQ while suspended from the party.

Pete Gregson, who said he believed the ‘Holocaust was exaggerated for political gain’ by Israel, set up Labour Against Zionist Islamophobic Racism after being expelled from his trade union for anti-Semitic remarks and abuse of one Jewish employee.

  • Labour anti-Semitism row: Scots activist who claims ‘Holocaust was exaggerated’ formed anti-Zionist group at HQ while suspended

As the UK Labour party handles discipline, it means Scottish Labour is unable to take action against any members who may have broken party rules.

There is also little recourse for the Scottish party to do anything should London HQ decide to reinstate members subject to anti-Semitic complaints, even if they disagree with the decision.

One senior Labour member said the arrangement was “a source of huge frustration for members in Scotland” while another said it made the party’s zero tolerance approach on anti-Semitism “laughable” .

The debate over racism in Labour started again after a Panorama investigation in which whistleblowers claimed that senior officials tried to meddle in disciplinary proceedings and investigations into those accused of anti-Semitism.

Party officials have denied the allegations and described the whistleblowers of being ‘disaffected former employees’.

Some critics have dubbed the broadcast ‘Lie-orama’ and say the claims are attempts to attack Jeremy Corbyn and shut down any criticism of the Israeli Government, and their treatment of Palestine.

  • Labour anti-Semitism row: Scots activist who claims ‘Holocaust was exaggerated’ formed anti-Zionist group at HQ while suspended

Others say the programme highlighted important points about how the issue had been handled, or mishandled, internally within the party.

Mr Borowski said: “Richard Leonard has to carry the can for Labour voters and the Labour party in Scotland. He is doing that with one hand tied behind his back, because people who are embarrassing him in Scotland are being reinstated by London.

“We are looking for Richard Leonard and the leadership of the party in Scotland to make its position abundantly clear about those kinds of people.

“When we have discussed this, we have been quite frank with Richard and members of his staff…It is a devolution problem in the sense that party membership and therefore and party discipline that can lead to the ending of membership is a UK matter, dealt with UK head office, so he tells us. He says he finds that frustrating also. He is in a difficult position.

“Let’s move back from Panorama and look at the notorious Scottish cases like [Jim] Sheridan and [Mary] Lockhart. He can’t, in Scotland, do anything about those cases. If he is told that those people have been reinstated by the UK Labour party then he can’t do anything.

“One thing he can clearly do is speak out, make it clear to London that that is not acceptable. After all, one of his predecessors, Johan Lamont, resigned because she said [Scottish Labour] was being treated as a branch office.

“Scotland and Scottish politics is very different in all respects. 95% of Scottish daily life, everybody agrees, is run from Holyrood.

“If Labour wants to be a player in that game at Holyrood it has to have control over its own membership, just as much as over its own policies on Scottish matters.”

Mr Borowski cited a recent case of Renfrewshire councillor Jim Sheridan, who was suspended after he appeared to say he had lost “respect and empathy” for the Jewish community because of their work with ‘Blairite plotters’ in an online post.

The former Labour MP had his suspension lifted and was subsequently promoted to deputy leader of the Renfrewshire group, prompting criticism from some members.

  • Labour anti-Semitism row: Scots activist who claims ‘Holocaust was exaggerated’ formed anti-Zionist group at HQ while suspended

Mr Borowski said: “[It is] sad to say its only a couple of weeks since we had to issue another statement because [Jim] Sheridan has effectively been promoted to deputy leader of the group in Renfrewshire council.

“It’s obvious what kind of signals that sends to the Jewish community, which is already feeling alienated, vulnerable and ignored.”

Danielle Bett, Scottish manager for the Jewish Regional Council added that there was a “complete lack of trust” in Labour from the Jewish community, and added: “It is a disturbing culture and it should be an easy decision to have a zero-tolerance approach.” A Scottish Labour party spokesman did not respond directly to the comments, but said that Richard Leonard had made absolutely clear that “antisemitism does not represent Labour values” and that “there is no place in our Party for prejudice, bigotry, hatred and racism.”

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