The leaders of one of Scottish Labour’s largest branches have resigned to make it clear to Starmer — party members will never accept his attempt to silence dissent over Gaza.

Supporters of Palestine rally in Glasgow to condemn the bombardment of Gaza. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of world events such as those unfolding in Israel and Palestine over the last week. As individuals, there is very little we can do to impact the actions of nation-states and heavily armed soldiers. And so those of us on the Left know that the only option is to take collective action — where the voice of one is easily ignored, the voices of tens or hundreds of thousands have a volume that forces media attention and government action.

In the middle of last week, I was discussing this with comrades on the Executive Committee of our local Constituency Labour Party, Glasgow Kelvin.  We agreed that we would take our constituency banner to the rally that had been called by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Glasgow at the weekend and that we would also submit a motion to be discussed at our upcoming meeting, calling for an end to military action and the siege of Gaza, and the establishment of humanitarian corridors. Neither action was, we thought, particularly controversial — the Labour Party has, after all, a history of support for the Palestinian people, most recently through a motion passed at Conference in 2021.

The current leadership and party machinery have different ideas, however.

Shortly after our discussion, the party General Secretary sent an email to all constituency secretaries with ‘guidance’ on the situation. On the subject of rallies and demonstrations, members were ‘given advice not to attend any of these events’. If members were going to attend, he ‘ask[ed] that no Labour Party banners are taken along’. With reference to motions, he would not let the Gaza situation ‘become a flashpoint for the expression of views that undermine the Labour Party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all its members’. Any motions that were ‘prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the Labour Party and risk infringing the Labour Party’s Codes of Conduct’ were to be ‘ruled out of order’.

That this guidance was even issued is indicative of a party leadership that instinctively distrusts collective action and member-led democracy. Attempts by party members to challenge leaders’ positions and public statements, or to show that at least parts of the Labour Party stand in solidarity with people in struggle, are to be shut down in favour of maintaining a public image that reassures the powerful that Labour offers no threat to the so-called ‘rules-based international order’.

Nevertheless, our Executive Committee tried to navigate its way through this guidance. We noted that the wording on banners was merely an ‘ask’, which we would politely decline. And we did not believe the motion which had been submitted would undermine our ‘ability to provide a safe and welcoming space’ for our members, nor that it contained any language that was ‘prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the Labour Party and risk infringing the Labour Party’s Codes of Conduct’.

We took our banner to the Glasgow rally, which was a great success. Around 2,000 people attended it, and at least some would note that the local Labour Party was showing solidarity with the people of Palestine.

We published the agenda for our upcoming meeting, including the motion on Israel and Gaza, using the party’s member email system as usual. Within an hour of sending the agenda to members, party secretaries received a new communication from Scottish Party headquarters. This email stated that ‘any motions, no matter how well-intentioned, are out of order and should not be debated at party meetings’.

On the basis of this message, nine members of our Executive Committee decided to resign rather than be complicit in silencing our members.

We are not alone in taking this decision. Six members of Edinburgh Northern and Leith Executive Committee have resigned for precisely the same reason. And we know that over a dozen Labour councillors have also taken the very difficult decision to resign as party members too.

Those of us who resigned ran the local party as volunteers. We gave up our time because we believe in the cause. We believe in the principles of collective action, solidarity, and democratic debate. But when the party shuts down debate, stifles solidarity and hampers collective action, then we are forced to make a decision. We remain committed socialists and Labour Party members, but we will not put our time and effort into running a party where we are actively denied democracy.

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