THE centenary of the UK’s first Labour Government will spark a forest of analysis on the extent to which it improved the lives of those whom it principally represented. There should also be room to quantify just how successful the party has been in the 100 years since Ramsay MacDonald attained and held improbable power with just 191 MPs.

If you were being curmudgeonly you might conclude that the answer is not very much. In 1924, any leftish political analyst would have been tempted to get carried away about the prospects of Labour becoming - give or take the odd electoral blip - the permanent party of government.

Labour’s founding principles, all gathering around Clause IV and reinforced by the emerging power of the trade unions, resonated with most of the adult population of Britain. Put simply, and perhaps crudely, there have always been far more working-class people or those with working-class roots than those from affluent Conservative backgrounds.

The steady progress towards full, universal suffrage would seem to have reinforced the prospects of semi-permanent electoral hegemony. This and an entire class of people beginning to realise that not only had they been used as fodder in a war between quarrelling members of the same European aristocratic families, but that the promised rewards of social improvement for their sacrifice were a chimera.

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And yet, in the 100 years since Mr MacDonald’s administration, Labour has held power only for around a third of that time. The natural party of UK government has been the Conservatives with any Labour success depending on pulling off a delicate political trapeze act. This has rested on balancing the aspirations of working-class communities - housing, jobs, health, education - with the need always to reassure Big Property and Big Capital that they won’t be stoking the fires of revolution.

For much of this time the so-called free press in the UK has been anything but. The pattern of UK mass media ownership has been dominated by a handful of aristocrats or industrial billionaires whose financial interests will always be best served by the Conservatives. Military adventurism; the healthy fecundity of the House of Windsor and the glories of empire are all deployed to keep working-class people regularly voting against their best interests.

And when there’s a whiff of anything radical coming down the line from an upstart Labour prince proclaiming alarming concepts such as common ownership or equitable distribution they’re soon denounced as the spawn of Moscow.

Another difficulty which compels Labour always to fight with one hand tied behind its back is that any social improvements it makes in the lives of its natural supporters risks losing them in the folds of Conservatism. Modest prosperity in the form of home ownership, decent wages, fancy holidays, good schools and golf club membership, rather than elicit gratitude to the party that levelled them up, often drives them towards Conservatism in the belief that they’re the ones best equipped to, well … conserve those gains.

Of all the books and treatises issuing from the centenary of the first Labour Government few will match David Torrance’s splendid new work, The Wild Men. Its title is inspired by the nickname given to those pioneer Labour grandees by a political establishment still reeling from the shock of it. I’ll discuss this book in greater detail with the author at a later date, but his essay yesterday in UnHerd serves as an effective introduction.

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In it, Mr Torrance, a former Herald columnist and one of the UK’s most authoritative political biographers, discusses why Labour was never a revolutionary movement. He quotes Ramsay MacDonald on his first day as Prime Minister: “Our purposes need preparations, and during preparation we shall appear to be doing nothing - and to our own people to be breaking our pledges.” Mr MacDonald had an inkling then of the high-wire act that all Labour Prime Ministers would come to face.

Of course, UK Labour never could be a party of revolution, given how profoundly the roots of privilege and high finance determine the conduct of Westminster politics. Yet, there was a revolution of sorts.

Only a decade or so previously, working people were deemed good only for dying in wars of empire or thereafter badly and prematurely in squalor. Within a few years they would aspire to good housing, higher education, long life and civic and professional leadership. More revolutionary still was that men and women lacking privilege would yet prove competent and expert in managing the economy and high affairs of state. It would produce people like Nye Bevan, Barbara Castle, Harold Wilson and Gordon Brown.

The Herald: The Labour Conference of 1971 featured such luminaries as Harold Wilson, Barbara Castle and Tony BennThe Labour Conference of 1971 featured such luminaries as Harold Wilson, Barbara Castle and Tony Benn (Image: PA)

It’s instructive to draw some parallels between that first UK Labour Government and the first-ever SNP administration in Scotland. Unlike MacDonald’s Labour though, the SNP came to power with several advantages, all of which have helped it to remain in government for 17 years (and counting).

Its longevity has been virtually guaranteed by a UK Tory government of near-pantomime villainy lurching from one political misadventure to the next and producing a succession of leaders of such extreme uselessness that you wonder if they were the consequence of some secret chemical experiments conducted at Eton and Oxbridge gone wrong.

With full control over health, education, and policing reinforced by significant levers of taxation the SNP had a golden opportunity to make a convincing show-reel for full independence. The task of winning hearts and minds was made far easier by the rank idiocies of the UK Tories. Yet, its ultimate goal of independence is now more distant than it was in 2007.

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In all those areas of social and cultural life that Labour improved: health, education, housing and aspiration, the SNP has weakened. Homelessness is expected to rise by a third in the next two years yet the Scottish Government has cut the affordable housing budget while removing protections for renters.

Its stated aims of reducing the education attainment gap and reaching reasonable health targets are a sick joke. It has overseen an addiction apocalypse and made not the slightest dent in child poverty numbers. Those communities menaced most by multi-deprivation in 2007 are still stalked by it in 2024.

There are men and women in Scotland capable of being Bevan, Castle, Wilson and Brown, but the SNP specialises in promoting the mediocre and in harrying the talented. If you don’t conform to the cult of Nicola and gender fanaticism you’ll be denied those positions where your gifts might have made a positive difference.

Independence once carried the optimism and vision of Ramsay MacDonald’s first Labour government. Now, thanks to the SNP it represents abject failure; rank incompetence and deceit on the grand scale.