George Galloway interview: Labour should be begging me to return

By Robert McGregor

''An accent I love to hear' George Galloway says of my Scottish intonation as I entered his London home. He spent 18 years representing Labour in Glasgow and was quick to point out that "when Blair expelled me it was Scottish Labour that lost an MP, not London Labour".

Galloway speaks with genuine sadness about the recent collapse of Scottish Labour and contrasts the current state of the party with the political heavyweights it once boasted.

"Listening to the former secretary of state Willie Ross was like listening to the king of Scotland," he says. "He was followed by Bruce Millan, another formidable figure and from Dundee too. Even big Donald Dewar, though no bosom buddy of mine, of course was a top-drawer political leader."

But it's a more recent former Scottish Labour leader who he speaks about with surprising fondness: Jim Murphy.

"He was the best player by far in the House of Commons [football] team, which I used to feature in – in fact, as a right-winger."

Galloway commented earlier this year about the possibility of re-joining the Labour Party if Corbyn won. Has it been discussed?

"Yes," he says. "In Scotland when Jim Murphy was in charge there was talk. It never happened as it would have caused too many problems with Ed Miliband". Now Miliband is a backbencher, I ask him whether he could foresee any objections to his return.

"Jeremy has been my friend and comrade for over 30 years," he replies. "In fact most videos of my speeches have him sitting next to me. I know the media keep asking him about this subject and I know why he has difficulties answering it – he has enough problems with remaining Blairites without opening a new front over me. Although some Blairites like John McTernan and Jim Murphy I'm sure would encourage Corbyn to go for it. On the other side, Ken Livingstone recently went on the record in support of my re-admission to the Labour party. But my position remains the same; the Labour party should rescind my unjust war-time expulsion, opposed at the time by Mr Foot, Mr Benn and of course Jeremy Corbyn"

Galloway gives the impression he would love to battle the SNP, as he did so forcefully during the referendum. I ask him directly about a Scottish Labour comeback under Kezia Dugdale. 

"They have not asked me, but if they had a proposal in Scotland I would listen. I am after all, still a Labour man, and I've never been anything else. If someone proposed a role in Scotland which satisfied me and Labour I would definitely look at it. Given the state of the opinion polls in Scotland and the impact of my Just Say Naw tour in the Scottish Labour heartlands I'm a little surprised they're not walking the 500 miles just to lay down such a proposal at my door."

Galloway: "Jeremy has been my friend and comrade for over 30 years,"

So could he be tempted back?

"The east end of Glasgow or Coatbridge and Airdrie would be great for me if the circumstances were right," he says mischievously. "All my friends and relations are still in Scotland, and I miss Celtic Park too".

I ask him whether he has a winning strategy for Scottish Labour heartlands.

"Labour needs to start being Labour again, as we won't win a contest of out-nationalising a nationalist party. I believe the SNP are far more vulnerable than their current electoral domination suggests. The SNP plan for separation is now widely discredited by those who follow the numbers. Venezuela just predicted an oil price of $20+ The SNP independence plan rested on a projection – of a declining asset – of prices well over $100."

Galloway is clearly monitoring recent SNP scandals, especially in the constituencies he mentioned above.

So could a return take place? Well since Dugdale has taken over the leadership, she has put great emphasis on the 'autonomy' of Scottish Labour. Corbyn himself said, "she's the boss". If Galloway applied for his Scottish Labour membership, it might be her chance to show she really means it.

A few months ago Dugdale also gave an interview about bringing in "fresh talent" to Scottish Labour. It was a brave move as it could potentially result in existing MSPs losing their place for re-election.

Some Labour MSPs protested against Dugdale's 'fresh talent' idea. One in particular wrote on her Facebook page that she wished "members could see how deeply offensive this is to existing MSPs."

But whether it's the Scottish elections in May or any upcoming by-elections, Scottish Labour needs to utilise the absolute strongest candidates available. The party has ex MPs like Tom Greatrox, Douglas Alexander and Cathy Jamieson, who have a mountain of experience and talent between them. But the following Galloway has on social media is of a different magnitude. Including all platforms, he has over one million followers – to put that in perspective, that's more than every Scottish Labour MSP put together. With his proven success of upsetting enormous odds in order to win by-elections, it would be foolish for Scottish Labour not to at least consider a Galloway comeback.

Later, Galloway concedes that he couldn't return to Scottish Labour and fight London Labour for the mayoralty at the same time. "But time is short to do anything about that. My London campaign is moving up the gears…."

But if such a proposal did happen soon, it would produce an extraordinary twist in both Scottish and London politics. He'd have to withdraw from the London mayoral election where he's the bookmakers third favourite and in danger of marginalising Sadiq Khan.

Others are keen to write Galloway off. Last week an article in the Spectator suggested Galloway is diminishing into irrelevance. Well maybe. But there were similar predications in the Daily Telegraph in May 2011, when Daniel Knowles asked: "Is this the end of George Galloway's political career?.,. With any luck, Galloway will now have to retire quietly".

Within one year Galloway stormed a by-election by more than 10,000 votes. 

In a close race, Galloway withdrawing from the mayoral election could well be the difference between Labour winning and losing. Perhaps Corbyn was being more canny than people realised, when he refused to rule out a Galloway return in his recent interview.

Galloway's politics would also fit in well with Labour's current Westminster leadership. Certainly on foreign policy, Galloway is a far closer ally to Corbyn than most Labour MPs. On Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and now Syria – Corbyn and Galloway have been on the same side, opposing military intervention. A big difference is how they handle their opponents. Corbyn comes across as a polite diplomat whereas Galloway is more of a political street fighter. Over the years he has made deeply controversial comments about subjects including Israel and Palestine and the rape allegations against Julian Assange. He has also never been shy of making personal attacks. His latest target is his Labour rival for the London mayoral contest, Sadiq Khan, who in the summer of 2014 during the Gaza war, he accused of being a "rancid traitor to his faith".

But he's also had his fair share of abuse reciprocated. There are few political figures that provoke as much ire and in one case, even violence, from their critics as Galloway does. But on the contentious subject that initiated his expulsion from Labour – Iraq – the vast majority of Labour members now agree he was largely correct. Not just on the weapons Iraq never had, but on his predictions about the chaos which would follow.

Galloway describes the hearing that led to his expulsion as a "kangaroo court". Although it proved futile, his two character witnesses were respected titans of the Labour party; Michael Foot and Tony Benn.

I ask Galloway about his view on the current crisis in the Middle East and the consequent rise of extremism in Europe.

"Isis and Al-Qaeda and those who think and act like them are a threat to all humanity," he says. "But they are monsters created, wittingly and unwittingly by us, directly and indirectly."

Of course many in Labour's parliamentary party would be furious about a Galloway return. But the Scottish Labour grassroots may not be quite as rabidly opposed to him as those in the Westminster bubble.

Recent opinion polls have Scottish Labour on par with the Tory vote and way behind the SNP. If Galloway can help Labour win back a constituency in Scotland and, at the same time, make it easier for Khan to win in London, it's a conversation Labour might need to have.

Robert McGregor is a Scottish Labour activist and freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @rsmcgregor

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