The latest offering in the cold chicken franchise known as What Labour Must Do! is served up today in The Scotsman by John McTernan, the doyen of the genre. I take my hat off to John for the ingenuity with which he has varied the title theme over his seemingly endless series of articles – today it’s Labour has to face up to its failings. article
Scottish Labour facing up to its failings must be like Dorian Gray facing up to his portrait in the attic, but are they quite ready to slash the portrait, running the risk of the horror of what they have become being made visible in their public face? Well, Murdo Fraser has shown the way, but Jim Murphy and Tom Harris don’t quite have the cojones for such a radical approach, and the less said about Iain Gray’s cojones the better.
But John is in nostalgic mood, invoking men of principle from Labour’s distant past, calling up the ghosts of Tom Johnston and Willie Ross. He calls them transformative figures, and Tom Johnston richly deserves such an appellation: the less said about Willie Ross, the better. But where else would John McTernan go but the distant past? For a Blairite such as he, the temptation to invoke his former boss and idol, Tony Blair, was overpowering, in spite of the fact that the disastrous transformation that Blair inflicted on the Labour Party, the UK and the people of Afghanistan and Iraq is now so notorious, especially since the BBC’s Question Time Special last week on Iraq, Afghanistan and the War on Terror.
But Blair slips in his symbolic abandonment of Clause 4 and nationalisation, and John’s new heroes of Labour, Jim Murphy and Sarah Boyack have given Scottish Labour “an equally powerful symbol”. It’s not entirely clear what this symbol is.
And so the symbols crash and the drums fail to roll – the saltire, Scottishness – everything but a tartan doll around the neck of whoever the new, transformative Leader is going to be – none of it will work.
But as John ruefully observes in his final sentence, Scottish Labour has nothing left to lose. They could maybe do volunteer work in a tartan-tack shop in the Royal Mile, with Iain Gray and John McTernan in ersatz Jacobite shirts with plastic thongs, and have stale haggis for lunch …