Sunday, 20 May 2012
Saturday, 17 September 2011
What does a Scottish journalist or commentator do when real thoughts about Scotland’s exciting and demanding political scene desert him? Why, he writes a ‘What Labour Must Do’ article with one hand while flicking TV channels and playing with his iPhone with the other. Fire it off to Bill Jamieson at the Scotsman – he’ll print anything in that genre.
So has Gerry Hassan, a commentator of real perception and depth on Scottish affairs, joined the McTernan franchise, paid upfront for the secret recipe and embarked on a career in fast crap journalism? No, he hasn’t - appearances to the contrary - even though he offers us a new variant on the title - Scottish Labour owes us an exciting, new story Read it – he has something relevant and useful to say.
But his closing paragraph asks Labour to recognise that Scotland has changed, the SNP bogeyman story won’t wash anymore and Labour must “reach out and tell a modern Labour story of Scotland”. Unfortunately, Gerry, that will require powers of invention far beyond the capacity of Scottish Labour or the UK Party. And to tell a real story, you must have a soul …
Sarah Boyack gave the game away in her car crash of an interview with Raymond Buchanan on Newsnight Scotland. In his introduction, Raymond Buchanan encapsulates the problem facing Scottish Labour -
“Labour is used to being in power in Scotland, so some of its Scottish members are still coming to terms with not being in control of anything bigger than a council.” In the lead-in to the superb introductory video piece by David Allison, RB describes it as the dilemma facing “what used to be the People’s Party.” How I love that phrase, one I have used repeatedly since I started blogging …
Jim Murphy talks earnestly outside John Smith House (oh, how the greater Labour leaders of the past silently mock the thing their party has become) about reorganisation at grassroots level, changing constituency boundaries, plans for an elected leader “from all our parliamentarians” and he claims that this is “really putting energy into the party, totally transforming it and giving a kinna set of structures that kinna don’t belong to the era when they were built, which was in 1918, but bringing us right up to date so that we can not only strengthen our party, but stand up for Scotland and win a referendum when it comes.”
Despite the fractured Lord Prescott syntax, I know what you mean, Jim. If I may paraphrase – you don’t trust the Holyrood MSP group to deliver a leader, so MPs must be included, you’ll dump the antiquated 1918 structure and bring in a new one, and having failed to stand up for Scotland while in power and throughout the SNP period in government, you will now do so by “winning a referendum”, i.e. persuading Scots to stay in the Union.
A quibble – the referendum is not an election, it is an attempt to determine the wishes of the people on a single issue, the status of a union they entered into voluntarily (more or less). A referendum is not ‘won’ by a political party, but is a decision of the people to which political parties, among many others, contribute by rational, persuasive argument. If the Labour Party had any political values, vision or programme for Scotland beyond the preservation of the Union, they would understand that, but they don’t.
What would become of the Murphys, the Harrises, the Alexanders et al if the Union ended? Look for a safe seat in England? Take the long, hard, low road back to their native land? To be welcomed with open arms by MSPs who had stayed to fight the good fight in Scotland, willingly standing down to make way for the big boys from Westminster? Aye, right …
And so to Sarah Boyack, who spent the summer reflecting on the election in May. Let’s twist again like we did last summer – ah, that summer of 2011. How we reflected!
Scottish Labour is now “totally focused on winning back in the future, and we think devolving ourselves, giving ourselves a stronger leader, giving support to that leader to make them able to do the job.” Something is sort of left hanging there – the ghost of Prestcott delivery – but we know what she means. Not a word about what Labour are for – it’s all structure. As Brian Taylor says, the Scottish people are many things – but they not daft …
In the interview that followed, Sarah Boyack walked straight into the elephant trap in her opening remarks by referring to “our vision of Scotland”, to be instantly challenged by Raymond Buchanan as to what exactly that vision was.
Sarah’s vision – “a fairer Scotland, a Scotland of solidarity ..,.” (an unfortunate choice of words Sarah – shades of a real socialist, Tommy Sheridan) “to make sure that we invest in the vital public services that people need …. big plans for creating jobs, modern apprenticeships …” While Labour was saying these things, Sarah, the SNP Government was actually doing them, while Labour’s obsession with the Union obstructed them at every turn. But do go on …
“We’re now going to devolve our party …” Twelve years after devolution and the Scottish Parliament, the penny has finally dropped in the empty pinball machine that is Scottish Labour.
Raymond Buchanan is unimpressed by the talk of structures. He’s keen on the policy.
RB: You talk about Labour being a party of fairness, of solidarity, of public services … you could be describing the SNP. What’s the difference?
The Vulcan death grip. Sarah writhes. “Well, the SNP tried to camp on some of our historic territory …”
RB: And it’s worked, hasn’t it?
It’s all down hill for Sarah from there on in.
Now What I think Labour Must Do is … I’ll write an article in my sleep and submit it to the Scotsman. Or do I need to sign up under the McTernan Labour Cold Chicken franchise? Look what happened to a real McDonald when he challenged a giant franchise! Caution, caution …
Wednesday, 14 September 2011
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 …
Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Last night’s Newsnight Scotland, with Raymond Buchanan in the Grand Inquisitor’s chair and Sarah Boyack and Jackson Carlaw in the firing line came pretty close to my idea of what this vital Scottish programme should be, and can be.
It had a theme, and questions that really mattered to Scotland, and it addressed them vigorously and forensically. The state of the main (sorry Greens!) opposition parties should concern any democrat, because a strong and representative voice for the core values of their supporters is a vital component of the necessary consensus that underpins any democracy, as is the conviction that, even when a voter’s chosen party does not form the government, that they can exert a proper influence over its policies and its programme. The checks and balances of democracy cannot function without this, and the fact that my party, the SNP, is now dominant in the Scottish Parliament, and that I was ecstatic about their decisive victory, does not lessen my concern over the parlous state of the opposition parties.
The LibDems have their new leader, Willie Rennie, but, to what I hope is their shame, the other two main opposition parties do not. The fact that they do not, almost five months after the election, and are unlikely to have until at least six months after the election, is a disgrace, but accurately reflects the confusion and lack of focus of their election campaigns. The Tories, thanks to the political courage of Murdo Fraser, at least have the issues in focus, and face a clear and unambiguous choice between old Toryism, epitomised by Michael Forsyth, and a new, revitalised centre right party, with two candidates for the old Tory values – Ruth Davidson and Jackson Carlaw - and one for the new centre right, Murdo Fraser.
The Tories are focusing on what they believe in, something they are very clear about, and the political processes are simply a vital tool to pursue those values. Most of their values, leaving aside the common shared values that cross all civilised political boundaries, are anathema to me, but they and their supporters have a right to hold them. The Tories know what they are for – they currently disagree about the political identity and structure necessary to achieve their goals.
Labour, in contrast, have no idea what they are for anymore, having long since degenerated into a mindless power seeking machine, a blind, destructive, venal and significantly corrupt juggernaut created by Blair, Brown and Mandelson that spectacularly ran off the rails, having destroyed the British economy and devastated two countries, Iraq and Afghanistan in the process. They have succeeded in enriching their leaders and some of their cabinet ministers through the juggernaut of blood and death they unleashed, while impoverishing the country.
All three of the opposition parties (sorry again, Greens) are significantly defined by their opposition to the independence of the Scottish people, a blind opposition called Unionism. At least the LibDems and the Tories have other things they believe in – Labour has nothing left except its Unionism. It has become the thing it always falsely accused the SNP of being – a one-issue party. It is neither left nor right, neither centre left nor centre right: it floats aimlessly around the political compass, adrift – sans values, sans principles, sans everything …