Over my working life, I have attended many farewell events for people leaving an organisation, most of them because of the normal reasons – retirement, moving to another location, moving to another company, another country, and some, regrettably because of ill-health.
But there was the other category, those who were leaving because they had failed, or had lost a contest with another for the post they were vacating. In these difficult circumstances, there was a well-understood protocol – the leaving speech must avoid bitterness and resentment, must avoid recriminations and blame, be generous, and focus positively on the future .
One always went to such events with a certain feeling of trepidation, with the possibility always existing that the speaker would explode into self-justification and blaming behaviour. Although some hardy souls in the audience for such a speech actually enjoyed the spectacle of a defeated man making a fool of himself, for most of us it was an agonisingly embarrassing experience.
In his speech to the Labour Party’s Scottish conference, Iain Gray embarrassed himself and, I am sure, at least a few of his audience, with an outpouring of bile and resentment against his political opponents that has few parallels in such speeches. It is the more astonishing because he must have known that the Labour Party would release a full transcript of the speech, indeed, gave evidence that they were proud of it.
In this speech, Iain Gray demonstrated, with awful clarity, the lack of political nous and statesmanship that lost Labour the 2011 election and lost him the leadership of his party. It is, sadly, evidence that neither he nor his party have learned anything from their humiliating defeat.
I won’t reproduce the sad outpouring of bile and bitterness, but here are a few quotes that speak for themselves, even though the truths contained in them and the lessons that can be drawn from them are evident to everyone but Scottish Labour and Gray himself. They are revealing in a way that he clearly did not intend …
EXTRACTS FROM IAIN GRAY’S SPEECH
“Well we have not wasted this crisis. Sarah Boyack and Jim Murphy have led a review which has laid bare our failure to modernise our party in line with the way in which we modernised our country – our failure to recognise that the centre of gravity in Scottish politics shifted to Holyrood when we made that happen in 1999. “
“These recommendations do not come from Sarah and Jim, they are informed by the participation of thousands of party members, hundreds of submissions they made, and dozens of meetings they attended.
They are marked by the honesty forced on us by the searing experience of May 2011. “
“We have confronted the reality of what happened, and we should. But we should not let others rewrite the story of the election. It was bad enough.”
“I have heard it said that we were beaten by a better campaign. And you judge campaigns by their outcome, so that must be true.
That is not the Scotland I know, the Scotland I love, the Scotland I want. That is why a year ago in Oban I said ‘I love my country too much to be a nationalist’.”
“It is not the lack of our own army which might stop my grandchildren and yours making it to the 22nd century. It is the postcode lottery of life expectancy and the fact that we drink 25% more than our neighbours down south - and that is nothing to do with the price of the drink – or the lack of a border – its something to do with too many of us feeling alone in midst of a crowd, poor in the midst of prosperity, and passed over in the midst of progress.”
“I do not believe that a strong fair and equal Scotland in a strong fair and equal Britain is the only possible future for Scotland – but I am sure that it is the best possible future for Scotland.”
“We must engage in that debate now not to save the Union but to save devolution. Because it is not the union of 1707 the SNP wish to destroy. That is long gone. It is devolution they wish to dismantle. “
POSTCRIPT - AN EARLIER ASSESSMENT OF IAIN GRAY
Wednesday, 12 January 2011
Iain Gray – First Minister in-waiting?