There’s said to be an old Chinese curse that goes “May you live in interesting times …”
I can’t help but think Alex Salmond brought a little bit of magic dust back with him the last time he visited the Far East, and tossed it around the Scottish Parliament debating chamber, before intoning those famous words.
Labour in Scotland has been on a rollercoaster ride these last few years … one with a heck of a lot of cliff-face dips. There have never been more “interesting times” to be a member of that party, and the strong stomachs of its remaining members are about to tested to the full.
Can it really be only a few months since the hopes of a generation appeared to be crushed by defeat in the independence referendum?
Did that really happen? Cause if you’re looking at the landscape of politics in Scotland right now one thing rings out above all else; the winners have lost. Big time. Especially those in the Labour Party.
They’ve lost a leader. They’ve reversed track on further devolution, conceding things they know full well are only going to increase the steady drumbeat for a new referendum and they have handed the Tories a formidable weapon that will almost certainly put David Cameron back in Downing Street, and probably with a majority.
Let’s pause for a minute to review what that would mean.
In Westminster there would be a Tory government committed to an in-out referendum on Europe. England might well vote for that, and Scotland will not be able to stop them. Devolving income tax and a bunch of other powers to Holyrood will make English Votes for English Laws a certainty, and if there is not a civil war in the Labour Party over that it will create a two tier parliament and pretty much render all our Westminster members irrelevant.
The next time the SNP argues that Westminster is a Parliament for England, how can anyone argue? Especially when Trident, the central plank of the nation’s defence, one of the key areas which will remain the province of the London leaders, is opposed by the majority of not only Scottish voters but almost every elected official who hails from this fair land.
Let’s go further. What happens when Labour members from Scottish constituencies cannot hold key briefs in the cabinet or shadow cabinet? What happens to the notion of “one nation” then?
Furthermore, politics is not a gentleman’s game.
In the event Cameron doesn’t have a working majority, what’s to stop him passing English Votes for English Laws with the help of other parties who sniff a chance to do Labour over and then using the fact they’ve devolved key areas of responsibility to Scotland as a means to get their legislative program passed anyway, by folding into every bill enough provisions that they can exclude Scottish MP’s from the vote?
Cameron doesn’t come out of this well, by the way. The next referendum would almost certainly be on his watch and he would be the British Prime Minister who forced the split. That would annihilate his reputation at a stroke.
But can you imagine a more devastating combination of circumstances for the Labour Party in Scotland?
The momentum towards independence will be unstoppable, and with Jim Murphy at the head of the movement, hated by the unions, despised by much of the rank and file and seen, by many voters, even some who might otherwise have gone with Labour, as duplicitous and self-regarding, the future of the party north of the border would be in the undertakers hands.
What’s going to happen next to Labour will not be a rollercoaster but a long slow drop off the cliff, like a death leap in slow motion. The run up the edge is just about complete, and they are jumping into the darkness … yet we can’t be unaware that this is the side that is meant to have won, the side that was supposed to get the credit and drink from the cup of glory.
Yet it’s been in free-fall ever since.
Two of its key lieutenants, Alastair Darling and Gordon Brown, are walking off the stage already, to join the piled up bodies already lying at the side of the road, Lamont and Sarwar foremost amongst them.
Darling and Brown are leaving behind a party which has already undone much of their “success”, but it wouldn’t have mattered.
The No campaign spilled an ocean of bad blood during this campaign, and few who know Brown and Darling doubt that these are really rats deserting a sinking ship. There is plenty of gravy left on the Westminster train … but as far as proximity to power goes, well if you are Scottish that’s all over.
That’s why Murphy walked. In my piece “Do Ya Feel Lucky, Punk?”, written days before it was a fact, I said he had to run, and I thought that he would, because this is a guy who’s even more interested in career progression than he is in lining his pockets. They are already bulging with cash anyway, and he’s doubtless got his next career move, probably in the Death Industries, well sewn up.
No, what gets Murphy motivated is the scent of power, and like a predator sniffing blood on the air he’s simply following his nose.
Today, Alan Cochrane, writing in The Telegraph, has become the first Tory broadsheet commentator to turn on the golden boy for his decision to go front and centre with a “pledge” on the 50% tax rate.
Forget for a minute that it’s not news; forget all his posturing about “I didn’t discuss it with Ed and Ed” (he didn’t have to. It’s already Labour policy). Forget it all and enjoy the show. Enjoy the sudden eruption of anger from a guy who realises he’s been conned.
Cochrane has realised, as others like Alex Massie will, that Murphy is concerned only with his own advancement, and he will have no trouble veering left if that’s what it takes to make him look more “electable.”
Not that I believe Murphy will keep a single “promise” he’s made, of course … but it’s fun watching him twisting in the wind, trying a little political gymnastics, messing with out mental acuity, hoping we’re all as stupid as he thinks we are.
Even more amusing, by far, though is Cochrane’s anger and clear bafflement, because it’s perfectly obvious that he and other so-called political “experts” didn’t know what the rest of us have been aware of for a long time now; that New Labour’s boys and girls were not interested in ideology, that they had no principles, that they have even less concern for what the voters actually want and are simply interested in what benefits each of them individually and actually only care about the Labour Party itself as a vehicle for their own ambitions.
None of this was a secret, and it’s no surprise to see Murphy flip-flop on the 50% tax rate (which he has always vehemently opposed) and now on income tax powers for Scotland (which he has always vehemently opposed). It will not be a great shock if he now changes his mind on renewal of Trident and tries to paint himself as a unilateralist.
It’s my view that Murphy’s election as Labour’s leader in Scotland is as disastrous for them as it now appears inevitable. He is the kind of figurehead opposition parties fantasise about; a slippery bastard who is beloved by the media for the very same reasons ordinary voters loathe him. The last thing Labour needed, here in Scotland, was a poor man’s Tony Blair, but Murphy may have kept the impending rout halfway credible had he stuck to his guns on the positions he’s spent the better part of his career advocating.
What neither he nor Labour could really afford was for him to be revealed this early for what he is; a man utterly without conviction of any kind. A man who purely and simply cannot be trusted on a single word that comes out of his mouth.
Yet this is the true measure of the man. This is the guy who kick-started his political career as the head of the NUS, when, in 1995, he actually ignored the wishes of their annual conference and unilaterally (there’s that word again!) changed their official policy on retention of the student grant, to one that better reflected the will of his political masters in Labour.
For that little stunt, which shocked NUS members to the core in a way no-one matched until Nick Clegg, he received an official censure from Parliament two full years before he entered it as an MP.
How’s that for making a little bit of history?
Funny that none of the papers bothered to mention it in the many, many fulsome articles on his career to date, eah?
Add to that the news coming out today, about the party trying to stitch up the election for him by omitting supporter information from the publicity leaflets being sent out to members – failing to mention, for example, the overwhelming union support for Neil Findlay – and he will continue to pull the party away from its roots even as he pretends to be a lefty.
He’s pretended to be a lot of things, has Jim. He is the fiscally conservative Celtic supporter who has often been pictured in the jersey of a club calling itself Rangers, the company that died at the hands of Revenue & Customs, with tens of millions of tax payer debts, and for whom he went to the bat in 2009, when Lloyds were attempting a last effort at restoring financial sanity.
His “go easy on them” plea of October that year, widely reported in the press, is particurly damning when you consider that the bank was then owned by the government, and he was the Scottish Secretary of State.
This, then, is the man on whom they are pinning their receding hopes, on him and on a system that they have made unsustainable quicker than any of us dared to dream. After all, looking at today’s news, how can anyone trust a political party that tries to dupe its own members?
How can a one of us take seriously such a party who has, as its leader, someone who changes his long standing political (and personal) positions at a moment’s notice, out of sheer expediency?
Who knew that a combination of fear and hate – both stemming from the SNP surge – could lead to such catastrophic mistakes? And those mistakes just keep on coming, the inevitable results of their blindness, disregard for the voters and detestation of the Scottish National Party.
When Gordon Brown stood up and pushed his cobbled together deal, he must have realised that if taken literally his words would have been damning to Labour, but he went right on ahead anyway, because he was sure it would destroy the Yes momentum, and harm the prospects of Salmond and Sturgeon in the longer term.
Like many, he never banked on Salmond taking himself out of the game with grace and style, depriving Labour of the chance to call him a loser from now until 2017.
It was a master-class in how to go out with dignity – one Johann Lamont certainly didn’t attend, judging by her own nuking-with-a-scattergun departure – and a hammering home of the political facts of life; this guy is so good that he was able to snatch triumph from disaster, and even as he was doing so he was planning Phase 2 of the campaign, which he will fight from Westminster with not so much a team of MP’s as an insurgency, which will grow in confidence and influence even as Labour’s Scottish team grows in irrelevance.
Even when they do fly the flag, they do it dreadfully. Katy Clark is the subject of much derision right now for a deputy leadership leaflet where she asked for support on the platform that “Abolishing Trident could win back as much as 20% of the SNP vote …”
It really is a shambolic state of affairs when a lefty, who has campaigned on that very subject for the better part of her political life, can actually miss the point of it by making it into anti-SNP posturing.
It really takes skill to mess up something as fundamental as that.
It’s important to remember that this isn’t a pledge designed to win votes from ordinary punters either. This is an appeal to the dwindling membership of Labour itself. She is asking to be deputy leader of a party she barely recognises, and she knows it’s beyond redemption. She proves it when instead of putting forward opposition to Trident as a principled stance she has to sweeten it by making it about stiffing the SNP.
For hating “the Nats” is probably the most “rational” reason for still being in the Labour Party, with its UKIP style trend of making policy on the hoof, depending on how the opinion polls read.
Yes, we know it is a clear step on the road past the lunatic asylum and towards the cemetery, but this is all they’ve got. Appeal to the lowest common denominator. Pay no heed to what shows commitment to your principles or ambition for your country and your party.
Go with what will best twist the “enemy’s” tail.
According to Channel 4’s Gary Gibbon, Labour MP’s north and south of the border spent much of the day yesterday in despair at the news of the income tax U-turn. He spoke to a number of them about it, and one Scottish MP actually volunteered the information that “I can’t see any point in carrying on with this (job) now.” Another said “I don’t see how this doesn’t lead to independence …. I just can’t see it going anywhere else.”
Neither can I. We are further down the road than we would ever have believed.
The issue that was “settled for a generation” will be revisited within a parliamentary term, and the people who have ensured it are those who thought this was a victorious campaign.
I said in an earlier piece that we had a hell of a chance here, a chance to turn on its head one of the oldest and most prevailing political beliefs of our time; that history is written by the winners.
Way back in the dawn of time, I got into a street argument with a young, fresh faced but defeated SNP candidate for office. She was running on the south side of Glasgow, against a guy called Sarwar. I was delighted with the result, and when things got a little heated I told her what a loser she was.
Two years later, she ran for a Scottish Parliament seat in the same area and she lost again, but she got in on the list system, and I remember sneering and thinking that, once again, she’d shown that the only ability she possessed was an ability to get beat.
It took me a long time to warm up to her, to understand what she was all about, and I was only able to do it when I took off the tribal blinkers and analysed not only what she’d achieved in Holyrood but her journey along the way.
Few now remember that she was a lawyer when she ran for that seat, not yet in her 30’s at the time. Fewer recall that in 1997, boundary changes had made it an almost unassailable Labour majority, but that Mohammed Sarwar only won by 3000 votes, and it was the only Scottish seat where Labour’s vote share went down.
Few realise that in the two Scottish Parliament races before she won the seat in 2007, she ran Gordon Jackson within 2000 votes in 1999 and then halved that majority again in 2003.
Today’s she’s one of my political heroes in an era that’s had precious few of them.
Of course, she’s also First Minister of Scotland.
Nicola, and her party, are very good at the game … but they’ve also been very good for the game, because they did what Labour shows no sign at all that it’s willing to do; they listened, and they learned, but they also led.
They were not content to follow the prevailing winds, opinion polls or electoral trends. They bucked the system. They took Labour on, on the left, whilst building a reputation for fiscal responsibility and long-term planning by being friendly to business. It is an awesome achievement.
They did it because they took risks, and in doing so they moved the middle of the road.
The candidate I thought of as little more than a joke proved to be quite the big winner, and she isn’t stopping now. Not for her the perks of office; she, more than Murphy ever will, knows that power is not an end in itself, but the means to an end.
Here in the crazy world of Scottish politics (and has there ever been a greater time to be part of this?) it really is a case of every loser wins.
The greatest prize of all has never been more within our reach.
We are the outriders of history, planning on how to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, even as those who promised to “bayonet the wounded” are staring into their own political grave.
Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it?
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