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Things Have Changed

proxyYesterday something wondrous happened in the normally boring, staid, stuffy Palace of Westminster.

It has been commented on in the press, but little understood.

The Daily Mail reported it as if it was a murder. Other media outlets clucked in distaste.

All missed the significance of the gesture.

During “etiquette” lessons for all the new MP’s a lot of the SNP arrivals were more amused than they were intimidated by this sudden imposition of rules on them, as if they were children.

Later, they violated a number of these rules more or less openly, including tweeting selfies from the Chamber and even committing the grievous crime of breaking into applause, more or less all together, at one point.

These breaches of convention are not earth-shattering stuff, until you consider their deeper meaning, and then it’s “Westminster, watch out.”

These people aren’t going to be cowed and they aren’t in town to play the role of “humble backbenchers grateful just to be there.”

They might have joked around, but their mood belied the seriousness of their business, and was a not too subtle nod to the world that they know what that business is; to carry a message from Scotland. “Everything’s different now.”

They are there carrying with them the enormous power of our people, and they realise that, and they’ve made that plain.

“Things are changing around here,” they said. “Start getting used to it.”

And how things have changed! My oh my …

After all, it’s not every day that you see a 20 year old MP sitting on the House Terrace eating a “piece and chips.”

Westminster watchers, not even remotely used to this kind of thing, are in for the shock of their lives.

Forget too any notion that the group who’ve taken to calling themselves #Team56 are going to simply take up space on those green seats for a five year jolly. That’s not the plan. Whenever they come to town, they’ll be bringing their flak jackets.

No sooner were they in the building than they’d fired the opening salvo at Cameron’s new government on the issue of the Human Rights Act.

Already, as Labour embarks on a period of internal naval-gazing, the Fab 56 are putting themselves front and centre in the battle against this atrocious piece of proposed legislation.

The SNP are, in effect, the “official opposition” as Labour tries to get its act together.

And you know what? I actually think this cause will represent their first victory in the House.

Stories are circulating that they’ve already opened dialogue with backbench Tory MP’s who are similarly horrified by this Bill, not only for what it will mean to our citizens but the appalling message it will send out to the rest of the world.

Cameron’s majority, although made up of his own party’s MP’s, is a quarter of what it was when he was in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats; it will not take many of his own to vote the other way, in disgust, to bring this down.

I absolutely enjoyed the television coverage of their first day in office, and I want to congratulate all of them for raising our spirits on what might otherwise have been a very funereal return to the business of the House.

The more I read and saw of them, the happier I felt.

Yet there was more going on than just the gathering of #Team56 in London, and as has become the usual, things down there aren’t half as interesting as developments up here continue to be.

Yesterday, STV News reported that the First Minister and the STUC have had an historic meeting and signed an accord to work together and oppose the Conservative government.

As if this news was not astounding enough, Nicola then offered a hand of friendship to Labour and asked that the Scottish branch of the party join this newly developed coalition against the cuts and the government in London.

This was staggering in any number of ways.

First, let’s not kid ourselves, but the STUC was always going to have to accept the inevitability of forming a working relationship with the SNP. The party has been developing its trade union network for several years now, and Chris Stephens, who won Glasgow South West last week, and who is the secretary of their Trade Union Group, said that organisation now has 15,000 members.

That’s more, indeed, than there are in the ranks of the Scottish Labour Party itself.

So yes, the two organisations were always going to get together and forge closer links, and when the SNP swept to their landslide victory last week that process was always going to be accelerated.

So, I expected something like this eventually.

But the way it has been done … sheer genius from the SNP.

Nicola has, once again, shown just how fantastic she is at the political game.

The wee lassie in the tin hat, who I once thought was a loser without an ounce of skill at all, has proved herself a world class operator who is already running rings around Labour in both Scotland and England.

We are damned lucky to have her at this incredible crossroads in our history.

The breathtaking boldness, the awesome self-confidence implied in offering Labour a place at the table with the unions in a way that makes it clear they are the junior partner in the arrangement … well it is not simply astounding in itself but a brutal demonstration of realpolitik.

It would have filled Jim Murphy with despair and foreboding.

He can cling on all he likes, but it only invites further humiliation if he does.

He is so badly outclassed here that it’s almost painful to watch.

Because the state of affairs we all grew up with has changed in the aftermath of first the referendum and then the election result last week.

The trade unions have been ostracised by Labour over the years, and this week’s contemptuous words from Harriet Harman and others, effectively blaming their influence for Labour’s national defeat, has done nothing to heal the wounds between these organisations and a party that appears to view them as an embarrassment.

Not so the SNP, who understand that embracing the trade unions is not only good politics but is necessary to build the kind of progressive alliance that will advance working people not only in Scotland but throughout this island.

It appears that they see the unions as effective partners, not something to be ashamed of, and if they continue down this road then the consequences for Scottish politics will be epochal.

Labour, robbed of funding, robbed of foot soldiers, robbed of support where they need it most, could find itself going into next year’s Scottish Parliament elections even more savagely outgunned.

Jim Murphy and others have already accused the SNP of “stealing Labour’s clothes.”

But you can’t steal what was thrown away.

Some have said Nicola and the party “stole their voters” too.

But that’s only valid if you ignore the fact that the votes never belonged to Labour in the first place; they belonged, and still belong, to the people of Scotland. That’s an atittude Labour has to grow out of, fast.

Doubtless those same voices will accuse the SNP of trying to hijack Labour’s traditional, historical, alliance with the TUC.

But again, that only stands if the TUC and that relationship, and the alliance itself, are still valued.

They’re not. Clearly, they’re not.

What the events of the last couple of days demonstrate is that the profound changes which are sweeping politics here are not temporary aberrations, creating a landscape that will disappear as quickly as it has formed.

The SNP’s victory signifies a shift in political consciousness in Scotland, a shift that the party is working, even now, to solidify into something that reconfigures everything about the way politics is done here.

This isn’t just a foundation stone either; those were laid a while back and have been built on ever since.

These are generational realignments and if Labour believes that it can simply change the face at the top of the national party and suddenly win back Scotland’s love – or if it’s MP’s and members believe they can wind the clock back to Blairism and retake the heartlands – they are grossly mistaken.

This isn’t just about issues of trust anymore.

This isn’t simply about Labour turning its back on its core voters or jumping into bed with the Tories during the referendum.

To think that an apology for those things will work some magic, or to offer Scotland some consolation prize for having another Tory government inflicted on it, it’s a nonstarter which will do no good at this point. We’re past that, by miles.

Scotland fell out of love with Labour after a long period akin to an abusive relationship.

When someone no longer loves you, changing your behaviour simply isn’t going to help. The damage is done.

Oh you and that person might patch things up enough to be friends, but the fundamentals have changed and it’ll never be again what it was.

We know what caused us to make the break, but that break has done more than cost the party supporters.

The last two years, especially, have changed Scotland’s political reality.

Those who understand that fact, as the STUC clearly does, are adapting to that , partly out of expediency but partly because their members, already ten steps ahead of them, realise the new outcome is actually a more fruitful one for them to be in.

That is the true genius of what Nicola Sturgeon did this week and, indeed, what she and others, like Chris Stephens, have been doing for a while now.

As I said in a previous piece, when I was talking about what “sexy socialism” means to me, I think what the SNP has done in Scotland, and what I think they may yet do in Westminster – and #Team56 is determined to try – is they’ve reframed the whole of the political debate, moving it away from the negative consensus of cuts and blaming the weakest in society.

They’ve taken a core number of left-wing ideas and wrapped them up in a seductive box with a big bow on top of it, and people who’ve criticised them for that, like Dugdale and Murphy and McConnell and others, have missed the point.

Political manoeuvring or not, they’ve changed the nature of their own party, becoming what they espouse, and in the process “normalised” Scotland’s political discussion around the concepts of fairness, justice, compassion and equality.

The achievement is remarkable.

The rewards of it will be reaped by our kids and our grandkids long after we’re gone and independence will surely be delivered as a result.

Dinosaurs like Murphy, like McTiernan, those who talk about “winning from the centre”, they are simply being swept aside by this because they’re either not on board with the changes or because they simply can’t adjust to them.

Either way, it no longer matters.

Here, in Scotland, the SNP can “win from the centre” in a way that Labour can’t, because political gravity works differently here now and they’ve moved the centre itself. They have, quite literally, shifted the “middle of the road.”

If this trend continues, I frankly see no way back for Scottish Labour.

Things have changed, and that could be permanent.

A lot of people, both north and south of the border, better get cosy with that fact.

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4 comments to “Things Have Changed”
  1. Good post the buzz of anticipation is there for all to see could you imagine the same happening if it was as usual Labour MPs , iteresting points on your referendum piece yesterday a very good old TV drama that’s still on more 4 ‘a very British coup’ worth a watch your infiltration of political parties came to mind when I noticed a strange piece on common space about half an hour ago linking the Tory & SNP record on human rights the article more or less made out they were both the same, that’s when your post came to mind then I remembered that’s how the right wing in this country always win it’s not because they are clever its because the left have always done this similar things struck me during the referendum and recently creeping in on other would be independence websites I think you just might have woken a few people up with your post yesterday I hope you’re effort will be acknowledged and people take a closer look at what is being presented to them in the meantime thanks for your efforts and as they say we live in interesting times

  2. As usual an excellent post. Getting more cheerful all the time!

    Do you think the fact that our SNP mp’s are in direct opposition, rather than helping Labour, is better for us?
    If they do defeat some of the Tories more horrible plans it will be such a boost for Scotland.
    Then the rest of the UK WILL see that Scotland really does stand for fairness, justice, compassion and equality.

  3. An excellent article yet again, James. I only found your blog online recently and find it consistently thoughtful and well written and agree with your conclusions.

    I had missed or was unaware of the significance of the STUC link-up, but that is big news and you raise some very interesting lines of thought about the longer term consequences.

    As for team 56 you are entirely correct. The London media still seem to think that our new MPs will be overawed or flattered to be privileged by their condescending, sneering indulgence of our quaint peasant army. The Mhairi Black Diaries blunder by the Times of London is indicative of their utter inability to comprehend the phenomenon which, in their arrogance and fear, they seek to patronise and belittle

    I also agree with your point about the SNP having shifted the ground on which the real arguments are being played out. Decisions and compromises are no longer only being taken behind closed doors in Whitehall but are increasingly being informed by the public will of the people of Scotland.

    There is a term in the game of chess called Zugzwang which means that any move – which you must make – is certain to cause you disadvantage. The SNP have had a long time to adapt the concept to the practice of politics in Scotland, I think Nicola and the team will love the opportunity to apply their experience in this matter to the complacent dolts in Westminster who fondly imagine they are dealing with some naive bumpkins.

    Sorry for the length of this post, I enjoyed your article so much I had to say something.

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