Last week’s polling from Lord Ashcroft, showing that the SNP are on the verge of winning 56 of 59 seats in Scotland – most of them Labour’s seats – is as welcome as it was inevitable from the moment Jim Murphy became leader.
Whether those numbers are exact or not doesn’t matter. A historical judgement is about to be handed down on Labour in Scotland, and they are going to lose, and lose huge, in areas where they once thought they’d rule for all eternity.
The clock is counting down on the careers of some politicians who thought they had jobs for life.
It is not before time.
We need to clear this shower out, and many of them are now fatalistically doing little more than waiting for the hammer to fall.
Yesterday, the circus came to town as Scottish Labour gathered for its pre-election rally.
It was a truly surreal viewing experience, particularly when everyone in the conference hall and a lot of their supporters beyond took to the internet to commemorate the political heavyweight David Hamilton, who was appearing as an MP for the last time.
I know what you’re thinking; who the Hell is David Hamilton?
Oddly enough, I spent much of yesterday asking people I know the very same question, including any number of political geeks.
Only a couple knew the name.
When I asked them to tell me anything substantial he’d done in his career the response I got was a kind of bemused silence.
A little research shows he’s sat on some select committees. He’s voted on the left of the party, including against the Iraq war … although, he also voted against an inquiry into it.
He’s good on rights issues.
He voted for university tuition fees (from the left; disgusting) but voted against raising the cap to £9000.
He voted against the renewal of Trident but was absent from the Opposition Day Motion on the subject held in January this year.
In short, this guy has been an MP for 14 years and has done nothing of any real consequence. He is the very definition of a safe-seat parliamentarian, the kind who doesn’t often make the news, who doesn’t really rock the boat (he has gone against the party line in a mere 5% of all votes).
Yesterday, for a short while, he was a swaggering conqueror in a hall that badly needed rallying. For a few minutes he was a hero to people who are desperate for some cheering up.
His speech was hardly a rhetorical masterpiece. In fact, it was nothing more than cheap political theatre, and it went after the usual targets; not the Tories, but the SNP.
He finished up with a rallying call to “stuff” them … and those in the less than packed hall went wild.
The highlight of the speech, one where he barely discussed politics or policy at all, was his attack on Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon.
He called the latter “the wee lassie in the tin hat”, about as condescending and sexist as it was possible to be. Some members of the audience, a very few, didn’t bother to applaud such a scandalous remark. The rest were ecstatic.
The wee lassie in the tin hat is the First Minister of Scotland, as Alex Salmond was before her. To treat them both with such cavalier disrespect, to say nothing for the sheer hatred implied in his comment about her, as well as the reaction to it, insults not only the office itself but every single person who voted for the SNP as our national government in Edinburgh.
They can’t help themselves. Scottish Labour has no self-control at all.
You know, I am endlessly fascinated by the party’s endless ability for finding ways of screwing itself over.
It is morbidly interesting, like watching one of those reality TV shows where someone is drunk and has passed any conception of self-awareness and is wandering, in his boxer shorts and untied trainers, up a public street.
Take the rise of Johann Lamont to the position of leader.
She was a figure of no consequence within the party, someone possessing all the charm of a pit-bull with a rubber band around its willie.
Her election was a calamitous decision which I couldn’t believe the membership had made.
Now, Ian Gray was not exactly Mr Charisma but he was a smart man. Nevertheless, his own rise to the leadership had demonstrated how little talent there was in the Scottish ranks.
That lack of the right skill-set, married to the party’s inability to talk the language of social justice in Scotland whilst speaking the language of austerity in London, hampered him right out of the starting gate.
Yet how could they do worse than a guy who ran from a voter, hid in a shop, and suffered a landslide defeat? Incredibly, they did.
His performance whilst in charge was to seem like a sweet dream for Labourites next to hers.
From the off, her all-too apparent hatred for Alex Salmond and the SNP was a serious disadvantage to the party and it was expressed every single time she appeared in public.
This was most visible in the way First Minister’s Question Time became, every week, an object lesson in her basic refusal to accept that he could right about anything.
She expressed this beautifully, time and time again, not in the language of reasoned debate but in palpable contempt.
People watching understood the subtext; that contempt transcended her view of him and leeched into her feelings about the people who had given him their vote. She didn’t even try to hide it.
For the duration of her leadership, the press lapped it up. I could never understand why.
They could read the polls like the rest of us, so they must have known how it was playing “on the ground”, but they persisted with this idiotic notion that if they kept on telling us how great she was the public would put aside the evidence of their own ears, eyes and brains and accept that as if it was a fact.
In light of this, her getting up to tell us that she wanted to end the “something for nothing” culture in Scotland was suicidal.
Who in God’s name authored that deplorable speech? Who in God’s name told her she should make it?
It is incredible to me that the political party I was once a member of, and which allegedly wanted back into power, had a leader so short-sighted and desperate for some media coverage that she would speak in such reactionary language behind a podium with the word “Labour” on it.
What’s worse is that the speech was widely applauded, in media circles and in the party itself.
This spoke volumes to me about the state of the left within Labour and about just how little the press understood the aspirations of their own readers.
It was, and it remains, staggering to contemplate.
Of course, what followed was far worse as the party allowed itself to be shackled to the Tories during the referendum.
Then, even as support for independence climbed, the rhetoric against the very people doing the voting got more venomous and vitriolic.
I had already vowed never to actively campaign for Labour again. I had already all but given up ever voting for them again.
But it was their conduct during the independence referendum which sealed the deal for me in terms of how I feel about what they’ve become.
For years the Labour Party has treated the Scottish people with open disdain. Nothing expresses it better than the election of Jim Murphy and his decision to hire Blair McDougall and John McTiernan at his most senior advisors.
The staffing decisions lie with Murphy himself, and they offer a very clear, unambiguous, view of how he sees the electorate.
For all his talk of building bridges with Yes voters, his appointing two of the most divisive figures in Scottish politics says the opposite.
It was a move born of sheer arrogance and spite, a move which, on some level, he must have realised would be calamitous in terms of winning back the very voters the party most needs but he did it anyway, as if he simply couldn’t help himself.
See, in part, Murphy was calculating that the average voter doesn’t really care about back of the house stuff like this.
He was playing on ignorance.
But, see, that wasn’t the only thing he was doing.
No, this was a none-too-subtle message to those of us who do keep up to date with this stuff.
It was a two finger salute to every politically active member of the 45% whilst he publicly courted those who aren’t so well engaged.
The level of ego and cynicism this requires is truly mind-bending.
Those actions are on him.
He bears the responsibility for them, and when last week a skin-crawling video of McTiernan appearing at a Tory conference fringe event went viral, it was made ever more clear that this responsibility extends to doing existential damage to the party he heads.
Yet you cannot divorce Murphy’s decisions from the party itself, because his own disdain for almost half the country – many of them Labour voters – was and is a well-established fact, and his political background and leanings are the very last the party could afford to have associated with it going into this race on the back of everything that’s happened.
Knowing that, the members of Labour voted for him anyway.
Purely and simply, the Labour Party in Scotland has been the architect of its own destruction. It has made choices that have crushed its supporters and friends, choices that have destroyed its links with the communities it was once grounded in.
It did these things partly because it took our support for granted, assuming it rather than earning it.
But I can’t help conclude that it happened because Labour itself is no longer a party that represents ordinary people.
Its elected offices are now swelled with professionals and wannabes who see it as nothing more than a career vehicle, and I know this well because I know many of them personally.
Its rank and file membership has also changed from when I was last a member, and become the sort that applauds austerity and elects a Blairite in a country that abhors them.
This weekend’s conference showed them in the worst possible light, but in truth it’s the only light you can see them in now because it’s the truest expression of who, and what, they actually are.
I look at the people who make up the Labour membership now and I don’t recognise their aspirations as being compatible with my own. I don’t recognise their values as being my own. I don’t know what they stand for, except winning at all costs.
The uphill battle to retain even a handful of seats is one they’re going to struggle with.
For most of the MP’s in the Scottish Labour ranks there is no stomach for this fight. They never expected to be here. All took it for granted that theirs was a divine right to rule and that those seats were jobs for life.
One un-named Labour MP is reputed to have told the journalist James Millar that he will move to England after he loses his seat and that “the Scots have made their bed. Let them lie in it.”
This is but a small measure of the contempt in which they hold the people who elected them and is one of the many, many reasons I want us to put the lot of them out of business.
It does not matter how many times Jim Murphy appears in the papers asking us to come together; I do not believe a word he says, nor a word any of his colleagues say. My memory is too sharp for that, my political antennae too well honed.
These self-interested swine have lied to us and betrayed us time and again, and all of it with the arrogance that comes from thinking they will never, ever have to pay that bill.
Ironically, I think part of this comes down to a trait the New Labourites wanted to encourage in the people of this fair land; a streak of selfishness that makes us ask “what have you done for me and mine lately?”
Without it, I don’t believe this country would be ready to annihilate them.
This is what they wanted from us, to cut us loose of our loyalty to anything except ourselves and our own people.
Listen to Kezia Dugdale on Question Time the other night, talking about how she’s not a “tribal politician”, as though riding the middle of the road in a world like this was some kind of virtue.
They really did want to discourage tribalism, to embrace that “third way”, to convince us that there didn’t need to be “clear blue water” and dividing lines … a fraud, in short, to force us all to accept the neo-capitalist “consensus” they were wedded to.
It even infused the party itself, and the proof of it is in the Fifty Shades of Labour that have replaced the old alliances across the structure; from the Purple Bookers to Blue Labour …. they have more varieties than Heinz and the average member now has less conviction that Mayor Quimby from The Simpsons, and with a tenth of his political savvy.
So they made us less tribal, and that was good for them but not so much for us, forced, as we were, to choose in the 2010 election between “the lesser of who cares”.
No wonder many of us felt as if we were drifting on the tide, as though we were not part of anything greater than ourselves.
This was the intention, you see; to turn everyone into a floating voter, the easier to pin us down in focus groups, to make us look inward and at our own circumstances and lives, and so forget our bonds of community and the loyalties we once knew.
And it worked!
They created a country where all the old certainties had been shattered and we all felt a little lost and helpless.
The communities that once kept us together – and which were the bedrock on which their support was built – were fragmented.
The first hint that it was going to cause them problems came when the SNP finished as the biggest party at Holyrood in the 2007 election.
Yet Labour made no effort to rebuild its community organisations and to rededicate itself to progressive politics.
The chickens came home to roost in 2011, when the SNP won a majority in a parliament that was designed specifically to deny them that.
Again, no lessons were learned.
The party continued to treat Scotland like an afterthought, and the party up here was a hollowed out shell which never came to terms with that defeat.
When we all started to come together again as the full weight of what we were about to decide for our future started to come into focus, when we started to gel as communities once more in pursuit of our common endeavour … well, our eyes were wide open then and we knew them for what they were.
As if we were in any doubt, their conduct cemented the certainty that they had abandoned us completely, and the path of sanity with it.
Now they think they insult us by labelling us “nationalist” as if it was a crime to love your country and want the best for it.
They know nothing of how we feel, those people without principle or scruples of any kind, those people who never felt the tide of history pull at them, too centred on their own advancement to care.
They pretend not to understand that you can be an internationalist and still want your country to stand on its own two feet. That Scotland could be the progressive voice in the arena that Britain will never, ever be.
They spoon feed us bullshit about how Scottish votes will decide whether David Cameron is Prime Minister, knowing we know that it’s a falsehood but smiling in our faces anyway, daring us to do our worst … because they never thought we would.
They are wrong. They are wrong about a lot of things.
There’s just one thing we can rely on them for, and it’s their self-interest.
Those Scottish MP’s who are raising a ruckus because Miliband won’t rule out a power-sharing agreement after the election are voices crying in the wilderness, and nothing shows them up more than this petulant, self-important squealing for their own survival.
They have over-looked three massive obstacles to getting their way.
First, Miliband can easily ignore their howling because if the results are as bad for the party as the polls predict very few of them will be returning to Westminster to make him suffer for it.
The visceral loathing of Salmond and Sturgeon is largely confined to Scotland … and if there are only a handful of Scottish Labour MP’s when this is done … well, they can be ignored as they’ve always been and there will be no serious barrier to a deal being worked out.
Miliband has nothing to fear from the SNP, as they will not support bringing down the government, and under the Fixed Term Parliament Act that gives him five years to work in.
Secondly, with the SNP perfectly willing to enter into a “confidence and supply” agreement, but with input of their own, Miliband knows he has the perfect cover for pushing a more left-wing agenda if that’s what takes his fancy … and that must be attractive to a guy who I actually do think has a lot of progressive ideas very much to my liking.
Third, and finally, Miliband knows that he could spike the SNP’s guns to a certain extent, if he lets them play a role in the UK government and thus proves, to their voters, that Westminster can work.
It is hard to believe that this has not crossed his mind.
I think that Miliband and the London party’s self-interest will trump the wishes of its northernmost branch office.
As was shown again yesterday, they don’t want to rule anything in or out in terms of a coalition or working arrangement, and as a consequence they will let the Scottish party sink or swim on its own.
To do otherwise would be to confirm that this is a party with a self-destructive tendency, and that Miliband is a man with a political death wish.
To render the verdict of Scotland’s people irrelevant before a vote is even cast would do more to strengthen the SNP’s message that the Westminster system treats us like shit than anything that has come before, and it would virtually guarantee that when the hammer falls it will fall hard.
This is the bind Labour is now in, a bind of its own making, the natural consequence of its own hubris and its attendant failure to frame the terms of the national debate.
They are stuck at around 32% of the vote, unable, even now, to move the party in a direction that will secure the two or three points it needs to win, and render the need for a coalition moot.
It’s not in their DNA any longer. They are not risk averse as much as lacking in any conviction at all.
It’s almost over. The campaign hasn’t even started yet, but the portents look decidedly grim for the party that once thought it governed Scotland by entitlement.
By the time things get underway God alone knows how much more damage it will have inflicted on itself, because it no longer appears able to recognise, far less recover, its position … and many of its members no longer care to try.
All that’s left for some of them is to wait for the hammer to fall, and listen to the clock counting down.
There are 59 days left.
Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.
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