An inward-looking Labour Party is too caught up in its own affairs to properly take on the SNP, writes Brian Wilson
In a series of local by-elections this week, the current trend of Scottish politics was maintained. The Scottish Nationalists held the seats they defended and gained one from the Greens, all with big swings towards them.
The turn-outs were between 14 and 21 per cent, which is a fair reflection of where local democracy stands in the pantheon of Scottish politics. It seems unlikely that those who bothered to vote were passing judgment on the quality of refuse service, the appalling performance of the SNP’s centralised Police Scotland or the deleterious impact of the council tax freeze on the poor and the weak.
While local Labour activists doubtless sought to concentrate minds upon relevant matters, they are scarcely helped by the vacuum in which they are required to operate. Following near wipe-out in May and with 12 months to improve upon that performance in the Holyrood elections, the Scottish Labour Party determined that fully one-third of this grace period should be devoted to a leadership contest, amidst scenes of mounting public disinterest.
Those whom the gods would destroy, and all that. At the same time, the gods appear to be even more active in the UK context, and the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn emerging as Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition must now be taken seriously. To make that outcome more likely, Labour has opened its ballot box to anyone prepared to pay three quid for the privilege of hastening its demise as a serious political force.
Having previously inflicted Ed Miliband’s leadership upon the party, thereby ensuring its worst electoral defeat since the 1930s, the great barons of the trade union movement are now leading the charge to finish the job. In fairness, there is no shortage of cheerleaders on this occasion. Jeremy, the Dave Spart of the 1980s, has been re-born as the Alexis Tsipras of Islington and there is a ready market for his simplicitudes.
Anyone looking for reasons why Jeremy should not become leader of the Labour Party is spoilt for choice. For starters, he suffers from what might be described as Iain Duncan Smith’s Law – a leader who has made a career out of disloyalty to previous leaders will never command loyalty from a large proportion of those whom he then seeks to lead. Since Jeremy has spent much of his career promulgating disloyalty as an expression of high principle, he would surely expect to be taken at his word.
Jeremy has now intimated that he would do a deal with the SNP to form a Labour-led government. At least this has the virtue of clarity. Unfortunately, the unconfirmed allegation of that intention was recently enough to virtually kill off Labour in Scotland, while ensuring there would be no Labour government in the UK. It is not immediately obvious why the explicitly stated intention to achieve power by the same route would have a more beneficial outcome, or indeed why anyone would be daft enough to think it might.
It really isn’t Jeremy’s fault that he has acquired his current status. The greater culpability lies with those who have colluded in the grotesque rewriting of history to eliminate all connection between reality and the supposed reasons for winning or losing. The 1980s is now presented as a golden age of “real Labour” when the Bennite ascendancy, in which Jeremy was a prominent footsoldier, was thwarted only by the revisionism of reactionary forces. Everything thereafter was downhill. Winning three elections in a row was ultimate proof of perfidy.
Since this is roughly the narrative spread by the SNP in Scotland last May, it is not difficult to see why synergies could emerge. For example, Mhairi Black, a natural soul sister for the Corbynistas, has solemnly assured us to much acclaim that she did not leave the Labour Party but the Labour Party left her, presumably at the age of two when it committed the awful error of being elected and then failed to eradicate poverty and disease by the time she was in fourth year.
By failing to defend the successes and achievements of these three Labour governments, which have been well documented by impartial observers, the people who were part of them have left the field open to those whose only interest has ever been in discrediting them.
That is the recent legacy that is now being lived with not only in Scotland but in the UK as a whole. If anyone hopes that salvation lies in the arch-propagators of that mentality, then they really do need to think again.
Labour in Scotland should now be having a field day concentrating on the manifold failures of the SNP in government. There is no shortage of targets to aim at, but if nobody notices the bullets, then the targets remain unscathed. I sympathise with those who are trying to break through the Teflon but they are fighting a hopeless battle until Labour stops behaving like a self-infatuated protest group and emerges as a serious political party, hungry to exercise power. It could be a while unless sense prevails.
Meanwhile, I must share my favourite tweet of the week, which came from Ms Jeanne Freeman, a queen of the Scottish quango circuit and a lady of unswerving loyalty to whichever political party is exercising patronage at the time.
Ms Freeman was one of the “I am not in the SNP but…” brigade, anxious to prove their fidelity during the referendum campaign. She is also a ministerially appointed board member of the utterly useless Scottish Police Authority. So it was a delight to find Ms Freeman tweeting last weekend about her appearance at the local SNP meeting which re-selected the Deputy First Minister and ultimate controller of quango appointments, John Swinney, as their candidate.
“Privilege and pleasure to speak at John Swinney candidate endorsement in Perth,” she trilled. “Great speech,” enthused the Deputy First Minister in response.
In these troubled times for Police Scotland, with half its experienced officers wanting to get out and bodies lying unnoticed by the roadside, it is reassuring to know that scrutiny over them is in such fearlessly independent hands.
I do remember the day when quango appointees were obliged to remain politically silent. But who cares or even notices such niceties in today’s Scotland?