THE names of some parliamentary constituencies enter the political lexicon and come to carry a meaning greater than themselves.
So, Hamilton signifies Winnie Ewing’s historic by-election victory; West Lothian will forever be associated with Tam Dalyell’s famous question; Monklands has unfortunately become a by-word for sectarianism in politics; and Govan has come to symbolise the classic SNP/Labour tussle for the soul of the Scottish urban working-class. To this list we must now add Falkirk, which is destined to become a shorthand for the increasingly ill-tempered civil war between the trades union movement and what remains of New Labour.
As we reveal on our front page today, new accusations have been raised about the conduct surrounding the selection of a Labour candidate to replace Eric Joyce, who is standing down as the local MP. Earlier this year, Labour leader Ed Miliband called in the police over accusations of ballot-rigging in support of a candidate sponsored by the Unite trade union. And he promised a fundamental reform of the unions’ relationship with the Labour Party, further diluting the power of the union barons in policy creation and internal party elections. Only now, with the police inquiry coming to nothing, and two suspended union favourites reinstated to membership, the justification for this purge seems to have evaporated. To cap it all, it is suggested the Blairite faction in Falkirk also has questions to answer about selection irregularities. It is a serious guddle that poses a serious challenge to Miliband’s credibility, especially as he prepares to speak at the TUC conference in Bournemouth on Tuesday.
On a purely tactical level, it could be argued Miliband needs his Clause Four moment with the unions to counter a likely Tory critique of his leadership come the next UK general election. He has nowhere to hide when the argument is deployed that he owes his leadership to union support. The Labour membership preferred his brother David, but the unions won the day for Ed. The more Miliband tries to position Labour in opposition to the austerity of the Tory-led coalition, the greater the opportunity for the Conservatives to paint him as “Red Ed” owing favours to the union kingmakers.
But this issue goes beyond tactics. The truth is that Miliband’s move to challenge organised union power within the party is the right thing to do, regardless of the whether or not the original Falkirk allegations are found to be justified. The process towards a genuinely one-member-one-vote party, begun by John Smith in the wake of Labour’s 1992 general election debacle, still has a distance to travel before Labour can present itself as a party that is not in the pocket of vested interests. Because to the eye of a 20-year-old in 2013, the nature of Labour’s relationship with the trades union movement seems bafflingly antediluvian.
Miliband needs to get his act together on Falkirk and his broader relationship with the union movement, and he needs to do so quickly. He cannot afford to retreat on his union reforms – that would be to confirm people’s worst suspicions about him, that he does not have the necessary smeddum to be prime minister, and that his opposition is anaemic and opportunistic. Fortune, rather than deftness, handed him a famous victory in this month’s Syria vote in the Commons. If he is not careful, his new-found lustre as a statesman may not last him through to the end of this coming week.
The resignation last night of wife-beater Bill Walker as MSP for Dunfermline is a welcome end to one of the most unsavoury episodes in the short history of the Scottish Parliament. Scottish politics will be glad to see the back of a despicable man who has been convicted of more than 20 counts of assault on three former wives and a teenage step-daughter. This newspaper shared the opinion of those who believed there should be no place for him in the Scottish Parliament. It is good he is gone.
Earlier yesterday, the First Minister called on Westminster to devolve the necessary powers to Holyrood that would, in future, allow MSPs to decide the terms under which one of their number should be ejected from Parliament. This was an eminently reasonable request. Power over local government elections already resides in the Edinburgh legislature. It would seem perverse not to allow the Scottish Parliament to be able to make similar decisions about its own procedures.
Scottish Secretary Michael Moore had also said yesterday he was seeking talks on this matter. Walker’s resignation does not remove the necessity for action. We hope all-party agreement can allow a swift transfer of competencies so that in future, when necessary, any other lowlife MSPs convicted of such crimes can be swiftly removed from Holyrood.