Posts Tagged “Scottish” Labour

Beware the worms lurking in cans!

Can WormsIt seems that in the absence of anything meaningful to offer the populace, and despite being given a kicking of the first order at the polls, Scottish Labour has decided that it’s groundhog day.

Carping, sniping, empty posturing. That’s what the people rejected, so we’ll give them more of the same.

How else do you explain the shitstorm its elected representatives have been trying to generate in the last few weeks? First, with tongue firmly not in its cheek, it demanded to know just how close the SNP and Alex Salmond had got to Rupert Murdoch and his News International empire in Scotland. In an extremely linear approach which would keep no person out of jail, Paul Martin determined that because the Scottish Sun had supported the SNP in the last election, ergo this was damning evidence of the SNP being in Murdoch’s pockets.

So the Scottish Government duly publishes a full list not only of First Ministerial contacts with the media since 2007 but those of key Cabinet members AND copies of correspondence between Eck and Rupe. The latter ain’t pretty and caused many toes to curl in discomfort. Yes, the First Minister might have been really, really trying to portray himself as the global media mogul’s equal and really, really trying to persuade Murdoch to become a Caledonian champion. But frankly if there had been anything to hide, the goverment would have hidden it.

But like much of its interventions in the last year, Labour might well have scored an own goal. Disclosure of Labour leaders’ contacts with the media has been asked for and… we’re still waiting. Oh why are we waiting? What’s so hard about pulling together a list of all the meetings, lunches, receptions, letters etc exchanged between the Scottish Labour leadership – Iain Gray, Wendy Alexander in opposition and Jack McConnell and Henry McLeish during their time as First Minister – and Scottish media representatives? The longer they take, the worse it looks, even if there is nothing untoward at all. But they started it.

But the real can of worms opened up by Scottish Labour recently involves the insinuation that the SNP Government offered Brian Souter honours for political donations. They haven’t actually come out and said it, but the inference is of cash for honours on our ain doorstep. Siller for hallions no less.

A whole webpage has been set up over at Scottish Labour’s website – the Souter files, powered exclusively with righteous indignation, over-wrought hyperbole, and rank hypocrisy and inaccuracy. Cathy Jamieson MP suggests that “The First Minister and his party must look seriously at the relationship they have developed with wealthy individuals handing them large sums of cash. The public will rightly be asking what’s next on Mr Souter’s shopping list and waiting for the First Minister to deliver.”

Individuals plural. Who exactly? Apart from Souter’s admittedly eye-watering donation in 2011, other donations to the SNP were five figure sums, the vast majority of its donations far, far lower. The SNP does not have that many supporters with deep pockets: Souter’s donation was matched by hundreds more, much smaller ones by members and supporters. The only person who out-donated Brian Souter was the late Edwin Morgan through a bequest in his will. What’s that? Nothing nasty to say about the Makar appointed by a Labour First Minister? Oh.

Apparently, Souter’s donation(s) are why the SNP has not re-regulated bus provision in Scotland. I acknowledge – it’s a policy that makes sense and it should be done. But then again, I don’t recall Labour-LibDem Scottish Executives, in power for double the time the SNP has been, rushing to re-regulate. Indeed, in four years of opposition, I don’t recall Labour making this a big issue and pushing for it to happen. How curious.

So let’s overturn the can and see what comes wriggling out. What’s this? A number of individuals – all of them wealthy, some of them longstanding Labour supporters or who have donated to the Labour party and bestowed honours while Labour was the lead partner in the Scottish Executive and Ministers were involved in nominating people for honours.

Moir Lockhead is one such, Willie Haughey is another, as is Duncan Bannatyne and Tom Hunter. All of them distinguished businessmen in their own right, who have also made huge charitable contributions during their lifetime. These are the reasons their honours were bestowed but following Scottish Labour’s current logic, all were given awards at the time they were active supporters and/or donors to the Labour party. Though historic, the worms in its can are far more juicy than the ones in the SNP’s.

Frankly, the Scottish public doesn’t give a damn. It holds all politicians and political parties in equally low esteem. Labour might think it is landing blows on the SNP but all such activity achieves is to confirm what people think of all parties, its ain included. In May the people spoke loud and clear – the SNP was the party they liked better or at least, disliked least. Given the current electoral mood, Labour will continue to come off second best if it persists in pursuing this kind of puerile politics. Making the road back to electoral credibility a whole lot harder.

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Advice for the Labour at heart

If they trusted him, WWTD would be the new motto of the Labour party:  What Would Tony Do?

Yeah, maybe not.  But as more information seeps into the public domain about the premiership of Tony Blair (I’ve just finished Mandelson’s memoir – which paints a particularly bad picture of Gordon Brown) Labour are once again at a turning point.  They are out of office – a situation not unknown to them – and, once again, they are considering a lurch to the left.  The problem for them here is twofold:  historically (1983) this was a disaster and the country is not where they think they need to go.  So a lurch to the left would probably have a similar disastrous outcome to that of 1983.

Ignoring the UK level issue at the moment and turning attention to Scotland, the situation is less critical in terms of policy programme but more so in terms of personality.  At least with the leadership contest for the UK party, Labour have an opportunity to fill the power vacuum left at the top of the tree.  In Scotland, that vacuum remains and, undoubtedly, needs to be dealt with.

Prior to their defeat in May, Labour effectively had three leaders in Scotland.  The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, as leader of Labour party, was constitutionally at least, leader of (what is known by name only) as Scottish Labour.  In order not to elevate the SNP First Minister to his level, the Prime Minister appointed Jim Murphy as Secretary of State for Scotland to deal with him for the UK Government – effectively becoming de facto leader of Scottish Labour in the process.  And finally, of least importance to the internal workings of the Labour Party but probably most prominent when it came to devolved politics, we have Iain Gray, leader of the Labour group in the Scottish Parliament, to give his full title.  That was prior to the election.

Now we have a situation where Labour don’t have a leader at UK level (which removes them from the equation).  They also don’t have a Secretary of State for Scotland – being out of power, they have a Shadow Sec State, which is simply not as powerful.  I can’t see the First Minister calling Jim Murphy all that often now.  Iain Gray is still in position of course, but here’s the issue:  his remit only stretches as far as his MSPs.  Of course they can work out policy for the Scottish Parliament in devolved areas (although I think – but I’m not sure – that if it differs substantially from UK Labour policy, it has to be ratified by their NEC) but that’s it.  He has no control over Labour’s substantial group of Scottish MPs.

I think it is fair to say that Iain Gray has not exactly set the heather alight as leader of Labour in the Scottish Parliament.  That’s not a criticism as such, merely an observation.  Time and again at FMQs he has barely grazed the First Minister (though on one or two occasions he has landed a punch, albeit one which tends to have been fairly easily parried).  And outside of Holyrood he has tended to be overshadowed by his Westminster colleagues.  And even in the four months that Labour have been out of power, he has not really come forward and owned the Labour agenda in Scotland.

I called this post “advice” for a reason… but I know those who are Labour-minded will not like it.  Iain Gray and Scottish Labour have to assert their independence (although they probably shouldn’t use the word independence).  Eleven years after devolution began it is time that the party north of the border – and its leader – took responsibility for their own actions and stopped deferring to the UK party.  I think if they do so – if they really are allowed to separate, or at least become a more “federally” organised party, like the Lib Dems – then they will be much better equipped to present themselves as a party which is in direct competition to the SNP in fighting for particularly Scottish interests.  I realise that Scottish MPs are unlikely to accept a ‘mere’ MSP as their leader, but this is a fight that Scottish Labour MSPs have to take on – and win.  Otherwise I really can’t see how the public will view them as anything other than proxies for UK Labour.

That, I think is the biggest challenge for Labour before next May’s Scottish Parliament election – make the Scottish party more Scottish internally, and reap the rewards of it electorally.  It won’t be easy, but that which is necessary for success never is.

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