Posts Tagged Tom Harris MP

EXCLUSIVE: Tom Harris, calling all parties to the unionist cause

In yet another exclusive guestpost for Better Nation, Labour leadership contender, Tom Harris MP, responds to Pete Wishart’s call with one of his own – and he doesn’t pull his punches. 

What are the chances of an all-party campaign for “No to Independence”?

Well practically zilch, if we are to listen to Pete Wishart, writing on this site on Friday.

It would seem that he and the SNP have set themselves up in a bizarre contest to be the keenest defenders of separatism, and in that defence they will be steadfast. But why have they allowed themselves to be so entrenched on the nationalist side of the debate, and is there any prospect whatsoever of them even entertaining the notion of Scotland continuing as part of the UK…?

You get the idea. Such is the arrogance of the SNP post their impressive Holyrood victory in May, that they are filled with scorn for anyone so dim-witted as to disagree with the central driving force within Pete’s own party.

Labour, writes Pete in that patronising tone that might have well been patented by the SNP, has a “proud tradition” when it comes to constitutional change. Well, that’s nice of him, eh? Scottish Labour Action was an excellent example of “free thinking” on Scotland’s constitutional future, he writes, patting Wendy Alexander and Jack McConnell on the head and offering them a lump of sugar. So why the poverty of thinking on the issue now?

Well, Pete, I have the answer to that one: it’s because SLA achieved their aim. Remember that? Remember when the Scottish Parliament was opened in 1999? Come on, it must at least ring a bell!

In calling for Labour Party members to support a pro-independence campaign, Pete ignores the fact that there are many, many more SNP voters who support the Union than there are Labour voters who support independence. And yes, Pete, you’re right that no-one joined the Labour Party to protect the Union; they’re a bit more concerned about the economy, poverty, inequality and progress – you know, important stuff. None of these issues is at the top of SNP members’ list of priorities – without their obsession on constitutional issues, they have no guiding mission.

That’s the difference between the politics of identity and the politics of progress.

Labour and all the other unionist parties, says Pete, risk irrelevance in a “new Independent Scotland” (although he doesn’t quite explain what is “new” about turning the political clock back 300 years, but I’ll let that one go) by not getting on board the independence bus now.

Do you see what he’s doing here? In the week that the SNP government were obliged to talk about what they’re most uncomfortable talking about – budgets, services, the economy – Pete wants us all to move back on to the nationalists’ ground – the constitution. Just as the media and much of Scottish business are beginning to suspect that the future being shaped by Alex Salmond isn’t quite as rosy as they had been led to believe, Pete wants us all to close our eyes, click our heels together three times and imagine that he was right all along to talk about the “inevitability” of independence. I wonder why?

To Pete (and, I assume, his attitude is entirely typical of his fellow SNP members), everyone of all parties and of none accepts that independence is as right as it is inevitable, but that only the SNP are honest enough to admit it.  Nationalists are true and honourable, unionists are dishonourable and base.  We’re all nationalists, if only we were brave enough to look inside ourselves and admit it.

The alternative – that some Scots genuinely believe that we’re better off in the UK than out of it – isn’t even considered by him as a possible alternative.

Memo to Pete: you’re wrong. Prepare for a fight.

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Tom Harris: Labour’s transition man?

We have a contender.  Maybe even two, if Ken Macintosh’s denial of denying he ever said he won’t be standing turns out, in a roundabout way, to be an intention to stand.  But definitely – he has financial backers apparently! – Tom Harris MP.

If Labour changes its rules to allow an MP to stand for the post of LOLITSP (trademarked @twodoctors).  Or rather Not in the Scottish Parliament.  This electing a new leader malarkey may take a while yet.

But what of the Harris man?  Did he set up Labour Hame as a vehicle for his ambitions?  If he wanted that, he’d have kept up his own blogging venture.  Where’s the stand-out opportunity for a wannabe leader in a collective that allows people to air their views, sensible and otherwise?  Labour Hame – to this reader – seems to be an honest attempt to create an internet space for Labour peeps – and beyond – to have their say and posit ideas and views on the future direction of the party in Scotland.  It’s not necessarily living up to its aims yet but there is some thoughtful stuff being posted.

Is he treating Scotland as sloppy seconds?  Yes, he might have felt a bit sore at being overlooked for Ed’s shadow Cabinet and the switch of his attentions to Scotland may be an attempt to satisfy his ambitions but what politician didn’t have ambition?  In any event, for all the SNP folk making an issue of this, they have a short memory.  Didn’t the SNP insist that all its MPs stand for Holyrood in 1999?  Didn’t Alex Salmond resume the leadership of the party and still stand for Westminster?  Didn’t he actually lead the party while an MP and not an MSP?  As I recall, it all worked out fine.  If it was good enough for the SNP, why not Labour?

As someone who likes to see the best in folk – most of the time – but is still capable of tempering such idealism with the pragmatism gained from years of living and working in and around politics, here’s my take.  Labour has to go into a period of thinking the unthinkable, of doing the previously undo-able if it is ever to turn its electoral fortunes around.  And it needs a transitional leader to do so:  could Tom Harris be that man?

Already, he seems to be gathering potential support from a wide range of sources within the movement.  This would be one of his strengths, the fact that he belongs to no obvious clique or faction.  Very much his own man and perhaps a bit of a loner in fraternal terms, this lack of alignment with this wing or that, might actually allow him to build the necessary coalition of votes across parliamentary groups, members and trade unions.

Tom Harris has never been an orthodox Scottish Labour MP.  A Blairite when everyone else in Scotland was airbrushing the Prime Minister out of existence, he hasn’t exactly been on-message with the Scottish narrative of the last twelve years.  He thinks aloud, which is refreshing actually.  And means he would not shy away from putting stuff out there, realising what others still fail to come to terms with, that Labour has nothing left to lose.

Aidan outlines the purge Labour requires to perform more eloquently than I could.  From his statements and blog pieces since May, Tom Harris appears to have the appetite for reform, and the challenges that brings, while others who are much more establishment Scottish Labour might not be.

He is a natural communicator, at ease on television, radio and in the world of new media.  Which counts for a lot.  Labour does not need a big-hitting parliamentary politician at this stage, to lead the party in an electoral contest.  There ain’t one coming anytime soon.  Next year’s council elections are a write-off;  if they manage to end up with a similar number of councillors as 2007, it will be remarkable.

Scottish Labour needs to reform internally and renew externally over the next few years.  And while there are potential electoral rewards down the line for the party, the leader who drives such change is only really awarded political plaudits with the application of hindsight.  Just ask John Swinney or Neil Kinnock.

A transitional leader has different qualities from one who wins elections.  He/she needs to be capable of making change happen, to be resilient, determined, with a plan and attention to detail, capable of reaching out to a range of disparate voices, particularly to reassure the fretful, of holding the jackets and allowing robust discourse but also applying discipline when and where it is needed.  Keeping the core on side while jettisoning unnecessary membership baggage (if required) and creating space for new supporters.  Establishing a rationale and a definitive purpose that all can unite around – actual policy comes far later.  Modernisation is a big task.

Already Harris has started setting out his stall – more, much more, will be required of him, and other putative leaders.  He has at least started well – first out of the blocks and acknowledging that no change is not an option.  Now all we need is for Ken Macintosh to show his hand and we might even get a debate and a contest.



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