SO bad I read it twice. Not so much missing the point, as flying past it in the opposite direction at warp speed. You could sum up Scottish Labour’s pitch for next year’s Holyrood election in two slogans: Better Together, and No to Indyref2. A couple of golden oldies which, when I last looked, had them hovering around 12% in the polls.
What is it with this death wish that has transformed a party whose Scottish fiefdom once seemed so impregnable into a minority rump eclipsed in the polls by Conservatives and sporting one (one!) Scottish MP?
On Saturday, after a lengthy meeting of its Scottish Executive, it issued a detailed statement of intent and belief which elevated contradictory prose to new levels of incredulity. Here’s a flavour: “Scottish Labour is committed to Scotland remaining in the UK” but, if you please, “Scottish Labour is neither a nationalist or a Unionist party”. Or this: “It is the sovereign right of the people to determine their future, and the right of the people of Scotland to determine the form of government suited to their needs” but “it is clear that the people are neither demanding a second referendum nor independence”.
That sentence was penned and agreed in the week that a poll showed that a) 52% of Scots would now vote for independence and b) 20% of No voters in 2014 would now vote Yes.
Their answer to all of which is that: “We need to lead not simply follow public opinion.” Get real, guys. Telling voters how stupid they are is not a great look. Scottish Labour are behaving like the political equivalent of a stuck record, determined to advise their lost tribe where it has gone wrong.
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Their statement replays all the familiar tunes about beefed-up devolution and, of course, the F-word is thrown about. Federalism is something the new UK leader seems to have just discovered. Been there. Not done that. Enough of the Scottish voting public believed all that stuff about Labour federalism and devo max in September 2014 to scupper the Yes vote. Just as many fell for the Better Together promise about a No vote guaranteeing their European citizenship.
So let us review Labour’s record since those halcyon days when they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories to deny Scottish self-government. At a UK level, they chose a leader whom most politically woke folk knew was unelectable. Worse still, his legendary Euroscepticism ensured his performance as an alleged Remain supporter had all the credibility of a Celtic fan suggesting Rangers wuz robbed of the league title. So we got the double-up. A Brexit for which almost two-thirds of Scots never voted, to be followed by a Tory Government we didn’t vote for either. Just as we haven’t these last 65 years.
And not just any old Tories. This lot proved you can sell any slick slogan so long as you put it out on repeat. These Tories proved that you can lever a serial cheat and liar into 10 Downing Street so long as the electorate is confined to card-carrying Conservatives, their tiny numbers slightly swollen by infiltrating UKippers.
So Richard Leonard is asking the Scots to set aside any childish notions of becoming a nation state again and instead plight their troth to a Labour Party which have somehow to topple a government with a tidy 80-seat majority. Ian Murray, their solitary Scottish MP, recently said this would only happen if Labour won 10 or 20 seats in Scotland. I’d dearly love to know which he has in mind.
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A sad corollary of this epic misjudgment of the public mood is that we have a Scottish Government with no credible opposition. The unholy trinity of Leonard, the Tories’s Jackson Carlaw and Willie Rennie of the LibDems can barely lay a glove on it, because it is perennially a catchweight contest. And this is not healthy; good governance demands intelligent scrutiny from serious opponents.
One of the reasons the SNP remain in power and garners high poll ratings, is that vanishingly few people believe any of the other parties could summon a competent, alternative administration. Probably not even collectively.
As it happens, one senior Labour figure did make an interesting proposition last week. Although I’m not sure how wedded former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish is to his party these days. In any event, he suggested that things were now so serious on the No-Deal Brexit front, that the Scottish Government should go and bang on Europe’s door asking for admittance regardless of what was happening in London.
As a not entirely daft person, I could recite all the myriad technical and legal reasons why this might not be legitimate. Just as I can recite, if pushed, all the reasons why a referendum not expressly sanctioned by Westminster might also lack legitimacy.
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Yet we are at a moment of maximum national peril. Regardless of how Covid pans out, it will leave economic carnage in its wake. If the UK Government makes good its promise to career over the Brexit cliff edge at the end of the year, that disaster will be doubled. And we will have scant weaponry with which to rebuild so long as so many crucial decisions remain dependant on Westminster’s “good” graces.
The most over-used word in the English language just now is unprecedented. Because it so accurately describes this strange, new, dangerous world. A world which requires an unprecedented response unless we fancy going down with a sinking UK ship without access to our own lifeboat.
The Yes movement increasingly realises this, which is why there are so many voices urging Scotland find an escape hatch before it’s too late. I’m not among those wanting yet more new bodies – we have enough organisations out there. (Although there IS an argument for the political pro-indy force solely targeting list seats.)
We have enough solid research. Enough local talent and energy. What we need is focus, courage and self-belief. Taking a knee against racism is fine. Bending the knee to a shoddy Westminster has had its day.