Friday, 13 March 2015


From my perspective the polls continue to bemuse.

But the one thing we have all learned over the last few years is not to underestimate the SNP. One of the more amusing events of the last week or so has been various members of the Yes Alliance waking up to the fact that many of their "grass roots community organisations" were actually no more than SNP fronts. All credit to the Nats, I say. No matter what you think of them, they are not stupid. These Yes people may have been idiots but on any view they proved for a time to be useful idiots. 

But that is as nothing compared to the achievement the Nats are in sight of pulling off in eight weeks. To get people to vote for them at a Westminster election without it being clear what they are voting for. 

To be fair, there appear to be one thing they are not voting for. There will be no coalition between the SNP and the Tories. This is hardly surprising given the Electoral tsunami that would be likely to follow.

What the Nats would like to happen is that Labour would win a plurality but not an absolute majority in the Commons and then be kept in power by Nationalist support or abstention. In some way, they maintain, this would allow them to extract concessions although it is far from clear what the Nats would want by way of these concessions. On any view the pre oil price crash GERS figures produced this past week have, the cleverer ones know, killed Full Fiscal Autonomy stone dead. The Nats themselves clearly have doubts (to say the least) about an early re run of the referendum but in any event, even on their own narrative, that is a decision to be taken at the 2016 Holyrood election rather than the 2015 Westminster one. And beyond one or other of these objectives? No idea. I don't mean I've no idea, they've no idea. 

Even the one other thing they could mention, Trident Renewal, seems much less of a red line even if it was always a pretty blurry one anyway. If a Labour Government opts for renewal who exactly were the SNP planning on rounding up to defeat that from happening? For what conceivable alternative British Government was ever going to act differently?

So what lots of Nat MPs would achieve in a positive sense is unclear. What can however be said with absolute arithmetical certainty is that the more SNP MPs there are the fewer Labour MPs there will be and the more chance therefor that the Tories will be the largest Party in the Commons.

And when you think that through, that is important. 

There always has to be a Government. Even when there is a straightforward election change from one Party having a Commons majority to another, there are a few hours while the defeated Party remains "in office". When an indecisive result emerges the current administration remains in office for a longer period. If you think about it for five seconds you appreciate that's what happened in February 1974 and May 2010. Heath and Brown were still sat in Downing Street for days after they had lost their Commons majorities. They both only actually went when it was clear an alternative administration was prepared to be formed but, even had they resigned before then, it is likely they would have been asked by the Queen to continue in a caretaker capacity. For reasons of National security, never mind a myriad of other more mundane functions, executive power must be capable of being exercised by somebody.

So even if Cameron has no conceivable route to a Commons majority he won't go immediately. More to the point however is what happens if nobody else has a clear route either? 

Which of the two big Parties has the more seats then becomes critically important. 

If it is Labour then we can expect the formation of a minority administration. At least initially, if everybody but the Tories sits on their hands, such a Government could function as the SNP did at Holyrood from 2007-11.

But if it is the Tories? 

I can't see how Labour could attempt to form a government in that circumstance. Every vote of importance would be dependent on factors we couldn't control. Obviously the SNP could be held hostage to some extent but the critical thing is that their abstention would not be enough. Since any straight Labour/Tory head to head vote would lead to defeat, one or other minority Party would always be required in our lobby and not just sitting on its hands. There is no conceivable attraction to that and, in any event, the long term electoral cost of such a guddle would be just too high. While I think Ed is right not to rule out anything if we "win", but do not have an absolute majority, it seems to me that he would lose nothing by saying that if we are not the largest Party we will not attempt to form an administration. He would only be coming to an obvious conclusion in advance.

So, what if Labour doesn't attempt to form an administration? 

That's when incumbency comes back into play. 

Cameron is Prime Minister and could only be removed by a vote of no confidence being passed in the Commons. Depending on the arithmetic, and the position of the remaining Lib Dems, it might well be within the capacity of Labour and the SNP to pass such a vote. In terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act,  if no alternative administration could secure a vote of confidence within the next fourteen days then a further election would be required.

But would Labour or the SNP actually, immediately, want to trigger such another election?

This is where you need think a bit ahead.

Firstly, there is the practicality issue. In terms of the fixed term Parliaments Act the timescale for a no confidence vote and the fourteen day interregnum would require another General Election before the Summer. Would any political Party (never mind, not unimportantly, the electorate) really want that? 

Secondly, Labour would at least want the opportunity for a change of leadership. If Ed hadn't won once many would argue he'd had his chance. But an immediate election re run would make that impossible.

Thirdly, on this scenario, people in Scotland would, inevitably, have woken up to the fact that the reason we didn't have a Labour Government was because Scotland hadn't voted Labour. Without any opportunity for their MPs to "show their worth" or benefit from any incumbency factor would the SNP really want to immediately (re) face the electorate in that circumstance? 

So on any view the Tories emerging as the largest Party means almost certainly there would  be a caretaker Tory administration at least until the Autumn.

But then?

That administration would have no "working" majority enabling it to pass anything but the most anodyne of legislation. And the no confidence route would suddenly look a lot more attractive, anyway, to a Labour Party under new management.

So actually, if you think it through, the most likely outcome of a "SNP surge" is Labour promoting a post Summer recess no confidence motion leading to another election in October. Which the SNP would need to vote for. Because if they didn't there would be no doubt who was keeping the Tories in power and Labour's 2016 prospects would suddenly look very different indeed. Sometimes you should be careful what you wish for. No matter how not stupid you are.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Cometh the hour?

You may have noticed that I've gone off the blogging.

From May 2011 until Christmas past I wrote a blog pretty much every week and while initially I ranged over all sorts of political subjects, and occasionally even non political ones, for most of 2014 I devoted my efforts to the Scottish Constitutional question.

And to be honest that's the main reason I have stopped. It's over. There was a referendum, there was a decisive result and notwithstanding the desire of some, by no means exclusively on the separatist side, to re-fight old battles nobody is suggesting there is going to be another referendum any time soon. Even in the eventuality of a SNP landslide this May or even a return to majority government for the nationalists in 2016. For before they'd even attempt another go the Nationalist leadership, at least, appreciate that their prospects of success would have to be considerably better than a marginal opinion poll narrowing (if there is that) on a ten point defeat. The "45" can rant away all they like. The key to their problem is in the very name they've adopted.

But of course there is another big political event,  now just more than two months away; the General Election. 

You might think I'd have something to say about that.

The problem is that what happens at that General Election, in the UK but in Scotland as well, is not now a matter over which anybody now can have much influence excepting one man. Ed Miliband.

I thought this very brief blog from Mike Smithson had it well. The election is a choice between a relatively popular leader of a very unpopular Party and the very unpopular leader of what remains a relatively popular Party. Three of these things are unlikely to change in two months but one just might.

It should never be lost sight of that in 2010 the Tories, facing a clapped out Labour administration that had been in office (at least) during the worst recession in living memory and was engaged daily in internal warfare, still couldn't secure a Parliamentary majority. The demographics of the country were simply against them. And nothing they have done since then in their presentation of  themselves to key sections of the electorate (ethnic minorities; sexual minorities; anybody living more than 150  miles from London, most of the people actually living in London!) has changed that. At no point in the last 57 months has an incoming outright majority Tory administration looked remotely likely. 

Yet Labour hasn't closed the deal. Instead, if anything, the anti-Tory vote has fragmented in directions as diverse as UKIP and the Greens and, obviously, latterly, towards the Nationalists in Scotland.

But the Labour Party itself is not unpopular. Indeed, ironically, what many of these voters claim to want is a "real" Labour party. 

Yet what is a "real" Labour Party? Even the now sainted leadership of Attlee had its contemporary critics from the left. Herbert Morrison, Ernie Bevin, Stafford Cripps might have been great men in our history but revolutionaries they were not.

What I suspect these discontents really mean by a real Labour Party is a Labour Party that understands them and appears to have a clear idea of where the country should be going. That's what Wilson achieved in 64 and 66 at least, and it is, whether people want to acknowledge it or not, exactly what delivered Blair his 1997 landslide and his 2001 canter back into office.

That is Ed's challenge and it may just be that starting from where he personally is now might even prove a slight blessing in disguise. 

Outwith election times most voters get their impression of non governing politicians from only the most limited of exposure. And the "meejah" has an important interlocutory role which undoubtedly significantly disadvantages those faced with a hostile press. 

But at election times people are inclined to look for themselves. Frankly, as Labour in Scotland found out in 2011, that is a high risk game. But the very fact that Ed's current transitory perception is one of a hapless and hopeless klutz might just play to his advantage in that, once people take a better look, it would almost be impossible for him to fall below current expectation.

We can't avoid the fact that he is a professional politician in an age where professional politicians seem held in particular contempt but we might expect that his undoubted (and yet unappreciated) intelligence will come as a surprise to many, previously only casual, observers. On the really big card however, the ability to empathise, the abiilty to get across not just that you care but that you the end that will be down to Ed himself.  No blog advice can give that to him.

And in Scotland? 

My own hunch is that if there is an enthusiasm for a Labour Government in the rest of the country then there will, in the end, be that enthusiasm in Scotland. And if there is not? We'll get gubbed. Not much I can do about that either. 

Over to you Ed.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Reasons to be cheerful.

Well, first of all, a big thank you to Lord Ashcroft. Really.

He has on any view performed a public service with his constituency polls and anybody in the Scottish Labour Party consoling themselves that ignorance was bliss has surely had a rude awakening.

I'm not even certain that it wouldn't be a good thing if much of what is predicted came to pass. And that's for four reasons.

For what would an SNP landslide mean?

It certainly wouldn't mean independence, for the Nats  have painted themselves into a corner on that by conceding that a referendum win is the only route to that goal. Setting aside for the moment the constitutional obstacles to another referendum, that at the very least depends on what happens in May 2016 and not May 2015.

Secondly, it would almost certainly mean another Tory Government not, this time, because Scotland had voted Labour and England otherwise but rather because Scotland had sat out the contest. Now, if that was on the basis that Scotland (now) was clearly in favour of independence we would have a problem but nothing in other polling suggests that. So it's difficult to see how the Nats would go forward. Even if, after a gubbing, Labour was inclined to the offer of a coalition partnership and the Nats to accept (both most unlikely scenarios) it's difficult to see that coalition having a Commons majority. SNP seats gained off Labour don't affect the number of Tory (or English and Welsh) Lib seats at all. Even the failure of either big Party to construct a Commons majority leading to a second election doesn't change that. It would only demonstrate the futility of voting SNP at a Westminster Election. And who'd bet on the SNP repeating their putative "achievement" in that circumstance? Common sense says they'd have to end up backing one or other big Party, if only by default.

Thirdly, and arguably most importantly, it would give not just the Scottish Labour Party, but the whole Labour Party, a well deserved kick in the arse.

For far too long we have taken the electorate not just in Scotland but in our safe seats elsewhere elsewhere for granted and in the process treated them with contempt. Partly, it has been that all the focus has been on small numbers of swing voters in marginal seats and on their concerns, mainly in the realms of personal taxation. The assumption has been that traditional Labour voters have nowhere else to go. Well, if that was the assumption it can no longer be that. People, even traditional Labour people, need reasons to vote Labour which go beyond stopping the Tories (or indeed the SNP). And if the strategy to attract these swing voters is premised on us being not too much different from the Tories then perhaps it's not unreasonable for our (past) more committed voters to take us at our own word and query whether that's what they signed up for.

But there has also been another factor. Actual Party activity in these safe areas has been regarded as altogether secondary to running (or trying to get elected to run) the Country. Or at least to running the Cooncil. So local Parties have become moribund., consisting largely of Councillors, would be Councillors, and their families. But it didn't really matter, was the argument, for "the community" was Labour. So, come election times, all sorts of local leaders in trade unions, community enterprises, voluntary organisations and the liberal professions could be relied upon to send out a subconscious message that voting Labour was just "what you did". We never however tried to tie these people more firmly to the Party not least because, between elections, the view of too many of our elected representatives was that they would prove "more trouble than they were worth". The one historic exception to this was in regard to the trade union movement but, to put it mildly, that movement is not what it was and indeed what is left of it no longer feels that Labour is, automatically, its Party. So neither "the community" nor the Unions can now be regarded as a secret army. Indeed, in many cases their attitude to perceived Labour complacency and arrogance has become part of the problem rather than its potential solution.

If we need to actually win (back) our safe seats then the starting point has to be to look at selecting candidates suitable to that task; not just to "working" the seat but to rebuilding the Party. If we can achieve that then that would surely be some sort of silver lining to these very dark clouds indeed.

And finally, there is this. How far May 2015 affects an equally important election in May 2016. Scotland currently exists in a kind of political alternative reality where Independence is somehow imminent. It's not. But as I pointed out in an earlier blog, the Nats have to maintain the illusion of progress to avoid their bubble bursting. I wonder however how a result in May this year will play out for them if it transpires that their success has nothing but a disruptive consequence as they attempt to force upon Scotland something we have only too recently rejected. And if it has any other outcome? The current SNP vote clearly couples traditional independistas with those expressing the "anti politics" sentiment that manifests itself across Europe in support for Parties as diverse as Syrzia and the Front National. But, as Syrzia are about to discover, it is one thing to travel hopefully, quite another to arrive. The minute an anti politics Party becomes a participant in government they are inevitably drawn into the compromises and disappointments that entails. Traditional Party support appreciates that. I'm far from certain that the anti politics wave does. And if disillusionment does follow from the SNP wave not so much changing nothing as not changing much except the politicians faces?  Then the very point at which that would fall to be expressed would be at an election the Nats really need to win.

Always darkest before the dawn.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Four books reviewed

And so that was Christmas.

And what I have done?

Well my main reading was to finish reading the four referendum books: David Torrance's  100 days of Hope and Fear; How Scotland's Referendum was lost and Won; Alan Cochrane's Alex Salmond: My Part in his downfall; Iain MacWhirter's Disunited Kingdom and Peter Geoghegan's The People's Referendum.

I enjoyed them all but, as you'll learn, I thought the Geoghegan book was easily the best of the four.

That's partly because the authors had slightly different objectives. Cochrane and Torrance set out essentially to write the second draft of history. The problem is that it is, or at least was by their self imposed deadlines, too early to be writing history. So each really does little more than revisit their diaries and pick out bits they thought to be important.  There is no real analysis involved and while, for the dedicated partisan of the struggle such as myself, it is interesting to be reminded of, or see the authors' perspective of a particular event you otherwise learn nothing really new.

Or at least from the Torrance book you learn nothing really new. What I think you're meant to learn from the Cochrane book is how important the author was to events. To be honest however you come away thinking the exact opposite. His contacts with "the enemy" are perfunctory at best and his knowledge of their campaign, strategy or tactics, almost non-existent. But more revealing still is his lack of real engagement with who was actually running his own team.

Never mind my own Party, who always held the key to victory (or defeat), his idea of who the key players on the Tory side were is almost incredible in its ignorance. Ruth Davidson is dismissed early on as a lightweight although patently she was both the most prominent campaigner and strategist of the Scottish Tory campaign throughout. But even Ruth's most prominent lieutenants, Annabel Goldie and Murdo Fraser, are largely ignored in favour of various obscure figures from the landed gentry still, it appears, pledged to the cause of Michael Forsyth in his role as "Prince over the Border" and harbouring the deluded desire that one day the Scottish Parliament might yet be abolished altogether.

So the book is probably worth the read for some of the caustic opinions expressed. But only for entertainment. And certainly not in the belief that many of these opinions have much actual validity.

David Torrance is more balanced but still suffers from relying on information conveyed to him while the battle still raged. So he can tell you what their line or our line was at the time of events but not really whether or not that was a view truly, let alone unanimously, held internally within either campaign. There is no real explanation as to why the result ended up as it was. That is just what happened. I'll come back to this point.

I turn then to Iain MacWhirter's book and start by observing its not really a book at all but rather a collection of essays. A couple of these consist of little more than collating and reporting fact, particularly the chapter on the life histories of the major players which you get the impression is there mainly to bulk out the product.

But there is in some of the more substantive polemic , I regret to say, some very selective reporting of fact in relation to the conduct of, particularly, the Yes campaign. Ironically, since the book went to press, Iain has written in the Herald of how the conduct of some Yes campaigners served their own cause no favours but if he held that view at the time of writing this book you'll find little evidence of that here. The Yes cause is all "let a thousand flowers bloom" while No is motivated, it would appear, by nothing but unremitting and unfounded negativity simply for the sake of it.

The fantasy economic case that the Yes campaign was premised on: not that an independent Scotland was a viable concern but rather that it was an instant panacea for everything from welfare reform to international terrorism is embraced completely in the earlier part of the book although interestingly in his own later analysis pieces he readily concedes that a common currency and open border would require continued English influence over areas of Scottish policy. I have news for him. That's not what the "secret oil fields" brigade were saying at the time.

But the central thesis of the book is where it is at its weakest. The suggestion that in ruling out a common currency "Westminster" won the battle but will ultimately lose the war.

MacWhirter concedes that he is the lightest of indy-lighters; indeed that in an ideal world he'd probably be a federalist. The problem is that the September 18th vote wasn't about federalism. In an attempt to persuade one part of a necessary coalition to vote Yes, through the "currency union", an attempt was being made to suggest what we were really getting was something very like federalism. But that wasn't the proposition on the ballot paper. By ruling out the currency union the "English" simply made that clear. They did not, as MacWhirter asserts, threaten to economically cripple an independent Scotland, they simply said more clearly than the nationalists were ever willing to do "If you're on your own, you're on your own."

But there is a more fundamental flaw in the MacWhirter argument still. While hatred of the English was clearly an acceptable motivating factor for (some) participants in the Yes campaign (the problem of that necessary coalition for yes once again) any reciprocal animosity was to bet met with nothing but a "how dare you". The whole point of Scottish Independence has always been "We wish to owe nothing to them". Only the already converted were ever however going to proceed on the basis that, after independence,  they would nonetheless continue to owe something to us. Certainly the currency proved a major problem for the Yes campaign but that wasn't the fault of those who did no more than point that out.

And so finally to my favourite book of the four. Peter Geoghegan's The People's Referendum. Geoghegan has a similar perspective to Torrance but from the other side. If the facts don't suit the cause of independence he will report them anyway.

But the real success of Geoghegan's book is in what he doesn't try to do. He doesn't attempt a comprehensive history. Rather he tries to reflect a mood of the time, that time being roughly the last three months of the campaign. And in much the manner of the great Studs Terkel he doesn't try to fit his people to his argument. Rather he lets them speak for themselves and leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions. If I had a criticism it is that he never really challenges the beliefs of his interlocutors. This is who they are and this is what they think. And perhaps he is a little too biased not to the forty five per cent who ultimately voted yes but rather to the fifteen per cent from the traditional left who ultimately did so although not expected to do at the start of  the contest.

But these are minor caveats compared to the book's other great virtue; it is quite beautifully written. You could read it for pleasure even if you cared little or nothing for Scottish politics. Geoghegan is Irish. Perhaps it is true that while the Scots produce great journalists the Irish produce better writers. That has certainly been the case here.

Anyway that's pretty much my review except that I'd like to say in closing that none of these books is as yet anything approaching a comprehensive history of the referendum. And such a book is, I think, worthy of being written. On 18th September, contrary to any expectation, nine people in every twenty voted, at least nominally, to completely end one of the world's oldest and most stable nation states. That has to give those of us on the other side cause to pause and think why that might have been. They were not all fundamentalists, or idiots, or even people so beyond despair in their personal circumstance that they felt nothing could be worse than the status quo.

We live in a democracy and these people's concerns need to be addressed. For those who do not learn from the errors of the past are doomed to repeat them.

Happy New Year, by the way.

Monday, 29 December 2014

The War is Over

At this time of year it is customary to take kids to the cinema.

When I was myself but just a boy I was taken on a festive trip to see what remains one of my favourite films: Patton.

For those of you unfamiliar with the plot, it is a biopic, of sorts, of General George S. Patton who commanded US forces during the Second World War in North Africa and Italy but who most famously of all then led the US 3rd Army in France and beyond after the Normandy invasion.

The underlying message is threefold. Firstly, that Patton was a great military commander; secondly, that he was a complete lunatic and, thirdly, that, as a result of these two differing characteristics, he was a man born for war and left in the end without any great purpose without it.

Towards the end of the film Patton attends a victory event with the Soviets in Berlin. And he suggests that since the two allies clearly hate each other; will, in his opinion, eventually, come to blows, and already have their optimal armies in the field then they should just get on with fighting each other there and then.

It takes wiser heads to inform him that the war is over and that neither side has an immediate appetite for further hostilities.

There are any number of Pattons in Scottish public life. Not just on the opposing sides of the political war just ended but amongst the war correspondents as well. It wasn't just fun while it lasted, it was the time of their lives. As much "fun" as Patton's tanks racing through the Ardennes to relieve Bastogne had proved to be to the General himself. Iain MacWhirter is out there now punting his book on how the referendum has changed the world. Good fortune too him, but somewhere deep down he knows that it hasn't and that next year there will be a significantly lesser appetite for a considered evaluation of Angela Constance's first term as Education Secretary. Just asAlan Cochrane appreciates that, at Christmas 2015, indiscreet gossip about the reorganisation of Scotland's Accident and Emergency Departments will be unlikely to see any future publication on the topic flying off the shelves.

And that is just the correspondents. The respective armies also can't quite give up the fight. Sure it is fun for my side to point out the consequences that would have followed a Yes vote now that oil retails at $60 a barrel. But it doesn't matter. There wasn't a Yes vote. And it is also fun for the Nats to anticipate vengeance on the Labour Party. But so what even if that comes to pass? There is not, in their wildest fantasies, going to be another referendum any time soon. Never mind a reliable Yes majority.

It's over. The vast majority of the conscripted on either side just want to get home to their families and get on with their lives.

I was as enthusiastic a warrior as any. I am in no doubt that the 55% saw off not just an economic catastrophe but a greater evil in its wake where those who might have won, realising that the English were now beyond their meaningful hatred, would have turned their vitriol on those still easily to hand. That is forever the pattern of all small nationalisms. Always claiming to be uniquely different but always proving in the end to be fundamentally the same.

It's time however to realise that, grateful though we are for victory, the fighting is over and get back to normality. Even if that does involve some in being unwillingly demobbed

And with that I wish all my readers a happy and prosperous 2015. Hopefully with a Labour Government at the end of it

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The 18th Brumaire

I didn't write a blog last weekend. Basically that was because I couldn't be bothered.

Actually, I'm not a lot more bothered this weekend, although I concede that provides little incentive to read on.

It's just that Scottish politics is becoming a bit groundhog day. The Nats claim they are on the road to somewhere, we politely point out that they've had their referendum and lost, we all go to sleep and next morning the alarm goes off for another day and both sides repeat the exercise.

There are wee bits of personality politics along the way, Gordon going and Eck moving (he hopes) and one or two straws in the wind as to what's to come: Nicola cracking down on some zoomer cooncillors; Murphy spotting the Nat bruises on health and education and for the moment at least just giving them a playful tap. But there nothing really big happening and I suspect there won't be now 'til after the Festive Break.

Then of course we will properly be into General Election mode.

It suits the media to talk up that as something different from the normal manichean Labour/Tory contest. It always does. Last time it was Nick who was to be the gamechanger. next time it will be suggested to be Nigel and/or Eck.

But come May 7th there can only be two sorts of Government. One led by us or one led by the Tories. You may not like first past the post but that is it's inevitable outcome. Maybe "only" 65% of the electorate will vote for the two big Parties but that's still more than enough to guarantee one or other of them the lead role and rule out any possible need for a "grand coalition".

In that context the wee Parties have little real influence, even a big wee Party as the Libs have been for the last five years. I'm not doubting that the some Lib Ministers can claim some achievements in office but so can any number of able Tory departmental ministers. Are these, any of them, really "Liberal achievements" or more truly only Liberal achievements which the Tories would have been happy to see as Tory achievements anyway?

What is undoubtedly the case is that the last four and a half years have seen on the big ticket items: Health, Education, Welfare, above all the central thrust of economic policy, a strategy which it is difficult to see would have been significantly different had the Tories been unencumbered by their coalition partners.

"Next time" we are told it would be different. But would it?

I suspect it might be in one regard. The Libs will pay a high electoral price for their dalliance with the Tories. Personally, I think that's a bit unfair. Quite what did those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 expect their chosen Party to do given the actual result? And even at the height of Cleggmania few surely believed that the Libs would ever do better than to hold the balance of power?

But others will look on and think "We're not getting caught like that", Including, I suspect, whatever fragment of the Libs at Westminster survives the coming storm.

So confidence and supply, either formally or on a case by case basis, is likely to be the order of the day in the eventuality that neither big Party has an absolute majority.

And insofar as anything interesting has happened in Scottish politics this week it relates to that point and to a subtle but critical change of what the SNP are saying on it.

For in today's Observer Kevin McKenna reports Salmond as saying this.

"Salmond reiterated SNP policy not to enter a UK coalition government led by the Conservatives in the event of a hung parliament. He said: “My preferred option would be to see Labour win but fall around 20-25 seats short of a working majority. I would want the SNP to be able to force Labour to agree not to renew Trident in Scotland, devolve the setting of the minimum wage to Holyrood and agree to give Scotland some responsibility for its own immigration policy.”
Salmond said the SNP would be looking to squeeze concessions from a minority Tory government in the event that they were forced to turn to the SNP on an issue-by-issue basis. In such a scenario, the SNP would be looking for an agreement from David Cameron that Scotland would remain in the EU if it voted to do so in a referendum in which the rest of the UK opted to leave."

Ignore the first paragraph, it is just twaddle. Tails don't wag dogs and none of these "demands" are consistent with the unitary state we've just voted for. The second paragraph contains the beef. Again the specific "demand" is nonsensical. That a vote about something else could become a vote to break up the UK. No, the more important thing is this. If the Tories were forced to "turn to the SNP on an issue by issue basis", then on an "issue by issue basis" Salmond concedes the SNP might support a Tory Government at Westminster. Or, by implication, vote with the Tories to bring down a minority Labour Government. Just like they did in 1979. Good luck with that line in Glasgow in May.

Maybe old Marx was right all along. History does always repeat itself ..... "the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce".

Jings, perhaps my blog turned out to be interesting after all.

Monday, 1 December 2014


In the late Spring of 1979 I attended the Scottish launch of the Labour campaign to retain in power the Labour Government which had lost the confidence of the House of Commons in a vote but a few weeks before. A vote in which the SNP had notoriously lined up with the Tories.

I was then a “super activist”, alongside so many others in that now lost time. So, having spent my day knocking doors or delivering leaflets or whatever,  it was no sacrifice at all to head east to swell the numbers at  the Usher Hall to hear Prime Minister and Party leader, Jim Callaghan, rally his northern troops.

Except Jim wasn’t there.

The hall filled, the banners were draped over balconies and the bannermen, from Constituency Labour Parties, youth and women’s sections, trade unions, miners’ welfares and miscellaneous co-op and retail societies  waited to play their part by cheering our champion to the rafters. Almost irrespective as to what he might actually have to say.

Except that he had nothing to say. Because he wasn’t there.

Seven thirty came and went. So did quarter to eight. Eventually Helen Liddell, then the Party General Secretary,  appeared from behind the draped curtains.

 “We are all here to hear from Jim Callaghan” she informed us. Presumably for the benefit of anybody who was expecting to see the Bay City Rollers.

“Unfortunately Jim has been delayed by fog at Heathrow” (a few boos) “but his plane has just taken off” (cheers) “so we are just going to start the rally and Jim will speak when he gets here.” (lots of cheers).

And with that Helen left the stage and the depleted platform party trooped on. The troops cheered (albeit not entirely wholeheartedly) and the rally began.

Except that two minutes into proceedings Helen reappeared by the side of the stage, realising her own error, and started making various cut throat gestures across her neck. But it was too late. The die was cast and she eventually concluded that herself and retreated quietly again behind the curtains.

For the first speaker was Sammy Gooding, a stalwart of the Transport and General Workers Union, and the current chair of the Scottish Labour Party. And he was to deliver a speech of welcome to Jim Callaghan. Helen knew that because she had written it. Except Jim Callaghan wasn’t there.

Now, the position of Chair of the Scottish Labour Party is normally a sinecure.  While in office you get your name recorded in.....the record. You get to make a speech at the Welsh Party Conference and you get to chair the Scottish Executive Committee. And that’s generally it. Except in election years.  When you might actually come to the notice of the general public. So outwith election years it can be an award for long service but, by virtue of various smoke and mirrors, in election years it generally turns out to be somebody fit for purpose.

So back to Comrade Gooding.

“Jim, it is great to see you back here in Scotland” (pause) “Or it would be if you were actually here”. 

“Can I say how well you are looking” (pause) “Wherever you are”. “And your smile is well justified”  (Pause, pause, move on) “because you can be happy with the result we are going to deliver for you here in Scotland”.  “But we know how much you appreciate that in turn, as we can tell from your presence tonight ..............or will be able to tell when you get here”.

And so it went on, reaching a particularly low point when reference was made to Callaghan’s son “Not such a wee boy now as you can see...............or at least as you would see if he was actually present”

Now, no harm to Comrade Gooding but he was clearly inadequate to the task of chairing the Party in an election year. Except that 1979 wasn’t meant to be an election year.  Until comrade Callaghan had (actually) turned up to the TUC to make his “waiting at the Church” speech the previous September, the assumption had been that the election would have taken place in 1978.

And then, in 1978, the Chair of the Scottish Party would have been a young activist more than capable of ad libbing the late arrival of the Party leader.  He would have been Gordon Brown.

You see, that’s how far back Gordon goes.  Not just ‘til then but to before then. To his service on the Scottish Executive that led him to the chair.  To the Red Paper on Scotland. To his election as first student Rector of Edinburgh University.

Tony Blair famously said that he was not born into our Party, he chose it. And it was that sense of slight detachment that made him such a formidable electoral asset. But it was never, ever going to make him loved. With or without Iraq.

Gordon was born into our Party.

And for all his moods and vendettas and fucking, fucking indecision he never ever made a single call he did not think was in the interests of the Labour Party and of the cause of working people that we serve. Even when he made the wrong call. For what it’s worth I think he was wrong to defer to Blair in 1994 but wrong again to think that call could be retrieved once Blair had proved so spectacularly electorally successful.

But have I ever thought Gordon was consumed by personal ambition? Never. He believed a Brown led government would be more radical than a Blair led Government.  He wasn’t wrong. But his motivation was never who would get the credit but rather who would see the benefit.

When the dust settles on this era delegates to the Party conference not yet born will quote Gordon Brown in their speeches knowing that the hall will cheer in response.

For we are best when we are Labour.