Saturday, 3 March 2012

Hot foot from Dundee

Work commitments are such that my visit to the Scottish Labour Party Conference has been restricted to a single day.

Even then, I arrived in the City of Discovery with little expectation that I would discover anything new. In that I was not disappointed.

I wrote back at the special Conference in the Autumn about the extent to which the Party had failed to come to terms with the scale of, or the reasons for our defeat last May and five months later little has changed. 

Indeed, with Local Government elections looming and the fear that the annihilation of our MSPs might be in danger of being followed by the annihilastion of our councillors a year later, there were some at least who clearly felt the best tactic was to put on a brave face and hope for the best. Time will tell whether that will work. Anything’s possible, I suppose.

The Party is crying out for leadership. For somebody, anybody, in authority, simply to say “This is what needs to be done and what therefor will be done”. Even if there were then reservations about the course chosen, many would be inclined to follow if only to be travelling in some direction at all.

Instead, we are offered “This is where we should go if that’s alright with you”; or “This is where we might go”; or even “Where do you think we ought to go?”

And even “bold” initiatives turn out, on the briefest of examination, to be no initiatives of any significance at all. So the calibre of our Candidates is to be improved but the current MSP group are immediately and automatically deemed to be more than good enough to continue. Without exception. Is there a single person in Scotland who believes that? More powers are (maybe) to be offered to the Scottish Parliament, but any detail at all is left lacking. We are maybe to talk to people who are outwith the Labour Party about our policy platform but only to people who already support the existing platform. And, in an act of almost obvious vindictiveness, if we must talk about the powers of the Scottish Parliament (sigh) then let’s consider whether powers should  be taken away from the Scottish Parliament and given to local authorities. In the absence of any popular demand for this at all, it is difficult to conclude that it is being said for any reason other than to keep the Parliament in its place.

And even that presumes there is a coherent line. As I set off to Conference I had simply no idea as to what Johann might say. There had certainly been major speeches the day before from Ed, Douglas Alexander, Anas Sarwar and Jim Murphy but there had been no co-ordination between them; no sense that they were preparing the way for what might come today. Instead of being offered the dramatic progression to a finale which comes in a proper opera, we were treated to no more than a series of concert arias. And even then not always in the same language.

But today made things no clearer.

It wasn’t a bad speech and it had a few good lines but it appeared to have no real function other than getting  from its start to its finish. When I critiqued Salmond’s October conference speech I referred to the Party Leader’s Speech playbook. Paul Sinclair has clearly read the same manual.

But whereas Salmond lead up to the big policy announcement and then bottled it, Johann tried to pretend a big policy announcement had been made when it patently hadn’t.

A Commission? Really? Another one? Scotland, even as I write, will no doubt be clearing their collective diaries in anticipation of its recommendations. Not.

Much more honest to just have said that the Scottish Leadership simply does not really regard these matters as very important. Indeed in the better parts of the speech when Johann gave practical examples of redistributive policies that could be pursued under existing powers but weren’t being pursued by the current administration you could (just) see how such a line might be sustained.

There is nothing more insincere than an insincere apology. Johann started by saying we had to stop apologising but, to be honest, we haven’t  started. And that’s  because too many at the top while realising the political reality of the need to be seen to apologise, don’t actually believe we have anything to apologise for at all. In their heart of hearts they think that those in need of apologising are the SNP for their effrontery in defeating us and the Scottish people for their ingratitude in rejecting us.

Soon, on this view of the world, Salmond will be exposed as the “conman” he is and the electorate left embarrassedly having to admit to having been comprehensively taken in by him. And things will return to their proper order.

Here’s hoping that’s right because there is little sign of things changing at Labour’s own initiative.


  1. Look on the bright side. Nobody seems to have run with a picture of a half-empty hall yet.

    And the great big intellectual vacuum in Scottish politics has meant that you're famous for your TV appearances. In a "Big in Japan" sort of way anyway. And I don't mean that unkindly, it's just that the Sunday Politics is only at the top of the ratings among the political anorak demographic.

    And if it should all turn out badly then you'll be able to write a book about it with a much better chance of being published than most.

    Things could be much worse.