Saturday, 22 March 2014

Together we can.

Busy, busy weekend so I suspect a shorter blog tonight. I was at the Law Society Dinner last night in the truly spectacular setting of the grand hall of the Museum of Scotland. My last one, as past Presidents only get five invites after their departure. How life moves on. A great sign off regardless.

Lots of interesting chat among the legal establishment but what happens at the Law Society Dinner stays at the Law Society Dinner. Sorry.

What's not a secret however is that it's a late night and the Society's hospitality remains generous so I wasn't exactly fizzing with energy when I set off early this morning for the Party Conference in Perth.

But on arrival there was enough fizz to make up for my own inadequacies on that front.

I've written before about Party Conferences in the aftermath of la grande debacle of May 2011. And they haven't been the cheeriest of events.

And my reservations mid-week about the intellectual coherence of Devolution Commission Report were clearly shared by others who I spoke to privately in and around the event. Although, to be fair, those who possibly thought it the greatest thing since sliced bread would hardly have sought out my company.

But, nonetheless, the Party seemed in remarkably good spirit. And this seemed attributable to three things.

Firstly, and this will I have no doubt lead to the usual "How dare they!" reaction from some of my readers, the assumption is that the referendum is over. Indeed, during the desultory pre big event debates somebody was even reduced to appealing from the platform with my own war-cry "There is no room for complacency"! But while Iain Davidson's metaphor that all that is left is bayoneting the wounded might have been better chosen, certainly in the presence of a mixed audience, it would be a lie to say that our activists are not looking forward with some enthusiasm to doing that bayoneting.

Secondly, oddly, there was a document, "Together we can." Everybody of any Party persuasion is used to glossy Conference Documents left thoughtlessly on seats or in pubs as the weekend proceeds and forgotten altogether by return to work Monday. Tomorrow's recycling. But this document is an exception. Many, many copies will have been packed carefully to take home. Well written, with simple statistics and easy to understand graphics, it is precisely the sort of crib that you would want before going out to knock doors. And, crucially, it is mainly about what Labour is FOR, after far too long defining ourselves simply in terms of what we are against. I don't know who wrote it but I take my hat off to them. It is, dare I say it, everything the Devolution Commission Report is not.

And finally, there was a speech. Not Ed's rather mundane effort on Friday. Not even a speech made to the actual conference. Rather a speech made on the fringe by Gordon Brown on a United with Labour platform. If I was asked once if I had seen it, I was asked half a dozen times.

The Scottish Labour Party loves Gordon Brown. And we grieve with him over his ill-starred occupation of the position he had aspired too for so long. For we, for the most part, aspired with him and on his behalf. But his reappearance now inspires within our rank and file an emotion which can only really be compared to Charlton Heston, in the title role, being strapped to his horse to lead the final charge at the end of El Cid.

Nobody could possibly think Gordon is too close to the Tories in the fight for the Union. And no half baked ideas among various middle class nationalist "creatives" could ever be held up with any credibility as being more motivated to assist the cause of working people than could be the life work of this man. No harm to Ed but immediately before Johann spoke there was an otherwise very good wee video made for us by Better Together. Various Scottish Party luminaries were cross cut with ordinary people pledging support for a No vote. Well made and well put together. But for the finale was...Ed. At the end people applauded politely. I say with absolute confidence however that if it had been Gordon who had appeared at that point rather than Ed then the conference would have not just applauded but cheered. And they wouldn't have waited to the end of the video to do that.

If you are not in the Scottish Labour Party I don't expect you to understand that, let alone agree with it. Just take it from me that it is true. It is a personal thing. We could have no better morale booster than Gordon being "back".

So, with these three great pillars to build on, it was over to Johann. Who didn't disappoint. There will be lots of press coverage tomorrow so I won't duplicate that. I am confident it will be generally positive. But there is no point in me analysing the speech in a way which might allow any mild criticism of a particular emphasis or momentary tone to detract from its overall achievement. Read it yourself. It is, read as a whole, very, very impressive.

I finish with one final observation. The Labour Party in Scotland might not yet be able, without dispute, to assert that it has recovered its former strength. But within the the Party itself there is no doubt that it believes, with increasing confidence, that it has. It is too early yet to talk of May '16 but in regard to May '15 the chat is already about East Dumbartonshire, Dundee East and even, possibly, Argyll and Bute.

Time will tell but, from this distance, I expect next year's eve of poll event to have a greater fizz still.

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