Thursday, 21 August 2014

Off to War.

In the Spring of 1992, as it does every Spring, the Scottish Labour Party held a conference.

That Spring it was in Edinburgh and was a curtailed event for we knew that within two months there was to be a General Election. The faithful were rallied but little more was achieved. A mood of both anticipation and apprehension was in the air.

We'd been out of power for thirteen years but we had come through the darkest days of 1983 and the holding exercise of 1987. There was every chance that we were on the verge of returning to power.

On the last night of the conference Mo and I went for dinner with a big group of similarly minded comrades and a few discreet journalistic sympathisers.  The centre of attention however was one man, Neil Stewart.

Neil had been President of NUS Scotland and someone most of us had already known for fifteen years. But while we were still "on the ground" activists based in seats that, win or lose, would remain resolutely Labour, Neil was now at the centre of the high command. Working directly with Neil Kinnock in London as his deputy Chief of Staff.

Unsurprisingly, while he clearly just wanted a night off, the rest of us wanted to know Neil's real thoughts. Not "could we win", we all believed that, but rather "would we win", a matter on which he would surely have a better insight than the rest of us. In the end however, he admitted he had no more idea than we did. We had got to the point where we had a chance. That was all.

At the end of the night we all individually shook his hand and wished him all the best. And we then all went off to the war.

That was the last General Election about which I had any doubt, at the start, about the outcome.

In 1997, it was as clear as day that, by the time the election was called, we were going to win. As indeed it was in 2001 and 2005.

Just as it was clear in 2010 that we were going to lose, although not perhaps quite as clear as it had been in 1983 or 1987.

Margins of victory can have a strategic significance. Labour still being second in 1983 was important, as was Cameron's failure to win outright the last time round. But, immediately, all that matters is who has won and who has lost. And if you know that in advance it does rather take off the edge.

My side is clearly going to win the Referendum. All this "some Labour voters will vote Yes" (true) and "people who have never voted before will vote this time" (less true), can't disguise the fact that even areas that have consistently returned SNP members of Parliament and local authorities for the best part of twenty years; patently, even there, voters have no intention of endorsing Independence.

Once the dust settles the margin will be important but that is not how it will feel for either side in the early hours of 19th September.

And you got that distinct impression today, as the Scottish Parliament broke up.  Older Nats were coming to terms that this is probably the only attempt in their political lifetime. Younger ones to the years of non ideological but competent occupation of public office that might form their only possible consolation prize.

For the unionists Parties there remained the slight irritation that we are going through this at all but at the same time the realisation that, no matter what spoils will fall to us (mainly, I suspect, to the Tories) in May 2015, we are still some way come the May 2016 elections in having a coherent platform that will ensure political nationalism is put to bed forever.

But neither side really doubted the result in four weeks time.

Not that a lot of heat, if not light, will be generated in the meantime. Or that the ultimate margin won't be of a longer term significance.

For that reason at least there is no room for complacency



  2. I assume the enigmatic link from "Reporting the referendum" is meant to exult in the one million signatures allegedly collected by the Nats. Except that they haven't. At least one cybernat on Twitter boasts that he has signed more than eight times. It's a crude online petition wide open to abuse, and in fact already shown to be abused. It's no indicator of the likely referendum result, which will be a NO win, and probably by about 60-40.

    1. Not sure how "enigmatic" the link is. It was a pretty clear observation on Mr. Smart's track record in political prediction.

      As regards the declaration, Yes Scotland says that the details of signatories are checked. Signatures are only accepted from those on the electoral roll. Multiple signatures are discounted. It's not an online petition: many signatures are collected in person from people who physically sign a bit of paper.

      "[Blair] Jenkins also confirmed that Friday morning's total of 1,001,186 signatures had been checked against the electoral register. Concerns had been raised earlier in the campaign that people were signing in duplicate, or with invented names. 'At an early stage a few people came on with funny names,' he said, 'but it's been checked and double checked and we are confident.'

      Let's just be clear: are you saying he's lying? If so, what evidence do you have, precisely? If not, then have the decency and good grace to say so.