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.