Sunday, 17 May 2015

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Sometimes you are just screwed.

Before yesterday, I was genuinely not sure about the fate of Jim Murphy. I had supported him for the leadership and while it is always possible to find fault with minor aspects of any campaign, even successful ones, the strategy that he adopted was essentially the strategy I would have commended myself.

That this strategy changed was because each approach tried in turn didn't work.

Initially, we argued that the referendum was over and that the choice on May 7th was between a Tory Government and a Labour Government. This should have worked, not least, as was demonstrated by the result itself, because it was true. Even the SNP obliquely conceded this by stating that an SNP vote was not a vote for independence or even for another referendum. Essentially it was a vote to prop up a Labour Government. Logic surely dictated to the electorate that if you wanted a Labour Government the best way to get that was to vote for it directly.

It didn't work for two reasons. The first, bluntly, was because Scotland, actually, was no more enthused by the prospect of Prime Minister Miliband than was, as it turned out, the rest of the Country. Not very much Jim, or anybody else, could do about that.

The second was because, since just dumping on Ed directly was out of the question, we were almost obliged to buy into the myth that Labour's ongoing problem with the SNP in Scotland was that we weren't sufficiently distinctively to the left of the Tories whereas the nationalists somehow were.  I say myth because, with the exception of Trident, the SNP and Labour manifestos were almost identical. Before we went there, nobody was attracting any votes at all from being to the left of the SNP. Indeed nobody was even seriously contesting the election on that basis.

But, since strategy one wasn't working, and since we had nowhere else, it appeared, to go, that's where we had to head. And so we ended up with the period of "Red Jim". Whatever public spending the SNP offered we'd offer more. And, .......well there was no and. That was just it.

The problem with this is that it not only did it run directly contrary to the message of fiscal rectitude we were (correctly) identifying as essential to actually winning the (UK) election, whatever anybody knew of Jim Murphy, the idea of him being some new Red Clydesider simply lacked any credibility. Anyway, since nobody really doubted that the SNP would spend as much as they could, in offering "more", Labour was either offering to act irresponsibly or, more likely, just..........lying.

So, unsurprisingly, that didn't work either. But given the limited options I suppose it had to be given a try.

And that then left us with strategy three. The endgame. The one glimmer of hope in the face of otherwise uniformly grim polling and focus grouping was the realisation that, even among many Nationalist voters, there was no enthusiasm for an early re run of the referendum. In parallel it was also clear that for non-Labour but non-nationalist, voters, stopping a re run was their single most fervent desire. A desire even beyond the election of a government of their preference.

So we went for that in Spades. Ostensibly to strip off soft Nats but in reality also in the hope of attracting a tactical vote.

The problem with this (always you will note the recurrence of the word problem) is that the Nats had the same polls and focus group results and headed us off at the pass by declaring, long and loud, that the May 7th vote had nothing to do with another referendum. Then, with the iron discipline which can only bring admiration, they enforced that line on even the zoomiest of their candidates.

So vote Labour to stop something which isn't going to happen anyway proved, in the end, not to work either. The rest is history.

At this point, reviewing what I've written already, it occurs to me that it comes across as unduly critical. That's not my intention. For in truth, starting from where we were back in November, WHAT ELSE COULD ANYBODY ELSE HAVE DONE?

Sure, Neil Findlay might have played the red more convincingly than Jim. Sarah might have been a more attractive magnet for tactical voters but in truth they would each have ended up exercising the same options without, and I mean no disrespect to either here, the manic energy Jim brought to the role.

So, personally, it is unfair to lay the blame for our defeat at Jim's door. And, given that, would have been unfair to call upon him to go. But sometimes politics isn't fair and, before yesterday, I was hesitating between fairness and realpolitik. On occasions you have to do something because the public expects something to be done.

As it turns out, all of this is academic now.

Except that, as with the departure of every leader since Wendy, the circumstance of their going has actually left us worse off than we were before.

The public calls for Jim's head seemed motivated not for the most part by those who had come down on the side of realpolitik but rather by those who had never been reconciled to his leadership in the first place. Whatever caused our defeat a week past on Thursday it had nothing whatsoever to do with the manner in which we went about selecting a candidate for Falkirk  (a "safe" seat which, I note in passing, we lost by 19,701 votes). Yet for some his role in that process and in other internal Party battles was never to be forgotten, or forgiven. This is the politics of the madhouse.

The idea that the Labour Party has ever, internally, been an entirely happy band of brothers is a wholly fallacious one. Never mind the great betrayal of 1931 we've seen the enforced deposition of Lansbury; the Bevanite/Gaitskellite feud rumbling on long after both were dead; the Bennery of the 1980s and, most recently Blair v Brown. Even under our greatest ever Government, when Ernie Bevin had it suggested to him that Herbert Morrison was his own worst enemy, Bevin famously replied "Not while I'm alive he isn't."

But the Murphy/Unite dispute is of a different order. For the leader of our largest affiliate to arrive in Scotland during an election campaign unwilling to encourage his members to vote Labour is an outrage. For that same affiliate then to decide that the moment of an existential crisis for the Party in Scotland was simply the opportunity to settle scores surely calls into question that affiliate's commitment to the wider cause altogether.

But that is what happened and we are now utterly adrift: leaderless; directionless; hopeless.

Yet we must rise again.

Be in no doubt, the recovery of the Scottish Labour Party is essential to the very survival of progressive politics in the UK. No matter any amount of wishful nationalist thinking it will always be unacceptable to the people of England & Wales for their Government to be in office at the whim of a Party who don't really want to be in their company at all.

So the card Cameron played so successfully in the last days of the election campaign past, that the only possible stable government is a Conservative government, will remain on the table so long as current electoral circumstance remains. It is all very well for my side to say, logically, to the Scottish electorate that so long as we remain in the United Kingdom we must participate properly in that Country's political process, not sitting on the sidelines in the huff. The problem is that for the moment logic isn't much of a force in Scottish politics.

So Labour in Scotland needs a new offer. And not just in the interests of Scotland.

Perhaps understandably, some nationalist commentators think the answer is an independent Scottish Labour Party which would, strangely enough, look remarkably like their (imagined) view of the SNP. Ideally, indeed, this Party would actually be in favour of independence which rather gives the game away. The same commentators often offer a similar prescription to the Scottish Tories. Independence is, it seems, to their mind the answer to every question.

Well, that's not going to happen. The Labour Party is not in favour of independence. In our opinion it would leave Scotland economically impoverished and culturally crippled. You don't have to agree with that opinion but you can't (yet at least) force us to think otherwise. The point can't be made often enough that the SNP exists at all only because its founders could not persuade the Labour Party of the merits of separation. If that changes, the logic is not a separate Scottish Labour Party, it is the winding up of the Scottish Labour Party altogether. Ask Jim Sillars.

We have a devolved Party structure and we should keep it but the idea that Scottish members shouldn't get a say in the selection of the Labour Candidate for Prime Minister is a non-starter.

Others think the Scottish Party needs a new programme. But what would that be? At this point it all becomes a bit hesitant. Sure we need another one of these ubiquitous "policy reviews" but the idea that our problem, other than very much at the margins, is about policy................really?

No, what we need is a fresh face in a meaningful way. And that should start with the realisation that none, literally none, of those eligible and willing to stand for the leadership under the current rules is a viable candidate for First Minister.

There are only forty one people in that category. The one MP, the two MEPs and thirty eight members of the Scottish Parliament.

The first three can be discounted as presumably can the two MSPs who have already had a go. A number of senior people who might act in a caretaker role to get us beyond 2016 show no enthusiasm for the task and much of the rest of the Holyrood group are, to put it kindly, not leadership material.

There is always Kez by default and that's kind of where the momentum (sic) currently is but seven months ago she herself concluded she wasn't up to the top job yet and I really doubt that the electorate will conclude that an intervening period participating in a disastrous election campaign has somehow filled that gap in her CV.

No, what I suggest is this. We rip up the list of already selected candidates. That might be easier than you imagine since virtually none of them have a chance of getting elected anyway. We select of new based on a system of constituency primaries where anybody prepared to declare an intention to vote Labour next May gets to have a vote. We could look to the Daily Record to assist in this process.

We do all that by 31st December. Then from anybody capable of getting fifteen (?) candidate nominations (even if they are not a constituency candidate) we select our FM candidate by means of a national open Primary conducted by the end of February. Whether or not they have a constituency, they go to the top of a list of their choosing

As for who then goes where on the list? The leader chooses. Simple as that.

Not a magic bullet but at least a visible fresh start. If instead, as I fear we might, start from the objective of trying to salvage the careers of those, by fortune rather than calculation, still clinging to elected office we will deserve all we get. And anyway, we would not be bringing them a reprieve, just a stay of execution.


  1. Bookies have you yourself at 100/1. Why not throw your hat in and see where the odds go.

  2. "the strategy that he adopted was essentially the strategy I would have commended myself" Same sh*te strategy LOL.

  3. What about a strategy that continually and repeatedly demonstrates exactly how Scottish Labour is not the SNP.
    Having successfully argued that separation is not in the best interests of Scotland, it should be repeated to anyone and everyone, that we stand for the Union (even though we know it has its flaws) both North and South of the border.

    I would like to see a joint or collegiate leadership until such time as a single leader is needed. FMQs can be 'shots each'.

  4. 20/20 ---20/25---20/30 westminster elections

    MSM will ask?

    Will Labour Party rule out any deals with SNP?

    Groundhog Day

  5. As you rightly say, the SNP and Labour's manifesto pledges were practically identical, so trying to explain it as Labour "not being left-wing enough" isn't credible. It's a myth that's been repeated so often even many Labour voters have started to believe it.

    The real problem is that as long as independence remains the biggest issue in Scottish politics it's almost impossible to win large numbers of Yes voters over to a party that doesn't support independence (and vice versa). If it's the single biggest issue you care about as a voter then whether Sturgeon claims the election has nothing to do with independence or not, you're going to back a party on "your side". It so happens that there's only one major party on the Yes side and 3-4 on the No side. Labour can never hope to win in that situation so the strategy has to be aimed at moving away from a Scotland in which everyone is polarised around the independence issue.

    Labour won at a canter in previous Scottish elections when independence was a subject only a small percentage of zealots placed as the highest issue on the agenda, but the referendum has completely altered that dynamic. What we need are large towering issues that will generate a similar level of passion and break us out of the current "Yes vs No" divide. The EU referendum could help in that respect as it will generate similar levels of passion, but the party really needs to come up with a number of key issues that could push the independence issue off the agenda and start emphasising them at every opportunity. At the moment we're contesting elections on territory where the SNP doesn't need to do anything to win - the mere fact they support independence and Labour doesn't is enough to get them 30-40% of the vote at worst.

    I also have to say that when it comes to the "ground war" the SNP are running rings around Labour. The amount of muck they've thrown at people like Murphy has been unprecedented. I've never seen that level of hatred toward a Labour politician in Scotland and there's almost nothing coming back in the direction of Sturgeon (who many Labour supporters even seem to admire). If your opponent is fighting dirty, as the SNP clearly are, then you have to rise to the challenge. I'm 100% certain that whoever takes over from Murphy will be demonised from day one, with a relentless barrage of character assassinations on Wings Over Scotland and wherever else regardless of what they do, so we have to be ready for that and prepared to give as good as we get.

    1. MSM throw plenty of muck,never mind blogs

      Ed Milliband,Alex Salmond non-stop

      Eds been taken out--now all guns targeted at Alex

      Jim Murphy,s hate from his own side,made it easy,,most of the slagging off.taking the piss by wings ect,was the way Jim could do no wrong MSM,egg-gate,halo pics,football strip,slept in a cupboard drawer as a baby,SNP cybernats

    2. Your telling Mr Smart to get down and dirty, amusing.

  6. The almost complete lack of self awareness exhibited by this blog, and it has to be said some of the comments in support by Labour "bittereinders", would be hilarious if it weren't so sad. Ian Smart is of course a prime example of the kind of person who contributed to Labour's electoral seppuku, so it is hardly surprising that the response from the shell shocked Mr Smart is to call for a fresh faced messiah untainted by past associations and failure to lead the shattered remnants of the Labour kamikaze brigade back to the sunny uplands of electoral success.

    Really? That's it? You honestly believe choosing some unknown Labour activist with no past record is supposed to slay the SNP dragon?

    The SNP didn't crush you because of independence, or even because of their formidable organisation and total domination of the cybersphere, still less was it attributable to the monstrous lie that they throw more mud around, or direct it more effectively.

    If you want to try and reconstruct your party, you might start by tabling a detailed plan for delivering the maximum possible devolution compatible with your unionist beliefs, and a commitment to using that level of devolution to the benefit of the Scots people by promoting radical, progressive measures to reduce poverty, increase opportunity and equality and present a real alternative to austerity policies, not simply a pale imitation of the Tories policies.

    You don't have long to come up with a new, progressive vision for a fully devolved Scottish Labour party acting in the interests of the Scottish people within a unionist context. It's a project which will take years; probably one or even two Westminster parliamentary terms. You do however have to at least make a good start on it by the Holyrood elections in 2016, and be able to lay that vision before the people and explain how you plan to bring it about and what your timescale is.

    I wish you luck. You're going to need it, particularly with unrepentant supporters of the failed New Labour project like Ian Smart sitting on the side-lines "Godwinising" for all they are worth about the Nazis and fascists in the SNP. It's attitudes like that which have contributed to the demise of a once proud movement; unless you root them out, you won't survive, and frankly you won't deserve to.

  7. "using that level of devolution to the benefit of the Scots people by promoting radical, progressive measures to reduce poverty, increase opportunity and equality and present a real alternative to austerity policies, not simply a pale imitation of the Tories policies"

    The implication that this is what the SNP are doing (and that it's the reason why they won the election in Scotland) is more or less complete nonsense when you compare the Labour/SNP platforms in the election. If you can point to a single SNP policy in their manifesto that amounted to a "radical, progressive measure to reduce poverty" but which isn't supported by Labour then go ahead. I could point to several such policies in the Greens' manifesto, but nobody voted for them in Scotland either. The SNP's manifesto actually implied less spending in the next parliament than Labour's did.

    The idea that Labour's collapse in Scotland is entirely about them not being left-wing enough makes zero sense at the best of times. Tony Blair became Labour leader in 1994 - 16 years later Labour were still cleaning up in the 2010 general election in Scotland. If it's all about New Labour then it's one of the slowest electoral responses in the history of humanity. The notion that the independence issue/referendum didn't have a meaningful impact on the election result is equally absurd and there's an abundance of evidence in the polling to prove that.

    I completely understand why SNP supporters want to hammer this line - it suits their party to pretend that it's all about the SNP being "anti-austerity" and Labour being some kind of Tory-lite abomination. It makes no sense whatsoever if you compare the two parties' actual platforms, look at previous election results, look at the polling from throughout the campaign, or even just exercise your brain for more than five seconds, but it's a good line so you'll keep repeating it regardless.

    That's all fine, but there's no particular reason for those of us who are actually interested in why the electorate votes the way it does to buy into your own politically motivated rhetoric - and there's nothing more painful than watching someone repeat tired old soundbites over and over while berating everyone else for "not getting it".

  8. I was quite intrigued to find that Ian Smart had managed to nonchalantly, casually almost, insert into his, otherwise quite thoughtful post this little gem - it (independence) would leave Scotland economically impoverished and culturally crippled. A blast from the past as it were, but still an assertion without any foundation. The last I recall the likes of Denmark and Switzerland for example, two countries similar in size and population to Scotland are anything but economically impoverished nor culturally cripples. I would have thought that the UK was much more in danger of economic impoverishment than either of these two countries. It could be of course that Mr Smart means that Scotland, uniquely and alone amongst all the countries of Europe, is incapable of successfully managing its economy and culture as an independent country. Mr Smart can prefer the UK to independence, but why, oh why, does he have to do so by so expressly denigrating, demeaning and belittling his fellow citizens. Perhaps there is nothing much positive to say in favour of the UK?

    1. @Alister This is the old "can we" / "should we" argument. Of course there's no question whether Scotland can be independent, the question is whether we should be independent.

      There are many ways of answering that question, but certainly the economic case is the weakest in the armoury of the Yes side. We know from the GERS figures that we've generated a lower proportion of UK tax revenue than we've spent in 12 of the last 16 years. The last year's report had a fairly sizeable gap (we spent about 9.2% of UK spending and generated 8.6% of UK revenue).

      I really find it impossible to look at the economic figures and honestly come up with a situation in which it wouldn't make us poorer, at least in the short-term. The much quoted "£7.6 billion black hole" isn't something dreamed up by a propagandist in Westminster - the relative gap in the last GERS report published on the Scottish Government's website was over £4 billion and that was before the oil price drop when the average price per barrel was over $100. It's not hard to see how post-price drop we ended up at the £7.6 billion figure.

      I think if an honest case is to be made for independence - and I'm not actually against it in principle - it has to start with acknowledging the economic figures for what they are. We have to be aware that it almost certainly would make us poorer in the short-term (and there's no guarantee it would get better with time) but that you can balance that potentially against greater autonomy. You'd also have to balance it against the possibility of securing greater autonomy within the UK, without any of the associated economic risks/downsides and ask yourself whether independence is really the best option.

      I have to say I don't see much of that going on from either side - I see an ideological war being fought over a subject where you could probably find a working compromise (some form of German style federalism without full fiscal autonomy in my view) that would suit most people's interests. That would also allow us to stop obsessing over constitutional issues and start focusing on real policy.

    2. Surely that funding gap(if its accurate) exists either way ? Its just a matter of who is picking up the debt to cover it, UK or Scotland.

      My question to unionists is at which point do you look at Scotland as a whole and say "This strategy is not working, lets try a differnt approach".

      The weakness of the devolved settlement is that fiscal and economic reality can be avoided and can also be masked, whether that be positively or negatively.

  9. The SNP vote was down to Scottish identity without the risk or responsibility of independence.

  10. The SNP vote was down to Scottish identity without the risk or responsibility of independence.

    1. That wasn't why I voted SNP. This is the 3rd election in a row that SNP have increased their vote. There is more to it than 'identity'.

  11. @Martin Mr Smart made a categorical statement about independence leading to economic impoverishment, with no qualifications. You are making a different point. Your argument is also based on the current situation, i.e. Scotland as part of the UK. The point of independence is to be able to do things differently. I would also question the value of the Union if after 300 years of its so called benefits, Scotland is not in a position to be a successful independent country. Your argument seems to boil down to, the UK has been so bad for Scotland that we have to stay with it, as it has disadvantaged Scotland so much that it cannot survive as an independent country. You also fail to make any attempt to explain how it is that all the other, dozen or more, newly independent countries in Europe have all managed to successfully make the transition to independence. I also note that you make no attempt to put forward a positive case for the UK. Once again it is back to the too poor, too wee assertion.

  12. @Alister "Your argument seems to boil down to, the UK has been so bad for Scotland that we have to stay with it, as it has disadvantaged Scotland so much that it cannot survive as an independent country."

    That's a very typical (but completely wide of the mark) response to the point I raised. You're assuming that because independence makes less sense economically than staying in the UK that the argument is Scotland is some kind of economic basket case.

    That's wrong on several levels. Scotland isn't an economic basket case (I said explicitly that we *could* become independent, but that the question is whether we *should*). The point is that within the UK we receive certain benefits that make staying in our interest. For instance, it's perfectly natural that Scotland should receive more public spending within the UK because we have a lower population density than England. Areas with a lower population density typically have to spend more on public services, so it makes sense that we receive more spending accordingly.

    Oil revenues also make up a very large proportion of Scottish tax revenues but by staying as part of the UK we don't need to keep a certain proportion of our revenues in reserve every year to account for fluctuations in production and the oil price. These are two clear economic benefits we get from staying in the UK, which are entirely fair within the current system, but which don't exist if we have to fund everything from our own tax base.

    At no point, anywhere, have I said anything that even approaches the "too wee, too poor" argument, yet (as is typical in these discussions) you haven't actually taken on board the points being raised and have instead tried to brush them off by caricaturing them. In fact the "too wee, too poor" line is almost always used as a way to avoid addressing an argument properly - the strategy seems to be to just accuse the other person of "talking down Scotland" and hope their points will be ignored.

    I think we can do better than that in a civil discussion about a constitutional issue like independence. What I'm saying here isn't so much a political argument, it's simply acknowledging the economic realities of our position within the UK. If we want to argue for independence despite the economic figures then that's completely fine, as I said above, but we can't just brush off the economic debate with rhetoric about "negativity". It's a real issue and we have to start taking it seriously.

  13. @Martin Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comments. I too hope we can carry on a civil discussion and I apologise if some of my words have caused offence. This is a very important issue and I want as much clarity as possible. I was struck by two of the points in your last response. In outlining two of the benefits that Scotland gets from the Union you end by stating that these would not exist if we have to fund everything from our own tax base. My confusion here is that this seems perilously close to saying we are too poor. I am not sure what else one can infer. You seem to be saying that we could not afford the more public spending nor to fund a reserve from our our tax base. If this is not because we are too poor to do so, what other reason is there for not doing so? I was also intrigued by your comment that you are simply acknowledging the economic realities of our position within the UK. But surely the whole point of discussing the pros and cons of independence is that we think beyond the economic realities of our current position within the UK? For this I contend we need to look at the fundamentals of the Scottish economy, its resources and its potential. When I look at Scotland and Denmark, a country similar in size and population and at a similar latitude, I find it impossible to figure our what economic advantages Denmark has over Scotland in terms of resources and potential. Yet Denmark is clearly a very successful independent country. I think we both agree that the economy and its prospects is crucial for understanding the potential advantages and disadvantages of independence for Scotland. I would hope that you are prepared to take a wider view of this and look at the experiences of other similar sized countries in Europe and not limit yourself to the current position of Scotland within the UK.

  14. Why can't you realise that you are part of the problem, not any kind of solution?
    You live a sheltered life, and have no idea of the life that poor folk live in 'the schemes.
    You are fucked as a political party.

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