Sunday, 8 May 2016

Yes we Khan?

We have just had a distinctively Scottish Election.

The results are the results but, be in no doubt, it was won and lost in Scotland.

Neither of the two main UK Party leaders did more than barely set foot here. For the same reason. Their presence was not regarded as being helpful to their own side.

And I doubt any but the most blinkered of Corbynistas would disagree with that, although they might also pause to reflect that, if that was the view here (and in Wales), then where exactly in the country is it that Jeremy is believed to be a vote winner?

For it certainly wasn't in London, where Sadiq Khan spent the last month of the campaign not just declining Corbyn's "help" but publicly rejecting it.

But, more interestingly still, that worked.

By framing the campaign as being solely who was best for governing London and specifically rejecting the idea that it had anything to do with endorsing a patently useless national operation, Sadiq triumphed. And was then free to observe that, ideally, his campaign should have been capable of drawing strength from the Party leader, but it hadn't, and he had instead won despite, rather than because, of him.

That last point might as easily apply to Scotland without for a moment suggesting Corbyn as the reason we lost. Because he wasn't.

The day when Scottish elections can be won or lost on UK issues (pace Labour's infamous opening line to our 2011 Manifesto "Now that the Tories are back.....) are over. If indeed, post devolution, they ever existed. In a Holyrood election we might be helped by a better UK operation but we will never win on its strength alone.

The question is however, can such an approach work with other elections?

Local Government elections have, in recent times, been too often seen as little more than big opinion polls on events taking place elsewhere.

And in some parts of Scotland, where boundaries are drawn on the basis of little more than cotermininity and putting everybody somewhere, that might indeed be true. Who honestly has ever owed affiliation to North Lanarkshire (particularly those of us living there without being in Lanarkshire at all) and the same undoubtedly applies to any number of other of Michael Forsyth's, mid-nineties, Macedonian creations.

But the cities, where there is a city authority, are different.

Long before they were in the position of national pre-eminence they now enjoy, the SNP built a power base in Dundee that was at least as much based on being Dundee Nationalists as Scottish Nationalists. In 2012, Aberdeen distinctly bucked the national trend by throwing out an existing local administration of particular ineptitude and returning Labour, as much to the surprise of the Party in the rest of the country as to anybody else

And of course, that same year, Glasgow famously defied Salmond's premature predictions of triumph to preserve Labour in power.

Now today, the assumption is that this was just putting off the inevitable, particularly following the nationalist advances in our greatest city in the aftermath of its unexpected Yes vote. Mind you, before Thursday the same people were inclined to think independence was inevitable.

But, for what it is worth, if the local government election in Glasgow, becomes a "Scottish" election, a bit of which happens to be taking place in Glasgow, then it is difficult to see past that outcome. And that will undoubtedly be how the Nats will wish to frame it. Even if they, this time, won't be stupid enough to announce, through their local leader, that they principally wish to take the City Council "as a stepping stone to independence."

So Labour's strategy must be to frame the 2017 election as the exact opposite. A Glasgow election where you vote on what will be best for the city.

And if we can do this then there remains all to play for.

For then we have a number of advantages, not least as a backwash of the SNP's own more recent successes which have transmogrified most of their better and more experienced local government troops into MPs or MSPs.

But above all we have Frank McAveety. I should declare an interest here as he is one of my oldest and dearest comrades. But, despite his long association with the Home Rule cause, (he was, with me, one of the founders of Scottish Labour Action as long back as 1987) I don't really believe that his heart was ever entirely at or in Holyrood. The job he enjoyed most was leading the City of Glasgow Council before 1999 and, on losing his Holyrood seat in 2011, it was getting that job back that motivated him much more than any real attempt to return to the elliptical chamber.

Sure, that might have involved a bit of deployment of the dark arts (this is Glasgow Labour politics after all) but, now that he is there, he enjoys the confidence of the local Party in a way neither of his predecessors experienced and has a clear vision for the way the city should go forward.

But above all, he is seen as somebody who will stand up for Glasgow in a way no "Yes Nicola, no Nicola, three bags full Nicola" alternative will ever do. Whether that is over the disgraceful financial settlement visited on the city (and local government more generally) by the SNP or the Scottish Government's steady erosion of power away from all local representatives or indeed over our governing Party's continued determination to shut the City's warship yards.

So, as in 2012, this needs to be a Glasgow Labour appeal. And it needs to be made clear to leaders from London or Edinburgh that their "help" is not required, unless asked for. (By which time, barring changes in personnel in the interim,  Hell will have frozen over).

Will it work? I make no guarantee of that, for Glasgow has many virtues but it doesn't have a flag. It is certainly however, under the hapless Kez and Jez tag team, the only show in town.

Just ask Sadiq Khan.

Or indeed Jackie Baillie.



4 comments:

  1. I would hope you are right about this, but the shadow of Indyref2014 is long and there remains a large number of SNP voters who can't take getting beat.

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