There is no deep analysis here, largely because there is no need for one. Labour have overseen their relegation to permanent opposition through their own poor decisions in the face of the most composed SNP leadership the party has ever seen. Labour has failed because it is party policy to consistently and systematically send its best talent to London to support the true cause of the post-Blair party; making sure Labour remains a force to be reckoned with in UK politics. This is done no matter the cost, whether it be their abdication of the role of the natural party for socialists and working-class progressives, or the blithe and uncaring ignorance of the party’s slow demise north of the border.
It is precisely because of this that intellectual incompetents such as Iain Gray and Johann Lamont are left to lead what should be a shining example to the rUK Labour party of how to do it. With all due credit to Alex Salmond and a very capable SNP election team, Iain Gray was charmless, disconnected and ineffectual as leader of the opposition, never once giving the impression that he would be any better as First Minister and it is due in large part to that (and his woefully ineffective team) that Labour suffered their worst loss in Scotland since the 30s. Johann Lamont is the same but XL; whenever a politician stumbles their way through a tricky interview we talk of a grilling but Ms Lamont has frequently shown she is more than capable of bamboozling herself absent any help from others. Witness her falling apart when speaking to the BBC’s Gordon Brewer about Labour’s most important indyref pledge. See the exact same thing when she faced off against the Daily Politics’ Andrew Neil. The result is a babbling incoherent mess which ill befits the formerly august title of Leader of the Opposition. If Labour win the UK election all are agreed it will be despite Ed Miliband; not because of him. The same luck does not hold in Scotland because in the SNP (and growing Green presence) there is a true alternative to Red, Blue and Yellow Tories. Absent a leader with the charm of Messrs Salmond or Farage; the laser-like focus of Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon or the calm authority of David Cameron (or even, say it quietly, David Miliband), Labour will not win elections in Scotland.
Ms Lamont’s dispiritingly inept performances in interviews concerning even the least of the tricky arguments surrounding the day’s politicking are matched only by her non-deciduous monologues at First Minister’s Questions. Reading a prepared question from a script is one thing and Ms Lamont often gets off to a fair start, but regardless of the First Minister’s response Ms Lamont will almost invariably still be reading from the same script, even if it includes a repetition of a question which even the most ardent SNP-hater would agree had just been comprehensively answered. Any voter who watches her (or the dispirited Labour MSPs behind her who do their best to turn hatred for the SNP into support for their own leader) and then considers what she would be like in the top job can only come to one conclusion. Scotland’s leader would be as ineffective, gaffe-prone, incapable, outmatched and whole-heartedly ridiculed as President George W. Bush, except not that many people would know who she was. She would be a national embarrassment.
In fairness, Ms Lamont is hardly helped by her top lieutenants. Jenny Marra who seems to have the potential to be noted as a rising star (so will doubtless be London-bound once that happens) appears to have a near-pathological obsession with Alex Salmond, seemingly blaming him for everything from ill-fitting Primark suits to the quality of the Jurassic Park sequels. Ask Ms Marra what she thinks of HBO show, Game of Thrones, and she will almost inevitably respond by telling you that if Alex Salmond gets his way, Peter Dinklage will be replaced by Mel Gibson in a skirt, so obsessed with Braveheart nationalism and power-mad is he. Senior MSP Jackie Bailie has the self-assured, condescending, we-are-the-natural-party-of-government sneer for any who have the ignorance of character to disagree with her that she could be mistaken for a Tory South of the border. This shit-eating smugness would be risible in any circumstances, but from a senior member of a party which was practically beaten back into inception just three years ago, it is particularly inappropriate.
Neither of these women are alone however and their problems are evidenced throughout the entirety of the Labour party across the UK. Ed Miliband thinks so little of Scotland, he would stop his children visiting it if it became ‘foreign’. Ed Balls fell over himself to wholeheartedly team up with a hated Tory Chancellor on the ‘Sermon on the Pound’ because winning the referendum by any means is more important to him than the welfare of the Scots. Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland Margaret Curran can’t start a Question Time answer on the subject of independence without the eerily right-wing, “I’m immensely proud to be Scottish, but…” (echoes of, “I’m not racist, but…” abound). Indeed so proud of her country is the former Glasgow MSP that she refused the job as Leader of the Opposition and opted instead for going south to be an MP in the Houses of Parliament in another country. Is it because she didn’t think she could beat Mr Salmond’s SNP in an election? Surely it wasn’t because she privately thought the hapless Iain Gray was a better politician than her. More likely it was because moving up in Westminster is considerably more profitable than doing the same at Holyrood.
Therein lies a quintessential problem for people such as Ms Curran and Anas Sarwar (as Westminster as Labourites get). It is hard for them to avoid the allegation that their argument for the Union is based on very clear self-interest. Being an MP doesn’t immediately pay as much as being on the board of a multinational, but it’s an extraordinarily cushty lifestyle. There are few MPs who visit foodbanks, in other words, unless it’s for a photoshoot. An MSP whilst by no means living on the breadline, does not have the same lifestyle and in any case, Mr Sarwar thinks so little of the Scottish democratic process that he stood in front of the despatch boxes and told the Speaker of the House that Alex Salmond was a dictator. Such fatuous comments aside, Mr Sarwar is not without political talent so did he then vow to become a member of the Scottish Parliament and fight against this tyrant?
No. He’d lose his seat on the gravy train, as will every Scottish constituency MP if there is a Yes vote. So better to snipe from afar, in a House which would have prohibited this attack if Mr Salmond were still an MP, but had no problem with it as he is now merely the leader of an entire country somewhere beyond the M25.
Labour in Scotland has three main problems it must deal with if it is to ever again hold the Offices of Government.
1. A dearth of talent.
There are doubtless any number of young, impassioned and articulate Scottish voters who believe in Labour. We never hear from them though. The party selection machine picks people who call children Nazis rather than them. Anyone who does make it to the top level and displays anything approaching real political skill is quickly repackaged for a London showing, leaving what remains in the Scottish Parliament (to say nothing of their ludicrously disturbed legion of local councillors who play on Twitter like the spawn of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Enoch Powell), politely describable as mediocre. Small wonder then that when it comes to selecting leaders from this shallow group of impotent sheep, no generals, motivators or old-school rabble-rousers can be found.
2. An Obsession with Alex Salmond.
This has to stop. Mr Salmond may well be one of the more divisive politicians in Scotland, but he is, unquestionably, also the most recognised, popular and trusted one too. By contrast, 60% of people don’t know who Johann Lamont is and of those who do, most don’t trust her. Short of a Yewtree-like scandal for the First Minister or Sir Walter Scott rising from the grave to lead Labour himself, this is a game the party will always lose. They have no one that can match Mr Salmond in terms of political ability. They only way they can beat him then, is to win on the issues. To do that, they must first acknowledge that these are not the same as they are in England.
In the future, it is a near certainty Nicola Sturgeon will lead the SNP. Only Mr Salmond himself is more popular across Scotland. The tactics that have failed with him will also fail with her. Labour have no characters, thus will lose any character debate they start.
3. There is no such thing as Scottish Labour.
Don’t let the out-of-date website, twitter accounts or Scottish Labour members fool you. Look at the ballot paper. It says Labour, and it says that for a reason. This is not a separate party to the one south of the border; it is the exact same and just as with Scotland and the rUK, it is subject to the wishes of the masses. “Leader of the Scottish Labour Party” isn’t even a real position. It’s informal. This is why people emigrate south for better jobs. This is why Scottish Labour MSPs have abandoned socialism, despite it still being popular in Scotland. This is by far and away the biggest problem Scottish Labour has, and ironically independence would begin to cure it immediately.
Labour in an independent Scotland wouldn’t particularly care what was going on south of the border, any more than they cared what was going on in France. They wouldn’t be run from London and so could respond to the needs of Scottish voters, rather than English MPs. They could, with a heavy reshuffle, taking advantage of the returning talent from London (assuming most didn’t stay for English seats or private sector jobs in the Capital) and noting that a chunk of SNP support will likely peel off post-indyref, become a real contender for Government again.
As it is, they will lose in 2016 and presumably after that as well. It’s not often I agree with The Spectator’s Alex Massie, but he’s entirely right when he says Scottish Labour haven’t had a good idea in 12 years. What masquerades as the once proud party it was is now an insult to the memory of the political heavyweights; true honest-to-God behemoths that were forged in Scottish shipyards and coalmines and built Labour up from nothing. Now, rather than fighting for those same Scottish shipyards, the modern party has blithely gone along with an rUK system of government that has seen 80% of shipbuilding jobs disappear. Nothing to do with Alex Salmond, nothing to do with the SNP. Labour have backed the bedroom tax which was inflicted on Scotland despite total SNP opposition to it, only promising to renege after Anas Sarwar was tripped up in a debate with Nicola Sturgeon and blurted out a campaign promise which hadn’t been cleared but it would have been suicide to contradict. Labour which members once protested against totalitarian governments, now wholeheartedly supports the widespread monitoring of the working class in Scotland despite widespread condemnation from the SNP, because you just can’t trust these poor people.
Labour-as-it-was could give Alex Salmond and the SNP a real run for their money in 2016. We’ll never know, because we have Labour-as-it-is. A regional irritant to the party’s leaders in London, good only for sourcing talent and helping send a few more Westminster seats their way. Ironically enough, independence could save the Scottish Labour Party. No, let me rephrase that.
Independence could create the first ever Scottish Labour Party. Wouldn’t that be something?