I met a Labour man recently who said the party made a big mistake electing Johann leader. Of course the ordinary members didn’t….it was the payroll and the unions – Labour’s institutions – that wanted her in place. What must they all think now? As time rolls on to the next Holyrood elections how is Labour faring now that we are in year seven of SNP administration?
The opinion polls are grisly. By rights, with the No side in the ascendancy and the public surely tiring of Salmond and his mob, the main opposition have every right to think that, like Labour in London, they should be ahead. Perhaps not by much but commanding the agenda, pushing the government’s nose in it and picking up the support. Instead they are further behind than ever, part of a collective failed opposition at Holyrood that can’t even count on its combined support to match the SNP in voting intentions.
Clearly Labour has pockets of support – note the Fife by election – but there is no sense of a pan-Scotland advance. It’s hard with Johann to work out if she’s doing badly because she has no profile or because she is so poor when she does appear.
I think the Grangemouth business was bad news for her. Labour’s overall behaviour over Ineos and Unite was poor and trade unionists across Scotland would normally look to a Labour leader to exercise steely resolve through a commanding presence and judicious intervention. Instead she was invisible and was eventually forced into the light and sounded defensive. As a masterclass in leadership it got nul points. How would a real leader like Dewar have reacted? For a start the whole media would have been briefed in detail how furious he was, that collars had been grabbed in private. He would have appeared on site grim-faced and stony and brought a sense that his very presence was the catalyst for a resolution. People of all affiliations listened to Dewar, at times of crisis he transcended the debate and held the ear of all sections of society. A reluctant voter, asked by him to back devolution in 1999, remained stoically doubtful but said: If you say it’s alright, I’ll vote Yes for you because you tell me to. That kind of reverence hasn’t been in the gift of Labour politicians since he died.
Then yesterday the dreaded First Minister’s Questions, where at times Johann has made her point convincingly, turned out to be another occasion when the shortcomings of the Labour leadership were exposed. It isn’t that Salmond is any kind of expert at this questioning business. I think he’s more comfortable asking rather than answering but Johann managed – Kinnock-like – to mangle her opportunity. Behind in the polls, losing a by election and then, according to the Unionist narrative, losing the currency argument with the governor, Salmond was a quivering plate of potted meat awaiting a fork. And not only did Johann miss, she created what has become a campaign tool for the other side. “Wee things” like ending the bedroom tax and ditching Trident is a campaigner’s delight to rank alongside “the something for nothing society”. Within the hour her people said it was a slip of the tongue, just as something-for-nothing was wiped from the website.
It’s too late now but Johann isn’t working. It doesn’t matter how much they vilify Salmond and remember her personalised attacks on Sturgeon? Despite everything, it is she and Labour who are sinking. She must say to herself: Thank God for the referendum…it’s the only thing holding it all together.
To illustrate how farcical things get at Holyrood, I read a piece on today’s papers how Labour was making an official complaint that the SNP was using government money to create a Wee Things hashtag and to fund stickers displaying it. How much is that then? £3.50p? The party that said getting rid of nuclear weapons was a “wee thing” is complaining about sweetie shop expenses in the SPADs office. Labour should be known as the Poor Wee Things from now on.
Ian Lang, millionaire landowner and Lloyd’s name, now Lord Monkton, defender of the poll tax and responsible for gerrymandering local government, joins the ranks of the true Britnats with his silly and hurtful suggestion that a free people choosing their own democracy, sullied the name of the war dead. He demonstrated how it is the British state he loves, not Scotland. And as I watched this parade of grotesques from the elephant’s graveyard, every one a Unionist clown, it occurred to me that this does nothing but good for the independence cause. It reminds us that Tories who profess to care about Scotland are really dedicated to Britain and that Labour people claiming to be socialists are self-aggrandising opportunists and that we will better off without any of them.