I Back Johann

Is the Labour conference over? I must have missed it. Actually I did miss it. Deliberately. Conference is great for diehards to get together but it’s dated, formulaic and dreary for anyone watching from the outside. I had my fill of them over the years and watched as they turned from policy-shaping events into quasi-American rallies. For those who talk about Salmond having acolytes, they should have seen the glow in the eyes of the Tories when Thatcher came on stage. (Not quite the reaction Kinnock and Blair got, nor I suspect Miliband). I also didn’t want to put myself through the Johann Experience. There are people you would leave the bar to hear…Heseltine, Sillars, a young Jim Devine…but I’m developing a cringe about Johann which leaves me somewhere between scorn and pity and it’s unattractive. I look for the strengths in politicians because it allows you to see them as their own side do and opens the door to their message, but what are her strong points? Her image is working class, she’s a woman and a trade unionist, but beyond that, what? Certainly the modern skill of communication would be listed under Work Needed.


So instead of punishing myself by watching her, I read the speech for myself. And, do you know what? It’s pretty good. No, better than that. It’s really good. It is well constructed, it is driven by its own narrative momentum, it has killer lines, it drops in laughs and strikes a tone that Labour people and many outside but still on board will agree with. It excoriates the enemy (that’s the social democratic SNP by the way, not the public service-slashing Tories). It wants to tackle the wealthy and redistribute to the less well-off, questions a cut in business tax and it hints at decentralising to a local level. In Labour terms it’s a winner.

Or, it should be. Yet it was widely criticised and, predictably, ridiculed by nationalists. You don’t have to look far for the reason. First, it was presented by Johann. The principle here is that it doesn’t really matter what the message is if the audience doesn’t relate to the messenger. They don’t have to like or admire her, they just have to respect her enough to acknowledge her right to be up there telling them what’s what. If it’s a message they don’t want to hear, they will still take it from someone they think has earned the respect to a hearing. Equally, an English audience will pack out the hall for Boris Johnson even if he’s talking about a financial consolidation fund. Johann neither projects the patina of power that, say John Smith did when trying to get One Member, One Vote through, or the easy, if gormless, charm of John Prescott backing him. A Sturgeon or, classically, a Winnie Ewing can generate controlled passion. Johann generates anger. She doesn’t, I think, reach out beyond the hall to a wider Scotland, a talent that let Dewar tower above his opponents in the mind of voters across all classes and affiliations. In other words whatever her message, it misses the target because it is delivered by her, a terminal flaw in a politician and one that mirrors the Nixon/Kennedy debates in 1960 where those listening on the radio gave it to Nixon but those who could see him on telly compared to Kennedy, gave it to JFK. (Did I just put Johann in the same sentence as JFK?)

The other reasons the speech doesn’t work outside the hall is the relentless focus on her opponents which is a dead giveaway. It tells them more clearly than if she just announced that she was terrified of them, that they are a genuine and possibly insurmountable obstacle. She can’t beat them in debate so she is left to excoriate among friends when there is no one to challenge. ‘Patronising and cynical, dishonest, deceptive and disgraceful’ don’t chime with a public which was, as she spoke, giving the SNP a clear lead in the polls, an electorate which largely backs them after seven years in power, which puts Salmond and Sturgeon miles ahead in popularity and places her below David Cameron. You have

Labour 3-1492335

to have a sense of what you know the public already believe and play with that rather than pretend

to know better than them. Far better to break away altogether from directly attacking the SNP. Just think how that speech would have been reported if she hadn’t mentioned the Nats once? She could have mentioned their policy decisions and their effect and made wry references to an opponent without ever using their name, letting the listener make that connection in their own mind…a much more powerful route to winning them over. How the media would have hailed her positive tone instead of shaking their head at her aggression.

The attempt to portray a left wing agenda based on family and community is exactly right. It’s just too late and too contradictory. Where has this been while Johann set up the Cuts Commission, gave us Something for Nothing and failed to nail Trident? It is simply unbelievable that Labour can claim ownership of an agenda they have mislaid for a decade, when they have resisted SNP initiatives including free school meals and alcohol pricing and moaned about a council tax freeze while the London leadership promises to continue the Tory spending budget, refuses to restore cuts, abstains over civil rights when job hunters are made to work for nothing and agrees to spend billions on new nuclear weapons. And if this is her agenda, why not wrap it all up in a devolution max envelope and put it to the people in the referendum? Cynical doesn’t quite cover it. (Did she consult on land reform with Donald Houston, who owns a chunk of Ardnamurchan and donates to BetterTogether?)

This is the speech she should have made on getting the leadership. She should have devised her own devo package and insisted it be put to the people. Instead its another pretendy reform which will never get a mandate just like Calman. Is it a manifesto or is it a wish-list? The trouble now of course is that every setback in the polls can be viewed as partly a judgement on her botched devolution plan, her speech and the “Red Thingy” so that when the Euro polls produce a lowered Labour vote, it will be evidence that her initiative is failing, just as a rising Yes vote says, in part, the same thing. The net effect is to create the impression of a leader who is a loser while the opposite effect boosts Salmond and one of the major advantages for Yes is the optimism that comes from momentum. As the vote rises and people see independence become more of a reality while watching Labour flounder with confused policies and an unconvincing leader, they feel the pull of success moving them to back a winner.

So, good speech, Johann, wrong speaker. Good content, wrong emphasis. Good intent, wrong time.

AND just to finish with the Brian Wilson “Bateman is a cybernat not a nice unionist” affair…I got a note from Twitter covering my last week of tweeting which showed I had 94.2K total views, 1254 retweets and 959 link visits. And guess what my most popular tweet was? The very one Brian complained about. ‘Marr is Naughtie lite. Expat denigrators who owe allegiance to the British state that promoted them. A self selecting elite on auto sneer’ with 14.3K views, 66 favorites, 21 replies and 135 retweets. If it offends Brian, it seems to be very popular out their in real Scotland. We shouldn’t be afraid of speaking the people’s language. This is social media not Brian’s corporate-controlled mainstream media.

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32 thoughts on “I Back Johann

  1. She looks so unhappy, I begin to fear for her health and there is still six months to go.

  2. out there

    Please delete this after the correction

  3. You don’t think she (or her speechwriter) was deliberately attacking Alex Salmond for being in a childless marriage then? It looked to me to be so thinly veiled as to be essentially transparent.

    • Morag,she has (to my knowledge) twice used the mother attribute as having moral authority over her SNP opponents.
      This speech and the “debate” with Nicola Sturgeon when her opening remarks contained “as a mother”.
      She appears to be laying claim to the same status as others such as Margaret Thatcher,Emelda Marcos and so on.

      • “We shall seek debate without division or rancour” – Johann Lamont

        That wasn’t the ‘mother’ we saw and heard at Perth.

        She has now been characterised as someone who is full of spite and sound bites. I doubt she will able to overcome that description. .

  4. Jim Kennedy Cairo

    If that was the intention, you cant really blame Jola for it. It had to be the choreographer. Jola is nae smart enough to think that up.

  5. i think your being a tad too nice derek, she is simply a horrible person who any reasonable person would think is way over promoted and is where she is due to corrupt politics involving who she knows in scottish labour. isnt her husband a bigshot in glasgow labour?

  6. My brother, who takes a real interest in politics, couldn’t even remember her name. He called her “what’s her name, that Labour wifie?” It doesn’t say much for her profile.

  7. If it offends Brian it’ got to be good.

    • Oh Aye, anything that’s an affront to that wee, sleekit, four eyed weasel’s dignity…….is just fine by myself. I wonder what happened to that young enthusiastic, campaigning reporter on the West Highland Free Press I knew all those years ago? He reached the the dizzy heights of being in charge of the electricity, did he not? Shall I repeat that story of “glow in the dark” Wilson before he became a somebody? Well, it was in the local village hall when a local band and good folk had gathered of an evening to have a dance. Brian was put in charge of the electricity. erm….. he fed the slot meter with coins …..and in an astonishing dereliction of duty ….. managed to plunged the whole hall into a darkness. Aye, and so years later…. Labour put him in charge of the electricity.

  8. Doh! It’s.

  9. “So, good speech, Johann, wrong speaker. Good content, wrong emphasis. Good intent, wrong time.”

    I’m sorry. To me the speech was just another wishful thinking waffle interspersed with the usual hate, ie, I/we hate the SNP, and I/we particularly hat Alex Salmond.

    And I cannot thole listening to her, so never get beyond the first few words. She and Anas both ‘do my head in’.

  10. Derek. The radio project – go for it.
    As for finding out what others think, the problem is sorting the beef from the mince, and it does appear to be mostly mince.

    I would not like to see you reduce or diminish your own views.

    I am inspired by the content of your blog – and delighted to have ‘found’ you.

    Am still a Wings & Bella follower

  11. Gavin C Barrie

    I’m a father and grandfather. I find her “as a mother” jibes to Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon extremely nasty. And your reference to Dewar. Back then Labour were in full control of the media and so Dewar could stand up and speechify and assume gravitas to his heart’s content without challenge to his utterings – or his actions, like realigning the sea boundary with nary a word to the Scots nation.

    No, by their actions judge them and Labour’s behaviour in opposition in Scotland is a disgrace.

    And finally a person with a functioning moral compass would have read the speech provided to Lamont and responded “I’m not going to say this, its mean and its nasty”,

  12. Mr. Bateman, your copy betrays your personality too easily. And you know what? You’re just too nice at times!

    Johann Lamont has been honoured with too many commendations here. In my opinion, she is simply rubbish; inarticulate, unpleasant, rough.

    Sure, she’s working class but has none of the class that Jimmy Reid exuded for example. She has such a poor grasp of much of her party’s policies it’s laughable.

    When interviewed she repeatedly reveals ineptness, only made worse by amateurish attempts to cover up her own stupidity.

    I like her though. Labour should keep her exactly where she is because it works to everyone else’s advantage.

  13. All of the above plus…. she’s boring…..which in my book is the worst crime of the lot.

  14. Why can’t a person be working class and also have a bit of class – clearly Johann Lamont is beyond redemption. Why not say it? It’s true – from any standpoint. Her personal remarks about the Salmonds and Nicola Sturgeon are foul beyond belief!

  15. She is not JUST boring, especially trying to some how get at A. Salmond by him being childless. Frankly, that shows what kind of person she is, and just what her script writers are, very low human beings.

    Her speech was… Hatred, blaw, blaw, hatred, hatred blaw, blaw , hatred, bl…………………………….. ! That was it. Anything else was complete nonsense,
    the dedicated clapped, those watching just shook their heads saying WTF!

  16. Just be thankful the woman is out of teaching.

    • I consider that given that McConnell and Gray were also teachers they have done the teaching profession a great service by being politicians. Lamont is a disgrace but I want her to continue till the 19th of September when she should find herself without a job.

  17. The basic concept of the dilbert principle is that the most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage: management. It’s obvious that this does not apply to Scottish Labour.

    It’s not Putt’s Corollary which states that: in time, every hierarchical system develops a competence inversion. with incompetence being “flushed out of the lower levels” ensuring that the most competent people remain directly in charge of the actual processes, while those without any competence move into management. It’s easy to see that this isn’t the case when you think of their PR people & those who must be advising her and writing her speeches.

    I am wondering if there is a principle were the most ineffective are promoted to a place where they can do the most damage? It could be negative selection: a situation were a person who is top dog of their organisation (lets say Ed Miliband – don’t laugh at the back), wishing to remain in power, chooses his associates based on their level of incompetence. Since subordinates often mimic their leader, these people will do the same with those below them in the pecking order, and so the hierarchy is progressively filled with more and more incompetent people.

    When Gerry Hassan re-writes the “strange death of Scottish labour” he should probably devote a chapter or two to this phenomenon.

  18. What was she teaching? Foreign language classes for the numerically dyslexic.

    • English, forsooth. Apparently useless at it and ended up running the Truancy Department, can’t you just see here running about looking for truants.

  19. Great article Derek. Fair too, in the sense that you credit the speech but point out that if the deliverer doesn’t garner respect then it won’t gain any traction outside the hall.

    Where do Labour go from here? Johann was invisible during the Falkirk affair. Can she honestly say she’s done better than the Ian Gray (who was wheeled out on the radio yesterday; surely a sign of desperation)? If the Scottish populace vote no, it won’t be thanks to Johann’s performance.

    Fast forward to 2016 and the next Holyrood election. Should the snp get in again, presumably Johann will go. Who will take over? We need strong opposition parties, but neither Wullie or Ruth are going to be first minister. So come on Labour, get your act together, put your toys back in the pram and forget the 2011 gubbing and give us a choice at the polls.

  20. most hated person in scotland and she should be removed from the position she holds.

  21. She is at best a washroom debater.The old saying sh##t always floats to the top is very true of Scottish Labour.

  22. Meanwhile Derek, what do you think about SPT pulling Wing’s perfectly factual advert?

    I think things are turning nasty and that the No campaign are absolutely desperate to prevent people learning about the online Yes ecosystem. So for anyone reading who doesn’t know try here:

  23. No matter the result in September, Lamont is a lame duck that will drag the rest of the Labour Party in Scotland into a wilderness they may never return from. They are an embarrassment to those of us who want them to reflect the concerns and aspirations of ordinary people across Scotland.

  24. Not sure what has happened but I no longer receive your posts or comments by email and your site kept telling me my login details were in correct, though I have managed to gain access through my own WordPress blog. Have rechecked the boxes below, so hopefully will again be in the loop.

    • Margaret Brogan

      I’m having same problem, but WordPress say I’m not registered, though I have been since last October.

  25. Derek, I canny agree wi’ ye re- this despicable woman. Her “election” as “Leader” of New Labour in Scotland is proof of the decrepitude of this “organisation”, and is anathema to the Labour Party I used to support, which could genuinely claim to represent the interests of the working class. My true feelings re- the New Labour conference in Perth are expressed in the comments facility at the bottom of Ian Bell’s article in today’s Herald (26/3/2014). http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/columnists/there-is-no-labour-escape-route-from-conservatism.23780239

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