I broke with habit this morning and turned to Radio Scotland at ten past eight. (The kids were doing my head in.)
Up came Douglas Alexander as shadow foreign affairs spokesman giving an educated summary of events in Ukraine and the potential threat to the Baltic states and sounding, as always, briefed and competent. This is Douglas at his best, analysing and explaining with his sub-Blair tone of plausibility and demonstrating a capacity in opposition that I don’t remember being replicated in office. Some are better suited to opposition, good at challenging, but oddly dysfunctional in office. (Brian Wilson springs to mind.)
I did wonder briefly if, when he does interviews now, he’s thinking of them as job applications for some World Bank or EU role that might pop up for a respected international affairs former politician…
He is admirably cautious and steers away from military implications – I think that lesson has been learned – invoking the EU and further sanctions while generally gilding Labour with a seam of credibility absent from other policy areas. I can’t help wondering when some backbench woodentop will stamp on that credibility with tackitty boots and warn that with Putin on the march, the UK needs its own nuclear deterrent which could be fired independently on Moscow if it gets out of hand. My money’s on Brian Donohoe although Jackie Baillie has a personal first strike capability of her own.
Douglas had a Putinesque brusqueness about him, unusual when his default mode with interviewers is emollient and patient. ‘Yes. Yes. I’ll come to that point…’ This showed up as irritation with Gary Robertson for trying to interrupt the flow when, as Douglas knows, the odd question or two is what the principle of an interview is all about.
Wonder what’s bugging him, I thought.
Towards the end, we found out. Unless it was just morning dyspepsia, I think Douglas was digesting the Daily Record poll and had been advised by the production team beforehand that he would be asked a question about Labour’s performance – a question he couldn’t duck.
He knew he would have to brush aside as much of it as he could get away with and setting an impatient tone from the off would help. You can’t be all soothing one minute and clipped and gruff the next because that would show how pained you were.
And he did sound pained. Peeved. Miffed. Aggrieved, etc. We all know the mantra – that every vote for the SNP helps Cameron win and he dutifully made it without a challenge such as: ‘Didn’t Scotland vote Labour in the last election and still got Cameron? And again in 79, 83, 87 and 92 when we got Thatcher then Major?’
But it has a sense of truth about it that will be hard to dispel because it’s nice and simple and we haven’t fashioned a good enough slogan in reply yet but it won’t help if it’s asserted without question across the media as in this case.
It is noticeable though that Douglas – he is Labour’s thinker, remember – can’t give a positive reason for voting Labour and is left with the negative warning that, if you don’t vote for him, something worse will happen. Welcome to the indyref mark 2, courtesy of the Better Together team now running Scottish Labour. This isn’t even Things Can Only Get Better – it’s You’ll All Die of Plague.
So what was the reason why the Ashcroft polling found he was likely to lose his own seat in Paisley?
We’ll never know because Douglas’s ire was up by now and he went right off message ranting that the SNP had appointed someone who ‘thought Celtic fans were scum’ and who had ‘threatened violence’…and generally he sounded rattled and downright cross. It’s just possible that if he’d been asked another Putin question then he would have lost it. ‘We have to bomb the bastard…’
This isn’t the Douglas Alexander I know. Even wound up, he’s as scary as a kitten -just a polite middle class laddie that many voters will be a bit proud of because they wish their son was like him. Always, he calculates. So, knowing all the numbers, he usually devises a cute riposte that has the neutral muttering… ‘maybe he has a point.’ Not this time though. Instead he sounded like he didn’t have any answers except the grim, truth – that he’s in deep trouble and the house of cards is shaking. He certainly conveyed that message and if he’s worried, you can bet the more febrile and insecure among the Labour cohort are already taking medication.
The one argument he had exposes where Labour now are – that the concentration will soon fall on Tory versus Labour. They have to hope like Hell that when the media get fully up to speed for the election, the focus will be on Westminster, Cameron, Clegg and Miliband so the SNP will be excluded and, especially on television, they will be invisible. They are praying that the one-sided media will do what Labour can’t on its own and diss the Nats.
But hold on. What has historically applied may not this time. Despite television’s obsession with UKIP, Farage’s expected total is minimal (usually 2) and it will quickly become apparent that is so.
Alliances of Nationalists and Greens change the picture completely and with Sturgeon constructing a presence in England – and Cameron desperate to warn of a Labour-SNP government – I can’t see Douglas’s Land of Hope and Glory scenario working as normal. Sturgeon will be front of house for this production.
And, sorry Douglas – back to my own theory about this election. 2015 is about revenge. Scots are sick of Westminster and its self-seeking tribe no matter their affiliation. They were scunnered by Unionists in the indyref and it was the tipping point for significant numbers of Labour people who haven’t just embraced the SNP but are applying the zeal of the convert to Labour and want to punish them. They felt shame and embarrassment about Labour in those two years and their own self-worth was damaged by association. Labour lost its self-respect.
They see little distinction between the two parties (and the Lib Dems now) and have heard Labour’s UK message which is appeasement of the well-off in the Thames estuary where the votes pile high. And then there’s the leader. It’s true that voters narrow their focus on who looks and sounds like a leader as polling day nears and everything I see indicates that Miliband is Michael Foot without the donkey jacket – a loser.
The SNP meanwhile have learned from the referendum and are even more motivated now with a huge ground campaign, a new breed of candidate, unquenchable optimism and something else Labour have mislaid…a ship called dignity.by