A Star is Born

A new party is born! This weekend in Perth the left wing Scottish Labour Party emerged as the latest socialist grouping to join the fray. Although small, it says it is based on traditional old Labour values associated with Keir Hardie. It is led by an energetic younger female, Kezia Dugdale, and wants to position itself to the left of the SNP. Professor John Curtice said Labour’s immediate problem was that it was joining an already crowded part of the political spectrum, competing for votes from Greens, RISE and assorted others. ‘The success of the Nationalists is founded on a broad appeal which first took Tory votes, then Liberals and finally breaking through in Labour heartlands to become a genuinely national party. It’s unlikely that another left-leaning grouping will threaten the SNP hegemony.’ Ms Dugdale is 34.

That’s probably what would appear in the Daily Waffle if the weekend’s events were the arrival of a new, rather than a reheated, party. The reason there is so much in-depth coverage of the ‘Scottish Labour’ conference is convention and formality. Like observing the rituals at a funeral, there is an acknowledged process to go through – graveside solemnity, desultory singing, sorrowful head-shaking and some earth-scattering – before heading for the pub.

And, of course, there are strong personal relationships at play too, just as there are at the cemetery. A large section of our upstanding media owe allegiance and sometimes careers, to the deceased who played a crucial role in the lives of many. ‘Aye. He’ll be missed.’

So what did Labour’s sparse event achieve? The Trident vote proved the leadership was serious about opening up to ideas and debate to allow the membership not just a say but a veto on major policy. On an issue like nuclear weapons, this is Bennite madness to Blairites and so must be welcomed as a dramatic and cathartic cartwheel of democracy by the membership. It’s dangerous, too but then so is bacon. Labour has re-joined the Scottish progressive consensus. How easy was that! In less time than it takes to launch a sea-to-air thermonuclear ballistic missile, Labour were back in the fold, hugged by the arms of socialists, nationalists and trade unionists (the boilermakers were banging their head against the wall at the time.) They closed off the exposed flank relentlessly damaged by jibes about loving nuclear weapons and taking bread from the mouths of bairns etc. That’s the real achievement. This is the actual outflanking manoeuvre as the vote doesn’t move them to the left of the Nats at all. Instead it shuts down an attack line. Happily, it also points a guided missile at the considerable target of Jackie Baillie whose desperate claims that jobs are more important than nukes is now in tatters. That Kezia herself is a known nuclear warrior will now be quietly jettisoned along with other unwanted ballast. This is a politician who had acquired views like accessories when being mainstream illuminated the lights along the Labour career path. Pro-Trident renewal? Oh, that’s so yesterday…

Bidding to outdo the Nats with a promise to restore tax credits in full and nip some more income tax from high earners is good politics – if you think it will win votes. On paper, which is where this policy will stay until it’s ditched before the next General Election, this is positive stuff, framing Labour as left wing (again), on the side of the workers and the claimants and no longer ashamed to whistle the Bandeira Rossa in the bath.

Dugdale needed to make a policy mark, something defining, and this is it. It is designed to winkle out the soppy Nats who joined up in exasperation and maybe some Labour waverers toying with defection in frustration. That’s not a bad thing. If the SNP isn’t radical enough for you, find a home that is. There is room in Scottish politics for all and there is something vaguely unhealthy about one party dominating, as we learned under Labour’s own gentle ministrations for decades.

So far, so good. There is a new narrative and it will invigorate the debate (stifle those yawns.)

But…how does Scotland’s position on Trident work with London’s? Personally, I have no difficulty with one geographic entity taking a distinctly differently view and campaigning for it to become wider party policy. That’s the essence of devolution. But the other aspect is that London always wins. That’s also the essence of devolution. For years I went to conference when Labour really was the party of power and truly seemed to represent Scotland. Delegates regularly voted against nuclear weapons – the leadership shrugged it’s M and S suited shoulders and headed for the Daily Record editor’s hospitality room knowing the vote meant nothing except the Left striking a pose.

Labour got away with this dubiety before the rise of the Nats focussed minds on what powers Scotland actually had and asked what was the point of 50 Labour MPs if they didn’t represent voters’ views. In today’s SNP-led Scotland the issue of powers and governance is a perennial that is applied to everything. Where once Kezia’s Socialist Disarmers could bluff it, intense scrutiny today means they no longer can. Voters now ask what is the point of a different Scottish view within Labour when they are subservient to London, unilateralist Jeremy notwithstanding. It is this powerlessness that voters came to realise was the epitome of Labour. Westminster simply didn’t listen nor didn’t care what they said. Blair ignored their entreaties, bulldozed their values. Without a rising UK Labour move against Trident replacement, Kezia is again left looking impotent, pointing voters in one direction – the total autonomy of operation that independence brings either for country or party or both. This is the right decision for Labour but it eventually runs them into the brick wall of reality – they remain a branch office.

Should the SNP match the offer to restore benefit cuts? No.

This is a classic opportunistic sleight of hand manufactured in the risk-free comfort zone of opposition. They can say anything and never have to implement it. To copy them not only indicates they were right all along and you were wrong, in practical terms it’s like chasing fairies at the bottom of the garden…they’re always just out of sight. At this stage restoration is a slogan since it’s difficult to see where the powers are to ‘restore’ cuts. Who would identify the claimants and amounts and who would actually pay them? If it is, as looks likely, a job for a UK agency like HMRC or DWP, that will come at a considerable cost, never mind complexity. Whitehall isn’t keen on doing Scotland’s work for us.

Where does the money come from? Which budget is stripped to buy off Tory policy? Why should Scotland’s fixed budget be spent ameliorating the depredations of London government? They would of course prefer Scotland just to put up taxes. Why would that be, you may ask? This is the consequence of Union. In the next seven months this declaration can be ruthlessly interrogated against the background of curtailed tax and spend powers allied to the imperative of removing a Tory government. You can also link this plan with the suggested 50p tax rate for higher earners although there is no clarity on correlation between the two.

Where these three initiatives – Trident, restoration and 50p rate – do combine is to present Kezia’s party as a more left-leaning one than the SNP, albeit on a pick and mix policy basis. It is a start. But the SNP should respond with questions not compliance. What Kezia may have achieved is to paint the SNP successfully as a social democratic government, not a socialist one. As if there was ever any doubt. This hare has been running since the indyref, set free by the media and pursued as a means of attack (all else having failed).

Go back to the top of this piece where it recalls the SNP’s track record. When Labour conferences were real news, the Nationalists only successes were in Tory areas. If I remember, about the only Labour scalp claimed was when the late Allan McCartney unseated Henry McCubbin in the Euro elections. Every other head-to head contest went Labour’s way. There was no way through. The electoral bulwark on which the SNP surge was built came from Perthshire, the Mearns, Aberdeenshire and other rural and semi rural former Tory enclaves. These successes were consolidated over the years partly because there was no real Labour presence there. Those voters stayed loyal to a party that seemed to embody Scottish virtues of personal independence and gently progressive ideas (not difficult in backward-leaning Britain). The SNP backed workers but were not affiliated to unions. They backed business because it was good for Scotland. They transcended the traditional tribalism. They outflanked the Liberals by favouring electoral reform and independence rather than federalism.

Labour’s historic surrender of their own electoral base allowed the Nationalist trickle to become a flood in working class areas but they only said what Labour themselves should have been saying if they hadn’t in thrall to London.

The SNP have performed Blair’s trick of extending their appeal from right to left and from coast to coast. They have encapsulated a set of values that appeal across a broad swathe of Scotland and, however left-facing Nicola is, everyone believes they will put Scotland first – a claim no party with a leader in London can make. They are a’body’s SNP.

That’s why Kezia is heading into the rush hour traffic by entering the left-wing fast lane. There is minimal potential there to peel away enough votes and while the upper tax rate won’t hurt many, it will send a signal to middle earners that their hard-earned pay cheques may be next. That’s where the votes are – engaged, working, aspiring voters who want to see a path to wealth and security but don’t want others left behind. That’s a huge constituency in Scotland from skilled working class through career professionals to high flyers. In England they move between Labour and the Tories. Here they sit comfortably with the SNP, so long as independence is stalled. They do want to support the less well off but will balk at a policy programme framed around those at the bottom. The trick is to marry both interests together. The bedrock of SNP support won’t thank them if they start following a Labour agenda designed to win back a sectional interest in order to regain credibility.

Beyond all of the above is the biggest problem of all. Does anybody care? The Labour brand, like the Tories before it, has become toxic – something flaky and untrustworthy that many feel disgusted they were once part of. The reformed do not easily return. The professional sheen has rubbed off Labour. Denied resources, expertise and talent, its image is worn and scratchy. Kezia will take years to gain the experience that will earn her the right to be heard on equal terms. No leader can survive being casually patronised and dismissed. Yet where is the deputy? Behind-the-scenes work is fine but a novice leader needs public support. It would bolster her position if Alex Rowley were glimpsed occasionally on our screens saluting metaphorically to the new commander. Or is a low profile the best option ahead of a drubbing? That would be very Gordon Brown.

I wish Labour well in their fight for the slender socialist vote, although my own Left party of choice would be the Greens. Meanwhile, like the overwhelming majority of Scottish voters, I will stand with the SNP as the national party of our country.

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17 thoughts on “A Star is Born

  1. Does Kezia think if SNP cut airport tax,Scottish Socialists will fly from Newcastle?

  2. Derek,
    You nailed it with “Does anybody care?”. Judging by the acres of empty seats at Perth, not even the dwindling band of SLAB members care enough to turn out and show their support. The BBC/MSM coverage given to the SLAB conference will surely have the opposite effect to that intended by increasing support for the SNP as the incoherence of each and every policy announcement becomes apparent to even the most deluded SLAB voter.

  3. Reblogged this on ‘Voices From An Alternative Universe’

  4. I suspect that Mr Rowley is, as you suggest, deliberately keeping to the background only to re-emerge next May in the light of Kezia’s “resignation” to go for the top job as the latest “saviour” of Scottish Labour. From the little I know about him, he doesn’t strike me as someone content with any deputy job.

  5. Re posting (with minor edits) what I put on WGD a few days ago (sorry if that is cheating!):

    I think that silence on QT last week was one of the most embarrassing things I have ever seen happen to a politician.

    But Kezia brought it upon herself by trying to hijack a BBC discussion show to make a mini party political broadcast (and a pretty poor one at that).

    It was a dreadful lack of judgement on her part (or the part of her advisors) and the clearest proof, if any were needed, that she lacks the calibre for leadership – and she’s the best they’ve got?

    No one cares anymore. And if that happens people stop thinking about you and you cease to exist in any meaningful sense.

    That is what is happening to (Not) Labour. And they have no-one to blame but themselves.

    They deserted us in a fit of greed for power. They were seduced by the tropes of wealth and avarice. They abandoned the ordinary folk. They allowed people like Brian Wilson to speak to us on their behalf.

    At local government they have become a by word for corruption, favouritism and nepotism and yet each time that was exposed – in Monklands, in Edinburgh, in Glasgow, in North Lanarkshire – they sat on their hands and did nothing.

    Well hell mend them. Democracy in Scotland needs effective opposition but it sure as heck doesn’t need (Not) Labour.

    Next please?

  6. Presumably someone has taken the trouble to explain to Fido that in order to attract those of us who have more socialist leanings, it is not sufficient merely to state that one is aiming ‘left of the SNP’. She will also be expected to formulate, adopt and passionately encourage others into policies that reflect this stance.

    I appreciate that there is plenty scope to adopt a ‘left of SNP’ party but the reason we are all here today is because NuLabour has ventured so far to the right of SNP that the SNP can now be regarded as a ‘relatively’ left wing faction. Perhaps her father can provide a few pointers.

  7. Couple of things jumped out of Kezias speech ” we must take more control of our own affairs” which is the hight of irony given they just sent two years stopping Scots from Eh taking care of there own affairs
    Secondly a shout out to the Unions, lab stopped Employment law from being Devolved to Scotland at the Smith commission this is despite the STUC backing it being Devolved
    They preferred to leave the brothers and sisters in tory hands
    Every time Lab evoke Kier Hardie they insult him his founding principle was Home rule he was attacked in the streets of Ayrshire by Angry Unionists
    Scottish Lab are now those Angry Unionists who stopped Home Rule & fought at Smith commission for as little as possible it doesn’t want home rule
    It should not be allowed to now state
    “The most powerful devolved parliament in the history of parliaments” mince
    For that’s what is coming mince
    Any German or Spanish or American city has more powers Iom Jersey all more powerful whats coming is nothing more than a fiscal trap Lab want a failed Scotland its that simple and its that Sad

  8. For me, one of the reasons for the SNP being so successful is that they have communicated their vision and purpose. Labour churns out SNP-bad and comes out with soundbites that have no substance. Cheese sandwiches without the cheese.

    If I was a Labour voter in Scotland who needed her faith in the party re-ignited, I’d want to see a leader who knew how to engage with the public. How to talk to them. How to light that fire again and lead a party that reflects a Labour way that is clear, unambiguous and driven. I’d want to know why I should stay. Not listen to feelgood quotes and be showered with political confetti, or be bludgeoned with a clunky fist (yes, I’m talking to you, Gord). I’d want to know exactly why Labour is the party to follow. I don’t see it, because they still don’t know who they are or what they stand for. Have they changed? Do they recognise the huge mistakes and failures during their previous time in office when they took Scotland for granted – 6 houses? SIX? – and are they courageous enough to learn, instead of shouting bad-temperedly at the SNP?

  9. British Labour can have any policies and make any promises they like but at the end of the day it is a matter of trust and Scots don’t any more.
    If they cannot agree a common policy on something as important as mass murder then what hope is there for them.
    Not to be trusted under any circumstances.

  10. 70% of delegates at the Labour conference voted, forlornly, to banish Trident. Labour HQ will ignore them.Their next logical move is to join the SNP or Greens.

  11. Labour’s friends in the MSM do Labour absolutely no favours at all with their unthinking support and praise, for it is a lot to do with the MSM being uncritical that has encouraged Labour to dig even deeper within the hole they are already in.

    • dennis mclaughlin

      “Labour’s friends in the MSM do Labour absolutely no favours”, Derek this is what you should be shouting from the rooftops about..your colleagues in the media are complicent in this bare faced Labour lying to the Scottish people.
      How about making some noise about this subject?,the National can’t do it alone….

  12. The Labour brand, like the Tories before it, has become toxic – something flaky and untrustworthy that many feel disgusted they were once part of…….

    Murphy, Darling, Brown, Matheson, Sarwar, Matheson’s predecessor in GDC, Dugdale, Baillie, Straw, Janner… this is what passed for talent in the Labour Party – a bunch of self-serving wretches, or worse …..

  13. The Trident vote just showed up as clearly as possible the pointlessness in voting for Labour in Scotland.

  14. Why vote for a bunch of liars who would do a volte fâce on every policy and issue at the drop of a hat?

  15. If you aren’t careful then Jackie Baillie will sit on you and accuse of threatening national security and jobs.

  16. If we are still in the union in 10 years time – which seems likely to me, there is a surprisingly large number of British nationalists in Scotland – then I don’t think we will have a Labour and Conservative party as at present. it makes more sense for them to merge and form a right-of-centre Scottish Unionist party. This would form the main opposition to the centrist SNP. a third, leftish pro-Indy party could be formed out of the rump of Labour left plus the assorted RISE, SSP etc, and this third party could make common cause with UK Labour as and if necessary.

    I don’t really see any other way forward for labour except complete irrelevance.

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