Interesting how quickly a leader can be unsettled…no sooner had IDS (or In Deep Shit as he’s known) resigned with an attack on the Chancellor, than all eyes turned to Cameron. It is HIS government and if it’s falling apart, HE’s in the firing line.
Leaders can seem all-powerful, their every movement witnessed from behind a patina of power. But the history of downfalls shows how fragile is the concept of one person in charge and all others subservient.
The Tory turmoil – which also leaves Ruth Davidson exposed because in a binary choice, she has to align herself or lose credibility – does not get close enough to unseat Cameron but it does mean he has to grip the reins tightly and dig into the stirrups to stay aboard. He will be shaken by the experience, rattled by an existential threat to him, and surely also by the sense of losing control at the very time when unity and calm are required to steer the country away from a Brexit. Losing Scotland would have been historic. Leaving Europe would be catastrophic.
That the grounds for the Smith resignation are spurious and contrived only underlines the animus behind them. He didn’t need a genuine point of principle on which to raise his standard, only deep loathing and ambition to wound. He has set loose the dogs of war, removed the muzzles from the anti-EU brigade many of whom despise Cameron’s liberalising edges on the environment and gay rights. Hasty retreat on divisive policy issues and consolidation of support are now priorities. They are also impossible as British Conservatives wrestle the beast that has stalked Little England for a generation – foreigners interfering in the running of their country. That niggle at ‘Brussels’ is the dying echo of colonialism – of course they know the golden age of British authority has gone but there’s still Scotland to boss, power weapons to play with and top tables to occupy. And stout defenders of British pride don’t like being pushed around by Continental functionaries with their qualified majorities and d’Hont mumbo jumbo. As for some of them actually coming over here to live and work…we didn’t fight two world wars just to surrender to foreign occupation now.
It is a kind of struggle to the death to define what the Tory Party is actually for in the modern age.
Which brings me to Labour. They have been going through the Valley of Death much longer and accompanied by wheeling vultures. In Scotland Kezia is the bleating lamb awaiting sacrifice. In normal times a heavy defeat, a net loss of seats, would be the trigger for a swift demise followed by replacement by one of a clutch of appropriate alternatives. So dire is Labour’s position that even election defeat is unlikely to mean she is deemed to have failed. After all, who could have saved them in the absence of a Keir Hardie re-incarnation? And into the calculation must surely go next year’s council elections when the remaining party citadels could be raised to the ground, signalling the effective end of Labour as we have known it. Removing the council base is to lop off the roots of the movement and prevent future growth. Who wants to lead into that maelstrom. Even the ambitious will gladly allow game wee Kezia to soldier on to the end of her suicide mission.
I can forsee only one possible reason why the Dugdale leadership may crumble in May. If the Armageddon Outcome of defeat by the Tories occurs, there can be no stay of execution. It is simply not survivable. Slipping behind the Tories is an unbearable ignominy that would turn Labour from a shambles to a laughing stock. Professor John Curtice has dismissed Labour’s chances of a recovery as ‘Zero’ and floated the possibility that they may get their worst result since 1918. So it says much that Kezia is programmed in still to survive. But the unimaginable embarrassment of Ruth Davidson sitting in the opposition leader’s seat after May would demand a rewriting on an epic scale. Perhaps it will take that for the advice that some of us have been suggesting since 2011 to be accepted. That is for a mass consultation of all Scottish members for views on all aspects of the party to decide who it is for and what its purpose is with no bar or restriction and no guaranteed continuing role for existing payroll people. The objective is the formation of a Scottish stand-alone party with policy agendas produced by the membership with a focus on campaigns rather than parliamentary opposition. Clarification on the constitution is badly needed with at least an adoption of full federal status for the UK nations and a stop made to insulting the independence argument – not because it damages the SNP but because it damages Labour.
But by then it may be too late to prevent the slow decline to the stage where they cannot benefit from a future erosion of SNP support. The Labour brand may be irretrievable with the sole chance of a challenge to the Nationalists contained in the creation of a new entity, if they can re-define what they stand for. By then Kezia will be an elder statesman bringing wisdom and insight to the cause…by