Labour in Scotland is dying. Does anybody care?
The Guardian, by Kevin McKenna
Preoccupied with their Westminster careers, the party’s newly ennobled grandees are busy condemning it to the twilight zone
Jim Murphy’s “scary monsters” tour of 100 towns during the independence referendum campaign encapsulated many of the reasons why the Labour party is all but finished in Scotland. Murphy, a man who has pocketed a small fortune in legitimately claimed expenses from Westminster in his 15 years there, would have had us all believe that his Herculean task of completing the tour in 100 days was all about saving the union. And indeed his narrative, like that of Alistair Darling, was all about how small, vulnerable and cowering Scotland is and why a curfew must eternally be imposed upon it.
But let’s be honest with each other here. This wasn’t really about his new-found enthusiasm for the union. It was, instead, a three-month job interview for the post of leader of the Labour party in Scotland. As Murphy began to embark on his bizarre urban peregrination around the country it began to dawn on several young Labour MSPs why, in the previous several weeks, they had been solicited to have cosy lunches with some of Murphy’s acolytes in a few of Glasgow’s more chichi restaurants.
The most troubling question that may be asked about Murphy’s tour is this one: you’ve been a Labour MP for 15 years, Jim, so why didn’t you ever get up off your arse during that time to conduct a tour of 100 towns to highlight urban deprivation and social inequality? You waited far too long to show you cared about anything beyond your career and, when you finally did, you chose the wrong subject to get all passionate about: the British state.
The same can be said about Labour in Scotland and could probably pass as its epitaph. Because, if something very drastic and very radical doesn’t happen to the party in this country soon, then it is effectively finished as a serious political entity and will become a party of the undead. It will be condemned to spend the next two generations in the same twilight zone as that occupied by the old British Liberal party throughout the 20th century.
Those Scottish nationalists experiencing problems in accepting the independence defeat are gleefully portrayed as stumbling through the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief model. Some grief. Seven years ago, their party remained in opposition in its own devolved parliament. Since then, it has become the natural party of government in Scotland, having achieved an overall majority of seats and having come closer to bringing the British establishment to its knees than Hitler, Napoleon or Christine Keeler. Its membership currently sits at around 70,000, almost three times what it was on 18 September. If Carlsberg made political defeats…
It is Scottish Labour’s party chiefs and its senior strategists who need to acknowledge, and quickly, what has just happened to them and to face reality. In four of their five most impenetrable redoubts, their core voters rejected the most intense barrage of anti-independence propaganda that any had ever encountered. They lost Glasgow and North Lanarkshire, for heaven’s sake. For two years, every Scottish MSP and all the Westminster ones that matter hectored Labour’s most loyal voters with wave upon wave of attacks on Scottish independence: only Labour at Westminster can deliver true social justice; there are too few of you adequately to foot the annual care bill; your pensions are at risk. Yet still, almost 40% of their supporters rejected these lines.
Gordon Brown was wheeled out at the last to entreat the comrades to win one more for the Gipper while displaying a love for the NHS largely invisible during his 13 years at Downing Street. They saw through him, too, and left Labour’s King Lear to reflect that his greatest political achievement was to play a cameo role in keeping David Cameron’s career alive.
Labour’s recently elevated aristocracy, Baron Reid of Cardowan and a retinue headed by their lordships McConnell of Arran and Robertson of Port Ellen also suffered to come down among those folk they once knew and talked too of social justice and building communities. Margaret Curran was the first to wake up to the nightmare when she declared that Labour must reach out to its heartlands. There is no satellite navigation system sophisticated enough to guide them to these long-forgotten places.
Already I hear some of them claiming that the lost 37% will be back in due course to “kick the Tories out”. They are deluding themselves. This time around, disaffected Labour people aren’t simply registering a protest vote. They are actually joining the SNP in droves. Many of the 37% of their voters who voted yes were initially disowned by their own party, or their existence actually denied. Then they were hounded out of their constituencies and demonised as nationalist stooges. They will not forgive such treatment easily.
Many others were sickened at watching their party acting as swordbearers for the baleful forces of the Conservative party, big oil, big business and the landed and undeserving rich during the referendum campaign. The sight of Labour people singing and dancing with Conservatives at having preserved the established order of things will not be erased soon.
Ed Miliband will require all of his 41 Scottish Labour MPs to be returned if he is to have any hope of winning an overall majority at Westminster next year. Yet how many of them would survive a backlash from among the 1.6 million who voted yes and who have effectively renounced the Labour faith?
In recent days, I’ve been rebuked by some chums in the Labour party for deploying the term “careerist” to describe them. Leaving aside Murphy and his 100-day job application and Baron Reid and Baron Foulkes of, ahem, Cumnock and their exalted Labour lordships McConnell and Robertson, I’m willing to concede that “careerist” doesn’t apply to all Labour stalwarts.
So here’s a challenge to the good and able Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster such as Gregg McClymont, Tom Greatrex, Ian Murray and Anas Sarwar. The party in Scotland, gentlemen, is on a life-support machine. How many of you care enough about it to give up your Westminster careers and come to its aid at Holyrood?