Anyway, in that time, much has happened. The UK General Election has come and gone and left a surprising, polarising and challenging result. Labour, at the UK level, now looks in as parlous a state as it was in the 1980s, when it had become ‘unelectable’. This is despite a radical lurch to the political right. We must now ask whether this lurch actually won Tony Blair his historic majority or whether in fact voters in England were just so fed up with Tory corruption, greed and downright nastiness that they could stand it no longer.
Left to their own devices for long enough, the Tories will always cover themselves in merde; the problem is that even though they were in the smelly stuff to their armpits, today there’s no credible alternative in England.
The Liberals, bless them, finally managed to weasel their way practically out of existence by maintaining the Tories in government. Their so called ‘limitation’ of Tory excesses was not enough for their left-leaning vote to forgive them for this, nor were they right-wing enough to curry favour with the Middle-Englanders.
In Scotland, something very different happened, but there are parallels. Here, the Tory party, at least in General Election terms, was already an irrelevancy. The Liberals’ dance of death with Cameron’s True Blues did for them in Scotland just as it did in England, and now they are left with but one Member…who is himself under threat because he lied in order to further his own ends during the run-up to the vote. He may hang on to his stipend and lavish expenses yet, but Alistair Carmichael is now revealed to be what we always said he was – a bumbling idiot, and a dishonest one at that.
But all of this was as nothing to the wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst Labour’s Scottish branch that the election result provoked. Labour too, reduced to one seat in Scotland. Who would ever have thunk it? In an earlier blog I was optimistic that the SNP might take 40 seats of Scotland’s 59; in fact they took 56. It’s as near a granny as we could wish for.
What is fascinating is that Labour in Scotland, despite this trouncing, appear not to know what went wrong. The departing (albeit slowly and disgracefully) branch manager, Jim Murphy, has all sorts of ideas about how this policy or that might have saved the day, how disputes with Union bosses cost votes, and I don’t know all what. But nobody’s listening.
There are still Labour bloggers out there claiming that the Scottish electorate is suffering from some sort of mass delusion as if they’d been burning tons of confiscated wacky baccy down Argyle Street. Nonsense. The Scots took a very calm and measured decision to terminate ‘Scottish’ Labour’s London-controlled collective ass.
Partly this was a response to the SNP’s excellent record in government, which has much reassured voters. Partly this was down to Nicola Sturgeon, who has emerged as the brightest star not just in UK politics, but arguably in Europe. That she is a woman just makes it all the sweeter – and in no small measure will soften Scottish women’s traditional reluctance to heed her party’s message.
However, the greatest factor in Labour’s defenestration was one which they brought upon themselves. They could have avoided it.
In the run-up to the 2014 Independence Referendum, the Unionists had a problem. The unionist parties then in power at Westminster should have taken the lead in presenting the unionist case. I mean, seems logical, no? But that would have meant the Tories. They are utterly toxic in Scotland, especially the London ones, and that approach would almost certainly have guaranteed a huge ‘Yes’ majority in the Independence poll.
So the Labour Party was persuaded to orchestrate the ‘No’ campaign instead. This was puzzling at best since it had been Labour policy to promote ‘devo max’ – an unquantified increase in powers for the Scottish Parliament. But the Tories refused to allow this option on the ballot, preferring to go for an outright kill. They thought that the likely outcome of a three-way questionnaire – independence, devo max or status quo – would have been a split but with a combined majority against the status quo. This they rightly saw as a route to more constitutional problems.
Instead they wanted a simple yes/no ballot in the hope that the ‘no’ vote would be so overwhelming that nationalism would be forever silenced. They hoped to sequester those in favour of devo max into the ranks of ‘no’, whereupon they could be ignored as usual. That, after all, is what the Great British Establishment has always done with voters. (That was why Cameron made his infamous speech about English Votes for English Laws on the day after the referendum – he thought his wizard wheeze had actually worked.)
Now, the consequence of this is well known; Labour was the face of Tory Unionism in Scotland during the referendum campaign which, after a last-minute, panicked promise of radical new powers in the event of a ‘no’ just scraped a victory. It was by no means enough to settle the matter indefinitely.
But to do this, Labour had to present itself as the errand-person of the Tory party. Labour voters in Scotland took one look and saw red; or maybe blue. Although many, out of party loyalty, did vote to keep the disUnion, they were totally disillusioned with the cheap political trick that had been played, blackmailing them, through their loyalty to Labour, into supporting David Cameron and the Tories.
The bullet of self-destruction that this fired hit Labour on May 7. It was wiped out in Scotland specifically for allying itself with the Tories during the referendum.
Now had they lost ten or fifteen seats this might have been brushed off as collateral damage that could be repaired. But to lose all but one is a disaster that not even the most brain-dead of Labour trolls (I am thinking of John McTernan, but there are so many others, you know) can fail to remark.
Labour in Scotland has been well and truly hung out to dry, not by the SNP, but by the Tories. By playing the Tory creature in Scotland, Labour committed public suicide. David Cameron must have been very pleased.
If Labour is to recover from a cataclysm such as it has suffered it must radically change, but its room for manoeuvre is limited. Labour in Scotland is just a branch of London Labour. It has no real autonomy. It can make no decisions on its own. Everything it does is done at the behest of or worse, through London. This was proven, yet again, this week, when the media discovered that Labour had been terminating the membership of Scottish members who had stated, on social media, that they would not be voting Labour – well, fair enough, you might think, but the letters were sent out by a compliance officer in Newcastle via party HQ in London. That’s right, folks, London telling Scots how to behave, yet again. As if we’d not seen enough lately.
It would make sense to think, and it has already been widely mooted, that Labour in Scotland’s only hope is to sever its ties with London Labour and become a separate party. The trouble is, this would actually have to be a real separation. The Scottish electorate is now the most politicised, sophisticated and media-savvy in Europe and they will see through another British Establishment stitch-up in an instant – and punish Labour again.
If a real, independent, Scottish Labour Party is resurrected from the ashes of the debacle, then inevitably, it must decide its own policies. It must actually be separate. This means two things: firstly, the career path to the Westminster gravy train that it used to represent to ambitious Scots would be severely curtailed, even if UK Labour were ever to recover enough to form a government and asked Scottish Labour to join a coalition – gosh was that a pig flying past my window?
More likely, Scottish Labour would be a Scotland-only party and inevitably its policies would drift, if not towards independence, to devo-max.
This might be enough to save Labour such that it could remain the principal opposition at Holyrood. But ask yourself this: how stable would it be for the UK were Scotland to have a ruling party that was pro-independence and an opposition that was pro-devo max? Even if the Labour party were to recover, through this gambit, such that it could actually challenge the SNP in Holyrood, the same would remain true: the only voices for the status quo would be the rumps of Tories and Liberals. One is toxic and the other is irrelevant.
There will be another referendum, that much is certain. I find it very hard to believe that the Labour Party could ever be persuaded to play the role it did in the last one, even were nothing done to change in its constitution. Surely even Labour politicians are not that stupid. (Are they?)
But if Scottish Labour did reform itself as an independent organism, is it really credible that it would lead the campaign for ‘No’ as it did before? What, front up for the Tories again? It’s beyond risible. The party would sign itself out of existence, this time forever. Were London Labour to try, they’d be laughed off as more Londoners trying to tell Scotland what it should do. And the Tories trying to sell the status quo – well then, a Yes would be in the bag before we even began.
Cameron’s short-term tactics may have secured – only just – a ‘No’ vote in the referendum and, much more convincingly, a thrashing of Labour at the General Election; but these were bought at no small price. That price is the Union itself, for the next time the question is put to the Scots, as it will be, there will be no-one who would dare speak up for it.
In a funny, yet, with the benefit of hindsight, strangely inevitable twist, the ‘No’ vote last September almost certainly killed the disUnion dead. It may still be staggering on, but it’s a zombie. It’s just a matter of time now before it collapses. We should have a new anthem, and call it ‘Zombie Blues’.