Scottish Labour has been driven by grievance politics against the SNP ever since they started losing ground to them. In the process, this has perhaps exposed the degree to which they sincerely believe that Scotland is their fiefdom by right – regardless of the decades of neglect that their custodianship has resulted in (long-term Labour seats have an interesting correlation with declining health and life expectancy). This blind opposition to anything SNP (see the ‘Bain principle’ referred to in ‘The Bain Principle, the old Royal High School building on Calton Hill, and 30% of Labour Party Members going for Yes’) of course resulted in them prepared to act as the stooges for a Conservative-driven Westminster government in the Referendum, seeing it as a way of facing down the SNP to reassert their dominion over Scotland. But that strategy may just have backfired on them.
I met up with a colleague the other night in The Harbour Inn – I had not seen him for 6 months, so was unsure of his political position. I knew George was a traditional socialist, and had supported Labour, but as a consultant had experienced disillusionment over Malcolm Chisholm’s failure to save Leith Hospital. We had also worked together to try to restore a local museum. Instinctively, I had felt he would be a ‘Yes’ man, but given his previous loyalties, I was not absolutely certain. But I was open enough to say that I had been campaigning in the referendum, as a way of opening the door should he want to say either way. ‘Dear Christ, man’ he said ‘TELL me you were working for Yes!!’ I smiled and reassured him: ‘What do you take me for?’, I said. We then went into ‘the referendum conversation’ that so many people have had in the past month, reviewing what had happened, and when we might get another chance at it. I raised with him my reservations that he might have felt some loyalty to Labour, but he dismissed that instantly: ‘The priority at the next general election has to be the destruction of Labour in Scotland’.
I was shocked by his vehemence, but could not help but agree with him – in the same way as the Conservatives had been stripped down to 1 Westminster MP in the 1990s, and both the LibDems and Labour had experienced hits in post 2010 Holyrood and council elections, so Labour needed to have their complacent Scottish powerbase significantly weakened. As much as the polls a year ago showed that Labour in Scotland would suffer in the wake of a No vote (far more than after a Yes vote), it remains to be seen whether that will manifest itself in a real vote against them come May. Gordon Brown is already positioning himself in a new brand of Labour’s grievance politics – except this time Labour’s grievance politics aren’t about mindless tribalism against the SNP, but against their recent intimate bedfellows, the Conservatives. Having ‘brokered the deal’ of the Daily Record’s ‘Vow’ between the three Westminster party leaders, Gordon feigns surprise that this is not translating into real powers for Scotland (or that it involves a drop in representation for Scottish MPs – should have used a longer spoon, Gordon…) and that within 24 hours of the Referendum result they were backtracking. Gordon is arguing that it is the Conservatives (rather than Scottish Labour, or himself more specifically) that have duped people in Scotland. Perhaps he really does want that ‘return to frontline politics’ which Ed Miliband has stated ‘is not going to happen’ – perhaps because Gordon wants to take his job back from Ed.
I asked George about the polling that said about a quarter of No voters had done so on the basis of the promises in ‘The Vow’. He dismissed that: ‘it was just an excuse for them’. He might well be right – although that does not necessarily help us in terms of how we get more people voting Yes next time. Certainly, the grim likelihood of increasing levels of poverty across Scotland over the next few years (coupled with the supposed link between support for Yes and poverty) does give some cold reason for believing in the possibility of a larger Yes vote next time.
But George – although keen not to dwell on ideas of the vote being rigged – drew attention to one thing that he wanted to look at: a suspicion of weirdly low turnouts in the two Yes majority cities. He had wondered if there was a statistical test one could do, like Chi-square, to see if the unusually low levels of voter turnout were significant. In terms of possibly indicating a disappearance of votes before the count. I keep thinking of the two fire alarms that evacuated the Dundee building during the count, and at the time thinking that if anyone was getting in to ‘disappear’ Yes votes in the confusion that, comedically, they either had taken the wrong bags (I imagined that the second alarm was to return the No bags accidentally removed, then take the Yes bags), or had not taken enough of them the first time. That was before I really saw the disparity in the turnout at Dundee, compared to everywhere else.
In terms of Scottish Labour’s chances of avoiding the predicted large reduction in their electoral support in May, I guess to an extent that that will be down to Gordon, and whether he can effectively reinvent himself as representing a tricked Scotland by then.
Alternatively, we can go back to George for the last word: “We have to get the buggers out.”
“They have found it far too difficult to get over their anger at losing, their anger at Alex Salmond being First Minister…We must rediscover our sense of purpose, our vision for Scotland, our ability to stand up and articulate the concerns of the people we most represent. We need policies and ideas that reflect that – and we’re running out of time.” (Jack McConnell, The Times, 18/10/2014)