It was interesting to see Paul Sinclair – former Special Adviser and speech-writer to Johann Lamont – spill his frustration out into the open in The Times for all to see on Monday. Lamont left her post shortly after the Referendum, complaining of everything being run from London, with no autonomy, and merely being a ‘branch office’ of London Labour, rather than the ‘brand’ of Scottish Labour. Sinclair goes further in his criticism of Labour’s focus, even in terms of ho wthe New Labour brand got rolled out – but not as far as Scotland: “New Labour reform did not need to come to Scotland because Scotland already voted Labour in droves. Convinced that Scotland would never vote SNP, the Scottish Labour party looked in on itself. And it took the people of Scotland for granted.”
Sinclair, who clearly is no fan of the SNP or Alex Salmond, judging by the speech-writing that he did for Johann, then went on to criticise Labour’s approach to the Referendum: “While the wind of home rule blew, the Scottish Labour party was revealed as the most Westminster-centric of all Scottish parties. Rather than grasp the initiative on the agenda of new powers for the Scottish Parliament, the Labour leadership saw the reforms through the prism of what it would mean for a future Labour government at Westminster. It speaks to a belief that too many of our Scottish MPs regard Westminster as a way to escape Scottish politics rather than a way to represent Scotland.”
This, of course, has been echoed in other statements that we have heard Scottish Labour MPs make: when Tony Blair first asked Jim Murphy to be Europe Minister, Murphy told friends that his first thought was ‘at least it’s not Scotland’.” And yet Big Jim is now coming back to Scotland as Scottish Labour leader, despite not anticipating doing this for until nearer 2030. (He must be delighted.)
Sinclair’s words ring true – of the three Westminster parties, Labour’s offering of ‘DevoNano’ was the most spectacularly underwhelming – particularly for a party that had so long smugly styled itself as ‘the party of devolution’. The focus of its proposals in Spring – as with its position on the Smith Commission – was emphatically focused on restricting any impact on the Labour Party in Westminster, and not about what was good devolution, or what Scotland needed…or wanted. Scotland certainly came a distant second in Labour’s priorities for Smith – where their position could be described as ‘braking’ rather than ‘enhancing’. In that sense – as well as his reference to Scottish MPs using Westminster to ‘escape Scottish politics’, his description of the Labour Party fits well with Craig Murray’s description as that of a machine to make money out of politics (see post: Jim Murphy, Torture and the CIA: or, Why Everyone Loves a Good Margaret Thatcher Assassination Story). For all their talk during the campaign of devolution being ‘a journey’, Scottish Labour seems to have run out of map.
To be fair, this also fits with a growing disillusionment of the Scottish electorate with Westminster. Even setting aside the political support currently being expressed, and going back to August 2013, when people were asked which government they trusted more to give the best decisions for Scotland, 60% said Holyrood (which, incidentally, put it at the top of the EU’s governmental trust ratings, second only to Luxembourg, and well above the UK at 22% – a survey by the Institute for Public Policy Research in April showed English voters had only a 36% level of trust in Westminster), and only 16% Westminster. If Billy Connolly refers to the ‘wee pretendy parliament’ these days, it is not obvious that most Scots will recognize that he is not referring to the one in London.
Given that Sinclair was spin-doctor for former Prime Minister Gordon Brown as well as Johann Lamont, his criticism of Labour’s approach to the Referendum does not reflect well on either of his former bosses’ performances during the campaign. Even if she was only a mouthpiece, Johann’s limitations on taxes and voting, as Brown’s, clearly express the priority of the good of the Westminster party over and above that of Scotland. As a consequence, Sinclair warned that Scottish Labour risks becoming ‘driftwood’ in May as a result of its stance on devolution, and its choice of bedfellows during the Referendum, which chimes with a whole series of polls (most scarcely believable) since the end of October, showing the SNP having tantamount to a majority of all Scottish votes to be cast in May 2015.
Separately, a new analysis by Ian Jones for the New Statesman’s May 2015 website flags up that it is quite reasonable to expect the SNP to gain a further 14 MPs from Labour. Indeed, Jones concluded that on the basis of current polling that only losing 14 MPs would be a ‘good result’ for Labour. For those of us still doubting the credibility of such large gains, an interesting piece over on ‘Wings’ (http://wingsoverscotland.com/the-tipping-point/) shows the First Past The Post tipping point of 42-45% of the vote that could cause a cascade through simple exclusion of other parties – effectively what Labour achieved with a 42% vote share in 2010. Although it might seem over-optimistic, perhaps (as Gordon Macintyre-Kemp of Business for Scotland notes in his piece in The National today – ‘How to get the very best for Scotland…lots of SNP MPs’) these high polling figures are a sign that it is starting to be recognised across the country that, given Labour have three times (Calman Commission, Brown’s Vow and Smith Commission) failed to deliver it, getting a major block of SNP MPs into Westminster really is the best way of securing a much fairer devolution settlement for Scotland.
When all is said and done – it is not as though the ‘party of devolution’ have secured it, with a majority of MPs in Westminster let alone just Scotland…so what do we have to lose by trying?
“If you can vote SNP and get a Labour government then what’s the point of voting Labour?” (Paul Sinclair, BBC Good Morning Scotland, 13/12/2014)