It has been an interesting week in the broad sense of Scottish politics. Monday June 8th was the most potentially stressful day – as part of Nicola Sturgeon’s grand tour of the US (Ok, NYC and DC), she was a guest on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. As confident as you can be in Nicola, that could so easily be a step too far…and yet she did brilliantly. For those of you who have not seen the full 14 minutes, I commend this link: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2tabx8_the-unexpurgated-sturgeon_news which will give you the 7 minutes broadcast, and another 7 shot for web content. The desperation of her political opponents to attack her being such that they relied on saying ‘Stewart compared her to Saddam Hussein’ as their strapline for commentary on her appearance – in other words, they were relying on people not checking the actual show for what was really said, but just take the commentariat’s word for it. It was very clear from the show that Stewart had a great deal of warmth for her as a guest – and far from being misrepresented by the show’s website (which had initially billed her as a comedienne), she was funny…and also promoted Scotland extensively, even announcing that she had secured Jon Stewart’s agreement to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe next year. Even when she is going out there to get grilled on political chatshows, Nicola is still procuring ‘investment’ in Scotland…what an absolute star. Perhaps even funnier was her modest assessment of her performance on the show in her trip diary (published in today’s Sunday Herald): “it seems to go Ok”. Aye…naw bad, hen.
I watched at midday on Tuesday June 9th, as the crowd-funder for the legal case against Alistair Carmichael under the 1983 Representation of the People Act broke through its £60,000 target in just under two weeks. Supported by some 3,900 donors, the campaign launched by 4 Kirkwall residents in Orkney now has the required sum of money to take in a possible series of legal defense teams…although the LibDems are still refusing to say whether they will fund Carmichael’s defense. I find it heartening to see that the new politics in Scotland lives and extends beyond a simple general election – the expansion in support for independence (as well as the SNP) since the Referendum has been that of a Scottish people that takes particular exception to being openly lied to by its politicians – whether through the tissue-thin lie of ‘The Vow’, or through Carmichael happily lying about his involvement in and knowledge of the leak of the ‘FrenchGate’ memo, as a rather transparent strategy to not jeopardize his campaign to retain his Orkney/Shetland seat. Commentators might do well to recognise that this is not an ‘SNP witchhunt’, but something much broader and more publicly-owned. Regardless of what happens with the legal case (and I would cynically expect it to be unsuccessful, simply because of its direct opposition to the Establishment), or even if he secured a win in a rerun by-election, it is hard to see how Carmichael does not come out of this as a major liability for the LibDems – and the Union more broadly: his defense appears to be that his lies were “purely political”, therefore did not reflect on his character, and that he did not lie about when he first heard about the memo, he (wait for it) ‘misdated’ when he heard about it. I love that – hardly a robust opposition to the case, that will renew faith in him as a constituency MP of impeccable character.
That night, I watched Evan Davis interviewing Alex Salmond in the studio, reflecting on Nicola’s tour de force on the Daily Show, Davis putting it to Salmond that Nicola was “less divisive” than he was. I felt that Davis was slightly missing the point – Salmond was forced as party leader and First Minister to be the lightning rod of every anti-independence writer since 2008, and has a lot of baggage directly attached to him from that relentless six year onslaught. Nicola presents an alternative second figure to his – and the ‘second figure’ makes a huge psychological difference to the wide audience. It changes the dynamic (to use an analogy of the white American position during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s) from being either for or against Martin Luther King, to having a choice between King and Malcolm X. People could more easily support King after Malcolm came to the fore, as they could feel that they were still opposing Malcolm by supporting King; before that, they had no such choice, and it was easiest to simply go with mainstream opinion and oppose King. Similarly, Nicola does not have that legacy (yet) of the UK media constantly attacking her for years to build up this attendant baggage – so she becomes the ‘palatable’ option. I think this is demonstrated in a number of ways – not least in the YouGov post election poll, where (as noted by James Kelly in ‘Scot Goes Pop’): “The most intriguing finding is that English respondents are now much more supportive of independence than they were prior to the referendum. Across Britain, support has increased from 19% in mid-September to 30% now, and opposition has slumped from 65% to 51%.” I would suggest that a lot of that has to do with it not being the successfully demonised Salmond that is now the figurehead of Scotland and independence – but it is our equivalent of MLK – the palatable baggage-free alternative.
And then, the week ended yesterday with Jim Murphy’s departure as Labour leader. With his ‘reforms package’ doing nothing to propose autonomy from the London party (just more autonomy from the unions), there is little to say. He came, he failed, he left to make room for the next leader to repeat the same identical cycle in time for Holyrood next year – Labour’s resolute determination to neither listen nor learn is now simply boring. This morning on Andrew Marr’s show, Tessa Jowell, the Labour candidate for London Mayor was describing the London Mayoral Election on 5th May next year as the next real test for the Labour Party recovery. The Scottish Parliament elections are on the same day – but I can kind of see why Tessa and others are not holding their breath for any miracle to take place in that regard for Labour in Scotland in the next 11 months.
“The argument [from Labour] is that nationalism has replaced class as the driving force of Scottish politics. But here’s the thing; if that was the case then you wouldn’t expect to see such a close mapping between the size and nature of the swing from Labour to the SNP and the class profile of the seats where those swings were biggest. Put simply, SNP won biggest and most impressively wherever class politics are strongest. So could Labour perhaps at least consider that this is the most class politics-driven election since the 1980s? And should they not dwell on the possibility that they lost Scotland because they gave up on class politics in the Blair years?” (Robin McAlpine, May 8th 2015)