Help, there’s been a terrible accident

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by Hazel Lewry

Except this one didn’t involve rolling paint onto a wall.  Unless the roller was loaded with golden yellow paint and the canvas was the political map of Scotland.

The terrible accident was the unmitigated disaster of a poll sprung on the Union parties on May 5th 2011, when they were effectively walloped by a Scots electorate wielding said bucket of golden yellow paint.  AKA Chewin the Fat.

This terrible accident called for an inquest to be held over the bodies of the prostrate.  Three Unionist leaders fell from the swing of a single aggravated Scots poll.

The Lib Dems were first to recover, they rallied around Rennie’s rhetoric as he grabbed the threads of party power following Tavish’s poll-axing.  No big investigation, no thorough soul searching by the Lib Dems.  Forget any major policy changes.

The Lib Dems know what Scots want and it was a new head for the chopping block.  Judging by Mr. Rennies current approval ratings it would be hard to credit the axe isn’t already being sharpened at Westminster.

Unless that is Westminster simply needs a yes man, a place holder type of Unionist to spout drivel while he leads his insubstantial cohort of four fellow MSPs over the top into political oblivion.

The Labour and Conservative Holyrood group leaders also fell on their swords.  They just stuck the pointed end in the ground first so it wasn’t too painful.  Both agreed to fade away after a review and make way for the election of a new leader.

At least these parties appeared to be taking their poll-axing a little more seriously than the Lib Dems.  We were going to be treated to reviews.

From out of nowhere into the middle of this process jumped Murdo Fraser.  The doughty Tory charged into the breach with a stated need to walk his party along the path of the dodo.  He’d lead the charge to extinction.  It might have been easier just to copy Willie Rennie’s tactics.

Cameron kept mum as Murdo fired his broadside.  Murdo’s problem started when he discovered the bit of the party that didn’t want to die was the bit of the party that held the purse.  Help, there’s been a terrible accident.

The Tories were first to the punch with their review.  They needed something to plug into the gaping hole in the party’s front that Murdo had seemingly left in his wake.

The Scottish Conservatives have quietly put a knife through the heart of their old constitutional ways and walked on.  Not a backward glance or apparent tear for the now discarded body of the deceased party constitution.  The review was in, and a new constitution is approved.

At least in Scotland.  The rest of the party may yet have input.  Perhaps it will yet have a terrible accident.

The review said the party should have a Scottish leader with overall responsibility for the party’s performance north of the border, but wasn’t that how the media sold Auntie Annabel?

The fresh constitution was first put on the table at last year’s Sanderson review.  It was ratified at a special conference in Perth on Saturday.

The review commission was set up after the May 2010 general election, which saw the Tories in Scotland poll some 80,000 fewer votes than 1997, when the party lost all its MPs.  I need to understand this, they polled less under the same system, and we get David Mundell.  Help, there’s been a terrible accident.

The Tory enquiry highlighted the party had a UK leader, David Cameron, a Scottish parliamentary leader, as well as a chairman and other leading figures.  It didn’t go into significant finger pointing, but the tone was to make a clear differentiation between Westminster and Holyrood.

To enable this to take place the commission’s recommended there should be a “distinct political leader of the Scottish Conservative Party – the Scottish leader, who should be held responsible for the Scottish Conservatives’ performance”.  This call has now been backed by the party membership.

But wasn’t that what caused Auntie Annabel’s demise.

Tory Spokesman Andrew Fulton went on the record afterwards: “I am delighted that the party has been able to take the events started by the establishment of the Sanderson Review through to a highly satisfactory conclusion.”  No spin so far.

“It reflects well on the thorough process and work undertaken by the commission, which has today been overwhelmingly endorsed by the wider party membership.

“These are exciting times for the Scottish Conservatives.  Now we can look ahead to a hard fought and inspiring leadership campaign between three excellent candidates, giving all our members the chance to compare and contrast and reach their own decision about the future direction of the party.”

In the preliminary analysis, what the Conservatives have agreed to do is to follow a review that took place before they had their second terrible accident in a year.  They didn’t update it as a result of the May poll-axing they got.  Policy changes?  Nope, none mentioned.  Re-branding, listening to the electorate.  No.  Almost everything was for internal reference.

Perhaps the Tories voting for Mr Fraser would be the best thing after all.  A quick “Murdo” is probably far more preferable to a lingering demise.

Meanwhile, over in the greenhouse of the Red Rose the review that was initially instigated after the 2011 disaster was producing results.  Maybe.

It has at least resulted in Jim Murphy and Sarah Boyack proposing reforms, described as the “largest package of reforms to the Scottish Labour Party in living memory”.

That would be referring to the long gone day that they decided to stop supporting Scottish independence perhaps and chase the ermine path instead.

These reforms, if carried out, will see the first-ever Scottish Labour Leader in their post by 17 December.

But wait a minute.  Wasn’t that how Iain Gray and all his predecessors were billed by the media?  That’ll soon be a nice half dozen in just Alex Salmond’s present tenure.  Now though we’ll be getting a “real” Labour Leader instead of just a kid-on one.

Should we give our best wishes to this new incumbent, so that within another few months no one will be standing meekly looking at their then empty chair and uttering the phrase: “Help, there’s been a terrible accident.”

Labour seems to be having a hard time getting heads to pop up from behind the parapet to consider taking the job.

After the proposals were unanimously passed by the Scottish Executive Committee in John Smith House the next step will be to have them be debated at UK party conference this month and a special Scottish Labour Party conference in Scotland on the 29th of October.

If it all works out they might just be ready for a Halloween party.  Perhaps they’ll paint the town red.  No, best stay away from paint cans.  Help …

If agreement does happen, the party is basically going to “Murdo” itself.  It’ll be an almost federal set up, rather like that proposed by Mr Fraser for the Tories.  One wonders if he got a sneak peek at what Labour are planning, and just threw in a name change to tart it up a bit?  For those with an interest, here’s what’s planned.

  • Create, for the first time, an elected Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
  • Open that position to all Labour parliamentarians elected in Scotland, provided they commit to seek election as an MSP and First Minister
  • Fully devolve the Scottish Labour Party in all Scottish matters, including the rules for the Scottish Leadership election, local government processes and selections, and Scottish parliament selections
  • Begin the process of restructuring local parties in Scotland on the basis of Scottish Parliament seats, not Westminster seats
  • Establish a political strategy board, meeting weekly, to develop and co-ordinate political strategy with the Leader, Shadow Secretary of State, the leader of the COSLA Labour Group, the party chair, and the Scottish General Secretary
  • Establish a new political base in Edinburgh

Apparently these proposals from the review were given the backing of the party’s Scottish Executive Committee.

Unlike myself, the Labour apparatchiks seem quite excited by what’s been accomplished.  I’m not.  They’re proposing autonomy for Labour while saying Scotland’s not good enough to run her own affairs – a bit of a quandary.

Ms Jamieson, who chaired the meeting today stated: “These proposals were unanimously agreed today by the Scottish Executive Committee and represent a significant change in the way the party is organised in Scotland.  I think members will be pleased that the changes are both significant and radical, and they will set us on the path of winning again.”

Sarah Boyack chipped in with “Labour devolved Scotland when we set up the Scottish Parliament in 1999, and we are proud of that.  Labour used that Scottish Parliament to deliver important reforms for Scotland, but we didn’t reform ourselves. Now we need to make devolution a reality within our party too.

“This is a radical package of changes to beef up the role of the Scottish Leader and put us on the path to winning.  We won well in 2010, but we lost badly in 2011.  That means we have to change and the status quo is not an option.”

Jim Murphy’s tuppence was “This is about turning the Scottish Labour Party into Scotland’s Labour Party.

“Today we are completing the devolution of the Scottish Labour Party.  From now on, whatever is devolved to the Scottish Parliament will be devolved to the Scottish Labour Party.”

Why not vice versa Mr Murphy?

“Structures in themselves don’t win us elections, but this, the biggest change for 90 years, marks a fresh start for the Scottish Labour Party.  People lost faith with us because we lost connection with them.  Scotland has changed and now it’s time for Scottish Labour to change too.

“For the last three months we have listened to hundreds of views, taken thousands of pages of evidence, asked civic Scotland for advice, and thought long and hard how to reform the party we love.  Our task is to make our party for all of Scotland again, for all our people, all our cities, towns and villages.

“This new structure gives us a new unity and a new strength.”

The reason I’m less than impressed by the Liberal Democrat, Tory or Labour reactions to their unforeseen pole-axing is simple.  I’ve read every one of the responses, every one of the action plans.  Almost entirely and without fail they talk of the party, the good of the party, the party structure, devolution within the party.

What about the Scottish people, because until they really truly get that simple fact, well in 2016 they’ll be looking at each other once again over the bodies of their recently incumbent leaders with a blank expression still glued to their faces.

Help, there’s been a terrible accident.

When in reality there was no accident at all and the saddest part of all is that Scotland needs a healthy coherent opposition, an opposition that starts by putting the Scottish people before the party.