by Brian Nicholson
Recent changes in leadership at Holyrood seems to confirm that the London takeover of the Unionist parties is in full swing. It seems that the massive SNP win in the election has spurred the “big beasts” into action.
First to fall was Tavish (it was not my fault) Scott who was jettisoned after dismal results for the Lib Dems. Despite almost universal opinion that he played the hand he was dealt, and was not responsible in any way for the debacle, he was starting to wander off the party line. His recent comments attacking the coalition were a bridge too far for Clegg’s London machine. So the Orange Bookers decided it time for “off with his head” regardless of the distinct lack of heads to replace him. A quick search began for a replacement and who better than one who has shown that he can take instruction well and is one of the boys. Willie Rennie, ex-MP, a former parliamentary aide to the Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, was also a member of the House of Commons defence select committee, shadow defence minister and chairman of the Lib Dems campaigns and communications committee seemed to right out of central casting. A jock with the right pedigree to parrot the Orange Book and after all, Michael Moore needs a mate now that the rest of the Scottish Lib Dems won’t speak to him.
Second to cash in the chips was Auntie Annabelle Goldie. No shrinking violet here and one of few who could match wits with Alex Salmond, and sometimes even win, but again seemed to be a little too Scottish for London. Right after the election, Auntie was full of vim and vigor and looking forward to the fight, and then she was gone. Speculation is rampant on what was said in that phone call with Respectful David Cameron. It is sincerely hoped that the PM said “please” and “thank you” when he sent Auntie packing.
Of course, in no time at all, up popped the new face of Scottish Conservatism, Murdo Fraser. London must have been dancing the jig that dour Murdo was willing to give it a go. Murdo was a safe pair of hands. He is willing to follow instruction, despite sounding too much like old Forsythe at times. He is not going to attract a lot of votes or bring new Jocks into the party, but then again too many Jocks could cause a lot of problems for the lords and ladies from the south-east and you can’t have that in Cameron’s Englandshire. After all look what all the sweaties did to Blair’s Labour.
Lastly, Labour decided to make the change as well, but it is not enough to just change from Iain Gray to another placeholder. The jocks needed to know that Ed was not pleased and that they had dropped the ball. They wouldn’t take advice when given, stopped returning phone calls, chased good Westminster lads from the campaign, and even rejected the Nasty Lad when he was sent north to right the ship. They even told London Labour’s lad in Paisley that all was going so well that he could take a few weeks off and have a well-deserved rest. When he came back, there were Nats everywhere. Having seen what a Scottish campaign could do, London decided it was time to set things right.
So London Labour decided to review the whole mess, root and branch, for nothing else will do. The stain of Scottishness had to be removed quickly, Of course, Ed’s team knew that the purges behind the scenes must occur without too much ado, and in Scotland, that was a right problem. The boys in the back rooms would sit still well enough, but they had real concern that the Salmond bloke was likely to start pointing fingers and screaming “Westminster, Westminster” and London knew that was a sticky wicket.
When faced with such dilemma, Labour reached back to the tried and true. A commission was needed. London’s long history knew that a good commission is always the way to go when you need to do things without the wrong people finding out. Labour insiders were reticent to allow MSPs to run the investigation as they might actually make changes or even worse tell people about them. Before long you would have Eddie Barnes and David Maddox telling the jocks all about it and that blethering BBC blowhard will have charts and screens all over the place. London feared that the City would not like all that publicity and that would not do.
London Labour was hard pressed to find the right faces to put up front, faces that would look the part and keep the troops in line, but London was not put off so easily. They knew where to look for placeholders who would fill the newspapers and airwaves with sound bites and lengthy policy reviews, and that was in Scotland’s feeble 42 themselves. Labour knew from long experience that looking robust while being feeble is not for the novice. It takes years of service to master that combination but London was fortunate because three of the best were ready and willing.
Jim Murphy, a good lad, not too Scottish, but wants a bigger job, so right away Labour had their man to lead the group, and it was decided to add a couple of lassies to show that Labour is still strong for the lassies. Anne McGuire and Anne McKechin were just what was needed. With Murphy, McGuire and McKechin out front, London operatives are confident that the media will think it is Stormont committee and ignore it as usual. Dougie Alexander is reported to be upset at being overlooked but Labour’s sources confirm that he is still talking to his sister and that got him the chop.
Labour’s plan is to have the Murphy commission consult widely with party members, news editors, trades unions, campaigners and councillors and report back in the fall. It is expected that will give the Westminster leadership enough time to put the house in order and have the new leader ready for election. Kezia Dugdale is rumoured to be an early favourite, according to Labour’s big beast, Lord Foulkes.
These are difficult times for the Unionist parties but the recent moves from London are intended to set things straight.
One MP was even heard to brag that these moves would shoot the Nationalist fox once and for all time.