by Joan McAlpine
It wouldn’t be a political village without MSPs clucking away about each other. So while we all wish Wendy Alexander well in her forthcoming role as school gate mum extraordinaire … perhaps a little surface scratching is in order. According to the Holyrood gossip mill, Ms Alexander, having tasted blood as chair of the Scotland Bill Committee, hoped for high office again. There were whispers that she had confided to friends she was to be anointed Finance Minister in a Labour government led by Iain Gray (that was before this week’s IPSOS MORI poll put the SNP ahead). Naturally – so the story goes – this didn’t go down well with Andy Kerr, the party’s actual finance spokesman. So as way leads on to way, some claim Kerr told Gray it’s me or her. He chose Kerr and suddenly it’s fly away Wendy.
Scurrilous … but that doesn’t mean it’s untrue. Perhaps Ms Alexander’s hand was finally forced by that poll showing Salmond set for a second term. It came at the end of a dreadful period for Labour. See Iain MacWhirter’s analysis. Cracks were beginning to show and it may be that Alexander is the first casualty. She and Kerr are said to have been united in one thing – they wanted Labour to vote for the SNP budget last week that promised to deliver a record 25,000 modern apprenticeships. But the story is that Iain Gray did not attend the group meeting at which they made their pleas for political maturity – he was at a dinner and could not be contacted. So he lead the group to vote against a budget that more than met all their earlier demands for investment in jobs. As was later reported, there is considerable frustration within Labour about this. Some senior MSPs complain Gray is an easily lead boy, and tends to run with a rather wild element in the group. This would not have given Ms Alexander much confidence either. So embarrassed was she by the whole sorry debacle that she couldn’t bring herself to mention the budget in her speech about … the budget.
Suddenly, it’s all going wrong for Labour in Scotland. First the news that Brian Souter is donating £500k to the SNP campaign, then the Ipsos Mori poll, now Wendy’s departure.
There was already disgruntlement among a few Labour backbenchers dismayed at the decision to man the barricades for the supermarket barons. The £30m raised by the Tesco Tax would have employed 1000 nurses and merely increased their rates to he same level as England and on a par with smaller retailers. Some very loyal Labour supporters, including a former aide to Gordon Brown, have questioned the Gray’s bizarre and irresponsible social justice policies that demand mandatory six month jail sentences for knife carrying and oppose the SNP move to replace short 3 month sentences with community orders. And many wonder why Gray and his justice spokesman kept condemning the Lockerbie Bomber’s release which their party colleagues did everything to effect it. They must have known but said nothing. The charges of organised political hypocrisy will stick and are already being applied to other examples of Scottish Labour’s general approach.
The party is showing signs of serious division. According to The New Statesman, the May manifestos is being rewritten hastily because it was uncosted. They are getting only one extra pair of hands to help with the election campaign – Tom Greatrex MP, best know for his mastery of the black arts. He was responsibile for leaking a story about paths on the Queen’s Balmoral estate – an attempt to embarrass the environment minister Roseanna Cunningham which only succeeded in alerting the world’s terror cells to the best way to get to the Royal Family. He refused to resign even when revealed as the source of the leak by cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell – who also exposed Labour’s duplicity re Lockerbie last week.
I suspect even Mr Greatrex’s black ops cannot save his hapless Holyrood colleagues now. But it’s not just in Scotland that Labour politicians are tearing each other apart. In the latest New Statesman, the journalist Kevin Maguire reports of a London Labour fundraiser where the newly appointed shadow chancellor Ed Balls was openly challenging the authority of his leader Ed Miliband by naming his own preferred cabinet. This Fantasy Football fair annoyed former Scotland Secretary and now shadow defence spokesman Jim Murphy, who was not part of Balls’s dream team.
Update: Since posting this I have been contacted by someone who knows Wendy and the Labour Holyrood group very well. The source confirms what I say in the blog, indeed goes further. “Wendy was telling everyone who would listen that she was going to be the next finance minister. This is a classic flounce.” The only thing that remains uncertain is whether Andy Kerr or Wendy herself put an ultimatum to Iain Gray. Either way it is evidence that Labour in Scotland are not a happy bunch.
Read this story and more on Joan McAlpine’s blog: Go Lassie Go