Ten days in Scottish politics

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by Hazel Lewry

It was an interesting week or so in Scottish politics, it’s had everything from a proposed political harakiri through a threatened throwing of toys out of the financial pram, to the ultimate “stupid” remark – and that was just the Tories.

Labour and the Lib Dems appear to be making every attempt to outdo even those incredible antics.  The UK PM took the biscuit though and reminded us that the major Union Party issue is the shortcomings of their leadership.  Cameron showed that this was a UK issue and not merely a local difficulty for the Scottish branches when he tried to convince that us the UK “invested” in the North Sea rather than simply raking in the cash from sold exploration leases and ongoing royalties and taxes.

As for the Scottish branches of the parties of the Rose, they are presently withering on the bush of Westminster’s overbearing and misguided philosophies.  Do they actually have a chance to improve their fortunes through 2016, or are they setting themselves up for that final pruning in Scotland’s ongoing march to reclaiming full sovereignty?

Will their overlords in the whitewashed halls of power keep dropping manure on the buds of their northern flowers, rather than encouraging the careful application of independent fertile policy to the roots?

Last weekend the two biggest Union parties proposed to re-invent themselves.  The third apparently doesn’t care, has seemingly accepted its cannon fodder status and is more focused on finding its next “leader”.

First the Lib Dems.  Had Willie Rennie actually bothered to look behind him before grabbing Tavish’s fallen banner and continuing the mad charge across a Unionist no man’s land he’d have realised by the dramatic winnowing of about two thirds of the troops behind him that the Scots voters weren’t firing blanks at the Lib Dems.

Those were real ballot papers and they carried a message.  A Lib-Dem leader on a meagre 5.9% of a list vote is rather lacking any type of democratic mandate.

Why do we continually hear from Rennie?  Even the Lib Dem leadership don’t want to hear what the man has to say.  They did sideline him at their conference after all.

Respect agenda for Scotland anyone?

Common sense indicates that when the troops are being decimated you retreat, regroup, re-strategise and perhaps try a flanking manoeuvre, maybe even use some intelligence and guile.  To simply repeat what failed is to ask for a repeat of failure.

Rodents in a maze appear to learn this very quickly.  Apparently not the “Scottish” Liberal Democratic party.

Even the former flag bearer of the Lib Dems went on the record over the weekend, saying he was “guttered” by the party’s London machine.  A great pity he didn’t have the integrity to voice his feelings at the time. Without such integrity and acknowledgement of an iota of personal accountability not much else is worthy of countenance.

This indicates that the Liberal Democratic Party can probably be discounted, at least for now. Even those tame Westminster poodles like Moore and Alexander who get propped into the line of fire to test the opposition’s reaction.

Before leaving the Lib Dems let’s not forget Alexander’s tax avoidance on his second home sale as he labelled “anti Europeans” as enemies of growth while spouting the too-small, too-poor diatribe at home.

Mr. Alexander, tax avoidance is one reason a nation can be considered as “too poor”.  It doesn’t matter if it’s “legal” tax avoidance designed to benefit the already rich.  It’s still “tax avoidance”.

Tax avoidance by the party’s principal at the Treasury.

Moore and Alexander are now seeming to be little different to those “shortbread tin” Highland gentlemen of the 1800’s, and likely to soon be just as relevant.

The only hope I see of stalling the Lib Dem slide would be if Rennie, Moore and Alexander all kept silent for a considerable period.  Expect the slide to continue, especially in light of Alexander’s attempted blackmail of Salmond for extra pension funds that even a cursory investigation shows probably aren’t really needed, at least for the purpose demanded.

Moving onto the Tories who’re busily coming off the Sanderson report, something they apparently never updated after the 2011 shellacking.  It appears some sections of the party didn’t see a need and won their point – stating they’re simply unelectable in Scotland.

Vote Tory: we’re unelectable.  

On a reasonable rolling average the Tory party had seen its vote share consistently decline over the last half century.  Two of the three hopefuls for its leadership position are promising more of the same.  The other opts for instant annihilation.  They really need to consider the Lib Dem perspective about repeating mistakes.

The Tories also seem determined to walk a path of self destruction in Scotland.  If they don’t succeed, all credit to the Lib-Dems for a valiant late surge in 2010-2011.

The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party are at a crossroads, unlike the Lib Dems they at least appear to partly recognize it, but they still need the all clear from London to do anything about it.

I’m for the survival of the Conservatives in Scotland, just for now, just what we shouldn’t be doing.  Expanding this thought any London centric party works just as well.

For anyone that thinks that’s a cruel assessment, I’ll draw their attention to Cameron’s “Austerity in a contracting economy”, and just say that exploding social welfare budgets don’t help.  Then there’s Annabelle Goldie’s “Vote for me and I’ll introduce student fees like those in England”.  Two examples of almost countless recent issues on which we can comfortably rest Scotland’s case.  

Labour flip-flopping like a stranded fish has put them onto the same beach as the Tories.

Sadly for Cameron’s Conservatives the big northern guns are meeting bigger guns.  The money is caught contradicting the mouthpiece, and the electorate here in Scotland still don’t come before the party.

Then of course we all have this taking place in the shadow of their dear Westminster leader being perceived to call the Scots electorate as “stupid”.  In this at least he appeared to be “flying by the seat of his pants”.  Perception is everything David.  Perhaps we now have proof that even the playing fields of Eton can’t impart common sense.

Moving on to the Labour Party, who are only now meekly poking their heads above the parapet.  Although that was last Saturday of last week at least.

I noticed there was a poll in “The Scotsman” newspaper early in the week.  The paper asked the opinion of their readership, and I paraphrase, “will the proposed changes save the Labour party in Scotland?”  The Scotsman is often perceived as a notoriously labour or Unionist mouthpiece and its readership could be expected to be similarly inclined.

When I checked the poll on Monday apparently 97% of the results were submitted by corporal Fraser’s grandchildren. “Doomed, doomed I tell ye”, the other 3% seemed to think the review might have made a difference.  These are not what I call good odds from a reader poll in a paper known in some circles as a personal party mouthpiece.

Just imagine if that poll took place in Aberdeen, it could have been really dismal.

For Labour what I read in its simplest terms was that the party in Scotland also agrees the party in Scotland needs to talk to the party in Scotland.  That all levels of the party in Scotland should sagely meet, ideally each week, and agree on what’s taking place within the party in Scotland.  Maybe, they suggested, the party in Scotland should actually be in charge of the party in Scotland.

Westminster’s response was rapid indeed – maybe, but only while it’s only talking to itself – in Scotland.

Now it quickly became apparent Westminster Labour, or at least many of them, didn’t like this Scottish idea.  We even heard reports and allegations of MPs being labelled “second class citizens”.  Would that stop expenses fiddling?  If so I’m all for it.

Labour London paints us a picture of Murphy and Boyack being tossed into a sack of ferrets to protect Miliband and his cohorts.

At least that’s how it seemed until Murphy’s head dropped back down behind the parapet.  He did leave something of the illusion of being a gentleman behind; giving the appearance of holding the sack open until Ms. Boyack was securely tied inside with said ferrets before he bolted.

The conclusion, with the sack still jiggling violently, is that the party in Scotland is free to talk to the party in Scotland, but it isn’t free to talk to anyone else, at least until the sack stops bouncing.  At that time there’s just a glimmer of a chance it might be allowed to speak for itself.  As long as it tows the main party line that is.

Scotland is giving every appearance of being unwilling to wait that long.

There was one significant positive that Labour could take from the week, after Jim Murphy distanced himself from the aforementioned jiggling sack, doing so with such alacrity I read that Jim Murphy had even managed to distance himself from Jim Murphy.

It was only a few short days before the Scotsman’s perception poll doubled its favourable response level.

One should never let it be said Jim Murphy is incapable of improving Labour’s vote share – now one can argue all it takes is his absence.

Of course Labour has a history of swings created almost instantly by a single individual.  Brown managed it in as many seconds when he forgot to turn of the microphone.

Labour, the party is a polity with every appearance of being built on hegemony.  Hegemony must prevail.  Ultimately hegemony is Westminster based.  Westminster must prevail.

It’s doubtful if that hegemony will protect Mr. Frank McAveety though, he appears to have his own set of expensive problems following him around from his MSP days.  Apparently a former employee has just extracted “devine” retribution for offences real or perceived.  McAveety has reportedly got aspirations of leading Glasgow City Council.

Meanwhile Glasgow Labour’s Shaukat Butt is on charges, allegations of spousal abuse.  Glasgow Labour hangs out with a lovely crowd.

That Labour might consider anyone like McAveety for such a post after a demotion for “misleading” parliament is, to say the least, incredulous.  It also indicates just how devoid of talent the Labour barrel is today.

There is therefore unlikely to be much significant change.  Labour in Scotland will apparently follow the Liberal Democrat example, but with the Lib Dem’s clear head start is unlikely to be able to overtake them in the race to political oblivion.

Good job it’s not a sack race.

Speaking of ferrets, sacks, fighting and the Labour party, the present perception is they’re on the lookout for a donation of another sack, condition unimportant – this one for the erstwhile stalwarts who represent them on Glasgow City Council.  Scottish Labour needs all the donations it can get individual membership and cash are apparently significantly down this decade.

I would welcome my perceived logical sequence of events to be proven incorrect, because right now there’s no individual, collective, cohesive functioning opposition to the SNP to be seen.

A healthy democracy requires healthy debate, healthy debate requires a strong independent opposition.  The Union parties are not healthy, they are not strong, and most importantly they are not independent.

Any ruling party can only be expected to police itself for so long.

What appears to be completely absent in the Unionist party thought process is why that is.  After all we’ve just gone through a full parliamentary term where we had a collective, cohesive functioning opposition. That opposition manifested itself most often in the form of bloc voting by all three Unionist parties, although the Unionist House of Lords is still apparently keeping up a concerted effort to deny democracy to Scotland.

First we had the Tankerness tinkering, now it’s been followed with the Foulkes’ fudge and Forsyth fumble on the Scotland Bill.  Two if not all amendments with nary a prayer of seeing law without Scots agreement.  Two of these tweaks seeming to even contravene the UN’s position on human rights.

The opposition is now shambolic.  Judging by those “lording” it over us, it’s also in mortal fear.  It should be.  As a minority opposition it’s anticipated it would be largely ineffective, but shambolic?  The Unionist parties seem incapable of taking any type of individual or cohesive action to alter this.

The answer is apparently simple, it’s because they are Unionist parties and this Scotland in the second decade of our new millennium has arguably moved somewhat on from Unionist politics.

The Unionist parties can’t be an independent functional opposition until they are independent.

They may in truth be simply unable to see their own conundrum, and even if they do recognize it, they’re not publically allowed to say they’ve deciphered it.

There, apparently, is Unionism’s cleft stick.

You really just couldn’t make this up.

A logical extension of that lack of present insight is that without an SNP overall majority Scotland could quickly be on her knees through a combination of Westminster engineered policy and inept bungling by the often stated dross of the Unionist parties.  Dross that the Unionist parties prefer to remain in “the provinces”, Holyrood included.

Doubt that statement – the Union parties themselves tell us “the cream go to Westminster”, except the Nationalists who have only one real focus. Scotland.

If you remove the cream, the dross remains.

The more immediate question for Westminster is how the Union opposition in its shambolic disarray will prevent the rise of a new centre right Scottish party rising to scoop up the majority of those votes it has previously collected and which for whatever reason will not go “Nationalist SNP”.

The only hope of the Union parties to prevent the formation and rise of a second strong pro-nationalist party at the Union parties’ expense appears to be to become that pro-national party.  One way or another that party will rise onto our political stage.  The only question is timing.

Will it be before or after independence?

Perhaps the three Union parties could amalgamate formally rather than informally to become that single right wing Unionist voice.

I can’t see why this wouldn’t work for them, after all Labour and the Lib Dems just aided and abetted the Conservative plans to privatize the NHS in England.  It doesn’t get much more universally right wing than that.  All three are working together in the House of Lords to scupper Scotland’s aspirations.

Labour aiding the Tories to privatise healthcare with Lib-Dem votes. They raised no fuss against it.

You couldn’t make this up.

With the Union Parties having largely similar policies all tightly huddled around the same part of the political spectrum the idea certainly has merit.

These parties have to do something and do it soon because during 2011 the independence issue has largely and quickly left the theatre of “it’ll never happen” is almost finished its quick passage through the second act of “what if” and is generally becoming acknowledged to be staring at the final curtain of “it’s here”.  The words squarely emblazoned in the cloth dropping over the Union stage.

Meanwhile the good ship SNP gives every surface appearance of sailing on serenely with an eminently capable crew who are working on at least some of Scotland’s most basic concerns.