By Paul Kavanagh
The year didn’t start well for Iain Gray. Santa didn’t bring him a bagload of charisma for his Chrissie, and Iain launched into the New Year by sparking off a diplomatic incident. Trying to scare the Scottish electorate by asserting that countries can only become independent after a war or three, he claimed in parliament that it took “forty days, two world wars, the Balkan conflict, ethnic cleansing, a war crimes tribunal and a UN peacekeeping mission” for Montenegro to secure its independence.
The Montegrins, who secured their independence peacefully after a referendum, and who avoided involvement in the Balkan war, were less than chuffed that Iain didn’t know the difference between Montenegro and Kosovo. But no apology was forthcoming, and Sally Magnusson never once put on her special torn face.
Montenegro does have its problems. According to Transparency International, Montenegro ranks as one of the most corrupt places in Europe. Iain Gray didn’t mention this, but making a big song and dance about fantasy problems while ignoring corruption, sleaze, bribery and organised crime is pretty much the story of the modern Labour party. Meanwhile Glasgow cooncillors defended claiming buckets of public cash in ALEO payments. Iain Gray didn’t mention that either.
George Galloway confirmed that he’d be standing as a candidate for the Holyrood elections in May. He’d enliven proceedings at the Scottish parliament by bringing “real Labour values” like never turning up for parliamentary debates, appearing on reality TV shows doing cat impressions in a leotard with Rula Lenska, and sooking up to murderous dictators. George’s experience in reality tv would allow him to make a real song and dance about fantasy problems, as he could appear on Strictly Come Dancing.
The minority SNP government put its budget to a vote at Holyrood amidst the annual ritual threat from the Unionist parties that they’d vote it down. Labour demanded greater measures to create employment, and the government made the necessary changes to the bill to accommodate Labour’s demands. But Labour voted against the bill anyway. The party has struggled to come to terms with opposition, but the final months of the parliament Labour believes that they’ve cracked it. Now they vote down their own policies as well as the SNP’s.
The fallout from the Megrahi affair continued with the release on Wikileaks of classified US documents which showed that the UK government was up to its neck in secret talks with the Libyan dictator Gaddafi, and the only people who had been honest in the entire sorry affair were the Scottish government. Oddly, BBC Scotland didn’t commission a one hour special with Glenn Campbell flying off to interview Americans who were outraged by the UK’s shame as the BBC holds that sufficient balance can be achieved by blaming it all on the SNP.
Jack Straw accused the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond of ‘selective amnesia’ over the Scottish government’s role in freeing the Lockerbie bomber. This was a damning criticism as Jack is an expert at selective amnesia, as anyone who asks him about his role in the invasion of Iraq and Tony Blair’s deal in the desert with Gaddafi can attest.
Labour are confident they’re on course to a crushing victory in May’s election. Isn’t hindsight cruel?
Iain Gray delivered a speech to the Scottish Labour conference saying : “The parliament we want to see is not a platform for party posturing and a government of grudge and grievance …” Oh how we laughed. Labour’s entire strategy ever since losing narrowly to the SNP in 2007 has rested entirely upon party posturing, grudes and grievances.
The media were equally confident that we’d be facing a Labour administration again. A couple of opinion polls seemed to show that the SNP was well short of its target and would possibly lose seats to Labour. The air of relief amongst Labour circles was palpable, with the Tories back in power in London, the Scots would flock once again to Labour and it would be like the 80s all over again. The nightmare of SNP government would be over and Labour would be back in its natural place as dispenser of Westminster’s sweeties and trinkets to the restless natives.
As the election campaign got into full swing, BBC Scotland found itself at the centre of a political row. Despite the Corporation’s lofty claim that it never publishes opinion polls during elections, Reporting Scotlandshire led with an opinion poll they’d commissioned themselves which purported to show that Labour’s manifesto promises were those most in tune with the desires of Scots. This was a really clever trick as the opinion poll was published before the SNP or Scottish Green manifestos had been launched. But BBC Scotland is hoping for some cross-over audiences for its political coverage and had recruited Dr Who and the Tardis to do all its polling.
The Unionists vied with one another in a contest to run the most inept campaign. The Tories did their very best to keep out of the way and hoped that no one would notice them, and under the sterling leadership of Auntie Annabel and her tea and scones, they largely succeeded. Languishing in obscurity suits Scottish Tories.
UKIP said they would demonstrate their opposition to loss of national sovereignty and the weakening of national powers by abolishing the Scottish parliament. This was especially damaging as an appreciation of irony is supposed to be one of those ‘keep calm and carry on’ British values that they’re relying on to keep the Union intact.
The Lib Dem manifesto was a load of managementspeak gobbledygook that no one managed to read all the way through, not even the person who wrote it. But it didn’t matter anyway, because we all know that whatever Lib Dems say during an election campaign, afterwards they’ll just do what the Tories tell them.
But the prize for the most disastrous campaign easily went to the Labour party. It began with a cock up and deteriorated from there. The highlight of Labour’s manifesto launch was a misprint in the document which promised to abolish the Labour party. In retrospect, they should have kept it in.
The party’s manifesto was a fantasy wish list compiled by someone who couldn’t count. Amongst other jam tomorrow promises was the commitment to create more jobs than there were unemployed people.
Just a few days later came the defining event of the campaign. It may be recorded as a seminal event in Scottish history, like Bannockburn only with better catering. It was the Battle of Subway between Iain Gray and the massed ranks of a handful of OAPs protesting against the austerity cuts. The brave Iain, who Labour claimed had faced down Rwandan warlords and trod the killing fields of Cambusnethan, ran away and hid in Subway Sandwiches. Running away and hiding from people who could be persuaded to your own side was a spectacular own goal. Never have so many owed so much to a few bread rolls.
Andy Kerr made a surreal appearance on Newsnicht, doing an impression of a space hopper. Gordon Brewer slashed Labour’s knife policy to shreds, but Andy didn’t seem to notice. “Thank you for making my point for me Gordon,” he kept interjecting, but the only point Gordon was making was that Andy wasn’t making any sense.
A hurried relaunch was held a few days later, but was blown out of the watter by the news that Andy had calculated the costs of Labour’s budget promises on the back of a lottery ticket, in crayon.
Worse was to come. Ignomy heaped upon indignity. The party had claimed that victims of knife crime were costing the country an amount equal to the GDP of China. Labour’s figures were soon revealed as an utter fantasy. Appearing on Newsnicht to defend Labour’s sums, Justice spokesman Richard Baker was reduced to a gibbering wreck by Isobel Fraser. It was like visiting your auntie and being given arsenic and a rectal examination instead of a nice cup of tea and a soundbite bap.
The party only shot itself in the foot with intervention of the “big guns” from Westminster. Ed Miliband told Scots that they should use their vote to send a message to David Cameron. However Scots had already sent a message to the Tories in the Westminster election the previous year. Even the Scotsman was moved to point of what a fat lot of good that had done anyone.
As the month drew to a close it was clear that the Tories were still the lepers of Scottish politics, the Lib Dems were staring acne oblivion in the face, and Labour was developing seriously nasty rash that not even Dettol and a scrubbing with a wire brush was going to clear up.
Also this month, some posh couple got married in London and Scotland failed to enthuse. Increasingly desperate media attempts to whip up Scottish royal fever were reduced to a pathetic segment on Reporting Scotlandshire which helpfully suggested that royal memorabilia tat could be flogged off on eBay, so please buy a tea towel. While the London based media when collectively hysterical, Scots were left feeling as out of place as a raised toilet seat in a convent.
As the results came in on election night, it was soon clear that the SNP were on course to achieve the impossible, and attain an absolute majority under an election system designed by Labour and the Lib Dems to ensure that a Labour Lib Dem coalition would always have the best chance of forming the government.
Seat after seat fell to the SNP, often on large swings. The Lib Dems discovered just how popular their Westminster alliance with the Tories had made them and lost 12 of their 17 seats. The Tories managed to get their worst result ever, which was quite an achievement considering how badly they’d done before.
But Labour was the big political loser. The party saw its front bench team decimated. It was bye bye Frank Macaveety and the battle bus that few had ever seen. Farewell Andy Kerr, you’ll spacehop no more. Cheery-bye Pauline McNeill, deprived of the chance to make a graceless acceptance speech. Iain Gray barely clung onto his own seat by a few dozen votes. By the end of the night Labour was left without a single consituency MSP outside the central belt.
The BBC’s election results programme soon abandoned any pretence at objectivity and turned into a Labour wake, only without the large quantities of alcohol and arguing over who granny wanted her jewellery to go to. Labour wasn’t going to inherit anything, except possibly Magrit Curran’s sighs of disbelief. For a few brief and precious moments, la Curran was stunned into silence.
Sally Magnusson’s torn face got a special outing. For viewers studying for a counselling diploma, Sally helpfully illustrated the first four of the five stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining and depression. She stopped short of acceptance.
For the rest of us May was a high. For a few brief moments everything seemed possible. Scottish independence felt like it was just around the corner.
On May 5th Scotland slapped Labour about the face with a wet fish. The Scottish electorate digested Labour’s manifesto, they examined the party’s record in power with the forensic skills acquired from hours of watching Taggart, they mulled on the party’s promises to create more jobs, give out free ice-cream and balloons and build trams everywhere, and they said: See youse. Yese talk pish so yese dae.
And Labour, chastened and bruised by the rejection said they’d take a good long hard look at themselves. Labour are now doing just that, but the problem is that many in Labour think a period of reflection means looking at themselves in a mirror and saying “Mmmmm, I’m gorgeous.”
Annabel Goldie, Tavish Scott and Iain Gray resigned in quick succession, provoking leadership contests in all three Unionist parties. The Lib Dems chose their new leader first, but since there were only five of them and one of those was the guy who resigned, there was no need for a postal ballot or extensive consultations. Wullie Rennie became the new leader, promising to continue with Tavish’s policy of saying no to everything the SNP say. Why change a trusted formula?
The Unionist parties quickly executed a policy U-turn. From being implaccably opposed to ever holding a referendum on Scottish independence, to a man and woman they began demanding the referendum right now and on their own terms. Despite having told us all during the election campaign that a vote for the SNP was a vote for independence, now they’d decided that a vote for the SNP really wasn’t a vote for independence after all. This kind of logical consistency is what got the Unionists into a mess in the first place. Thankfully for supporters of Scottish independence, there’s no sign that’s about to change.
Still to come in part 2 … Phone hacking, ‘British’ riots and ‘Action Krankie’