The media is to blame for the state of Scottish Labour

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  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Are we watching the death of the Labour party in Scotland?  Two episodes, one on Thursday at First Minister’s Questions and the other on Saturday’s Good Morning Scotland, suggests we might.
 
When Johann Lamont stood up and began speaking after a summer of silence it heralded yet another moment of ignominy that has plagued the party since it lost power to the SNP in 2007.  The attempted smear of the SNP and Yes Scotland was so poorly executed that one has to question the ability of Lamont to lead and resurrect her Scottish Labour group.

  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Are we watching the death of the Labour party in Scotland?  Two episodes, one on Thursday at First Minister’s Questions and the other on Saturday’s Good Morning Scotland, suggests we might.
 
When Johann Lamont stood up and began speaking after a summer of silence it heralded yet another moment of ignominy that has plagued the party since it lost power to the SNP in 2007.  The attempted smear of the SNP and Yes Scotland was so poorly executed that one has to question the ability of Lamont to lead and resurrect her Scottish Labour group.

On Thursday at First Minister’s Questions, the makings of a nice wee attack were there – land bought for £840,000 was sold back to the same owner for £50,000 – it would have put the Scottish government momentarily on the back foot and eased Lamont back into the spotlight nicely.  Yes, the fact that Labour controlled SPT had bought the land would have emerged, but this is Scotland where the anti-SNP headline rules supreme, the initial impact would have already registered long before the holes in the smear emerged.

Lamont blew it by adopting a blunderbuss approach that tried to smear Salmond, the SNP, Yes Scotland and the businessman who bought the land back, John McGlynn.  The suggestion that McGlynn had benefited because of his political views, meant Salmond was able to skilfully turn it around and highlight the attack on an honest businessman unable to answer back in the Holyrood Chamber.

An unthinking BBC Scotland leapt on Labour’s attack.  The routine smear attempt was the broadcaster’s top story in Scotland soon after Lamont had finished talking and it ran online and on the radio in bulletins throughout the afternoon.

However within hours it was obvious that Lamont had overplayed her hand – considerably – and elements of the story emerged that, when sat alongside comments from a very angry John McGlynn who accused the Scottish Labour leader of defaming him, led to it rebounding back on her.

BBC Scotland swiftly began dropping the story and it fell from the top main online news page to number seven within hours of originally appearing, overtaken in importance by the weight of a caber at a Highland Games competition.

It was a similar story on Saturday when Jackie Baillie appeared on Radio Scotland and casually told listeners that Labour would abolish the Bedroom Tax and the party would make an announcement soon.

It was so unnecessary.  Labour was claiming some success in ‘forcing’ the Scottish government to provide funding to help mitigate the effects of the Bedroom tax.  The twenty million quid promised by John Swinney followed pressure from the party.

Just why Jackie Baillie felt comfortable telling listeners something that she knew to be false indicates a thought process that is unable to divorce desire from reality.  Baillie wanted it to be true, so it had to be true – and that was good enough.

The BBC though simply ran with Baillie’s claim as though it was fact, helpful headlines told licence payers that abolishing the Bedroom Tax was now Labour official policy.  A cursory check with London would have immediately exposed it as bluster from an MSP with form when it comes to making claims that don’t actually stand up to scrutiny.

When the Herald managed to track down a Labour spokeswoman from London, Baillie’s bluster was blown apart.

The BBC online article – Labour ‘will abolish bedroom tax’ – then became a rather curious and puzzlingly worded – Labour disputes ‘bedroom tax’ claim.  Quite who Labour were in dispute with wasn’t clear until you clicked the story to discover it was Jackie Baillie.  So Labour was in dispute with itself.

By Sunday morning the apparent biggest story in Scotland was relegated to number nine by the BBC online news.

The inability of the BBC to report clearly that Baillie had been caught misleading the Scottish public, and keep the story prominent, is one of the reasons Labour are currently in such a mess and so inept.  The Scottish media frequently goes out of its way to shield the Labour party in Scotland when it gets itself into difficulty.

The BBC did the same thing with this same Labour MSP in 2012 when she issued an attack on the SNP by making false claims about the Scottish NHS and hospital infections.  Again, despite being aware for two full days that Baillie’s claims were demonstrably false, the BBC broadcast them anyway.

It isn’t just Baillie that receives this protection but the whole of the Labour party in Scotland.  Think back to the weeks prior to the Scottish election in 2011 and the diplomatic row caused when Iain Gray tried to link the independence of Montenegro to ethnic cleansing and war crimes.  The BBC employed a news blackout and refused to report the story.

Gray’s replacement, Johann Lamont, has faced less scrutiny than even that of her predecessor.  A blunder in late 2011 when she used a fabricated rape case in order to attack the Scottish Government never made it onto the newspaper pages or the airwaves. 

Lamont’s U-turns over tuition fees and council tax freeze and her lack of clarity over nuclear weapons since becoming Scottish Labour leader also merit nary a column inch.

Lately, a summer of silence despite the chaos of Falkirk ran in tandem with polls that showed her party further behind the SNP than when they were humiliated in 2011, yet few media outlets appeared overly concerned with the disappearance of the Scottish Labour leader.

And now, following the land deal blunder, she’s disappeared again.  Johann Lamont should be facing a grilling in studios this Sunday, and forced to explain the smear that blew up in her face and the shambles that was Jackie Baillie’s Bedroom Tax fiasco – but she won’t.

It’s unlikely that her attack on John McGlynn will result in any significant pressure from the media for an apology or a correction from Lamont, or an apology to those SNP Ministers she accused of having been involved in the land deal who clearly weren’t.  Instead I would be willing to bet that another smear will materialise as a diversion, look out for attacks on Nicola Sturgeon over the Bill Walker story.

The elephant in the room of course continues to be Glasgow Council where, despite Labour leaders being linked to gangsters, involved in drug taking and public sex acts and a Labour group embroiled variously in sexual harassment, corruption, bullying and public cash ending up in the coffers of the Labour party, no major media investigation has taken place.

Labour politicians have used variously the murder of children, the rape of a 14 year old, the Hillsborough disaster and the Holocaust in order to try to score political points – few if any of these ill chosen outbursts result in critical media coverage.  Even Labour MP Iain Davidson’s claim that Scots who commemorate Bannockburn are merely celebrating the murder of English people didn’t result in condemnatory headlines.

An opposition is there to hold the government to account, but Scottish Labour also need to be kept honest.  If the media turn a blind eye to blunders and gaffes, and in some cases bare faced lying, then the party will modify its behaviour in order to take advantage of the lack of scrutiny.  It becomes lazy and, yes, corrupt.

Labour in Scotland are no longer the party they once were.  The creature we see now, masquerading under the banner of Socialist Labour, is a fundamental Unionist entity that has evolved – nurtured and protected by a pro-Union Scottish media machine.

Labour has not been exposed to the natural ‘virus’ of media scrutiny and thus has been unable to build the natural defences needed by political parties that ensure gaffes and blunders are kept to an absolute minimum.  Its shift from social democratic party to one of Unionist fundamentalism has rendered it incapable of evolving as Scotland changes.

It is also rendered impotent as it becomes a vehicle for careerists like Anas Sarwar and Jim Murphy.  It is reduced to throwing smear and wild accusation instead of seeking to develop policies tailored to the needs of the Scottish electorate.  It has had to jettison the very principles it once stood for in order to continue to attack the SNP and independence.

The Bedroom Tax is a perfect example.  Refusing to call for welfare to be devolved, Scottish Labour is now demanding that the Scottish Government fund the very policies Scots reject.  Where does this stop?  If the Tories target other vulnerable groups, will Labour simply call for the SNP to fund those policies as well?  This effectively creates Tory Government in Holyrood by proxy.

Everything is about the SNP.  No sentence from a Labour politician is complete without an attack on the nationalists.  Even if it means letting the Conservatives in Westminster off the hook, Labour will attack the SNP.

And when the SNP announce a policy Labour supports, the Labour response is usually a knee-jerk claim that “it isn’t enough” or worse, they vote against it anyway.

According to polls, if a Scottish election was to be held tomorrow then Labour would suffer an even greater loss than that which humiliated the party in 2011.

The only thing that can save the party is some tough love from its media protectors.  This though is unlikely as the spectre of the referendum looms.

And so it will go on.  Labour will continue its slow demise in Scotland and the Scottish media will continue theirs.

Both are entwined in a death embrace as they waltz, blindfolded, towards the cliff edge.  They will continue to shout ‘No’ as they fall.

 

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