By Derek Bateman
If there was one aspect of the referendum that turned off Labour people it was Better Together.
From the first grudging acceptance of Darling as chairman – a cold, middle class Edinburgh lawyer – to the backslapping and hugging with victorious Tories, the Union campaign set voters’ teeth on edge.
It reminded them of what the Union really was about – its costs and benefits starkly portrayed – and in whose interests it had mainly operated for three centuries.
There were further reminders of how it was the Union and its real beneficiaries who had created the conditions from which the Labour Party was to spring, when the names of the campaign donors was announced – a roll call of everything the Left rejects – from business millionaires whose companies broke the law and hired assassins, to trusts representing the aristocracy and the landowners. All embraced by Darling who himself made a quarter of a million sterling from corporate gigs during the period of the campaign.
It became clear exactly who was Better Together. And many Labour voters recoiled so much they voted Yes…that figure may, according to polling this week, be as high today as 40 per cent of them.
It is on this ‘triumph’ that the favourite to rescue Labour is now playing to win back the lost support. This suggests a deeply flawed analysis. If images of Darling, McDougall, Shorthouse and other Better Together veterans is supposed give a lift to the Murphy election programme, they have misunderstood what happened – they have misread the post-indy reaction.
If the case for Union had been made, the public would have been forced to accept it. I know the SNP would have simply changed gear and revved up Devo Max since they had no other option, but the public, the ones who came from no party and felt the excitement course through their veins, could and would have turned away, chastened by the experience of being out-argued and out-voted.
It is precisely because they came to understand how Britain works against them – with its surreal legal advice warning that Scotland ceased to exist and insulting threats over currency and defence contracts, backed by big money and compliant media – that they stand firm today in their wish for change. In fact, they have stepped up their involvement by formalising their place in the campaign with party memberships and donations.
Look at the opinion polls. They are of historic proportions. Wasn’t Labour, as lead in the Union case, entitled to imagine that winning would trump the Nats and their fellow travellers? That was the pre-campaign thinking against a second question on more powers – the very thing the Unionists are desperately trying to stitch together now. Yet the net effect of a despicable organised assault on Scottish dignity is the rejection of Labour to a degree never before seen in my lifetime.
Into this mess comes the unrepentant Blairite Jim Murphy, the embodiment of metropolitan entitlement, who rode the referendum wave surfing for personal attention. This is the first time he has expressed interest in Holyrood politics, having rejected the possibility of being an MSP in 1999.
And, if, as he claimed at the launch of his BT-organised leadership bid, he is apologising for 2007 and 2011, why not apologise for failing to run last time when the party was struggling for talent? Was not his name, and that of Douglas Alexander, floated then? There is one reason Murphy is running now – he sees no future at Westminster. The career of J Murphy Esq has more chance of being enhanced in Edinburgh than in London.
That may be his personal motivation, but buried in there is something that may make others think too: if it works out that a Shadow Cabinet minister can successfully return north, why not others? Perhaps he could bust the myth that the greasy pole’s summit is beside the Thames.
There are the early stirrings of support for Neil Findlay, whose lack of public identification or any noticeable presentation skills, could be nullified by a growing perception that someone who speaks the language of the Left – and means it – is closer to the modern aspirations of Scotland.
The backing of Unison is a huge boost to his prospects and will encourage the membership vote who probably need to be convinced that he is mounting a serious challenge, not merely token resistance. He has the advantage of sounding authentic rather than PR-trained and of being almost incapable of the contrived concern – and hysterical fear of eggs – of a Murphy. A former bricklayer and teacher, rather than lawyer and SPAD, he has a profile that matches what Labour’s core expects and his underlying case of social justice sounds more persuasive than one coming from a New Labour adherent. I expect him to quickly become the challenger to Murphy, with Boyack slipping back.
There is a belief in Murphy circles that nationalists are running scared of a Murphy leadership. Let me be clear: Murphy will split Labour opinion and even those who think their jobs now rely on him will turn against him, even if they voted for him, such is the poison in Labour.
The alignment of policy and approach between Westminster and Edinburgh, the real fault line in Labour’s travails over devolution, will be emphasised by him remaining an MP. He will cause deep resentment in Holyrood where his Westminster persona will rile MSPs. I see no reconciliation between Findlay left-wingers and the Murphy Blairites. He represents a metropolitan Labour rejected by growing numbers of party supporters and he has a political record already being scrutinised for its many jarring elements. His is the starkest contrast with Sturgeon and the SNP and that is a good thing – a constant living reminder of Labour’s Scottish dilemma.
A working class champion of people’s rights, with no links to right wing think tanks, millionaire’s expenses and with a willingness to work with the SNP government when appropriate: that is what should worry nationalists.