Does this Labour aircraft have a steady pilot and reliable crew?

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Move along there, nothing to see here... Scottish Labour's wildly successful referendum campaign slogan

Commentary by Derek Bateman

I have a friend who’s an airline captain and trains other pilots. He says it isn’t the technical side of flying you have to think about, but how you react to a problem.

He was monitoring an experienced flyer who responded properly at the controls to sudden wind shear on descent and immediately pulled up for a go-round. But when he asked him what action he was going to take next, there was no reply. He looked over and his colleague staring ahead, dumbstruck through panic. That pilot will never be a captain as a result.

I am wondering if that is the fate of Labour’s pilot Murphy, whose leadership tenure looks like a mission in trouble. Jim can definitely do the technical driving and in normal circumstances would be on cruise control. But here, he is trying to avert a dive to oblivion and he needs not Kezia Dugdale on the flight deck but Keir Hardie, Clem Attlee and Tony Blair – with Tom Johnston on navigation.

There is now that unpredictable feeling that something might go wrong every day. The pratfall of party official Robert McNeill is a seemingly unconnected localised fault of no great importance, but it illuminated a warning red on the cockpit dash. Like an SOS at 30,000 feet, it was picked up and repeated by everyone.

It is, I think, indicative of a creeping turmoil that is infecting all parts of the Labour machine. People who have never had to break sweat to win now have to think – hard. They have to work – hard. And it hurts. They start thrashing around for the safety lever. ‘I know, let’s show people where they can vote for other parties to beat the Nats. Lib Dem here, Tory there…etc’

Yeah, that should stabilise the flight. In a disciplined operation on election guard, every utterance from those on payroll or with office bearer status should on message, wasn’t that the Blair way? Clearly the message from Captain Jim, if there was one, didn’t reach the fax machine in Tranent. While the party says voting SNP delivers the Tories, their own man – on the policy forum – says, eh…Vote Tory.

But why would a member of the Scottish Policy Forum who works closely with Ian Gray not know that the overriding message is Vote Nat, Get Tory? The McNeill tweet says in at least six seats, do the opposite and vote for the party that Margaret Curran claims Glasgow can’t afford for another five years. Keeping the message clear, this isn’t. And it leads to a deeper suspicion that since Labour worked in harmony with Tories in the indyref, maybe they aren’t so far removed. Are they closer than we think? Is stopping the SNP more important for them than stopping a Tory government?

Flight Officer McNeill first lost his stripes (he removed his official party accreditations) and then his Twitter account disappeared into the clouds.

I had expected efficiency and direction from Murphy and Better Together’s McDougall but there’s no denying now that Labour feels like parts are falling off. They’re still flying but really, you’d be more comfortable with Sebastian, Steve and Shona Spurtle from the High Life.

Not so many laughs though…