Lamont quits, let us bid farewell

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  Johann Lamont is to stand down as leader of the Labour Party in Scotland after a lacklustre referendum campaign and amid claims of London interference”.

Derek Bateman reflects on the crisis facing Labour and argues that Lamont’s biggest mistake was taking on the leadership job in the first place…

Commentary by Derek Bateman

No sooner do the Labour apparatchiks bemoan the hollow victory in the indyref than their glorious leader resigns complaining of interference from London and no internal support.

Another day for Labour to ask themselves: Who really won?

This will be a big event in the life on Johann Lamont because stepping aside from a key position will be a personal blow and will feel life-changing. She’s entitled to her privacy and her thoughts and whatever views you hold, democrats should remember that all elected members at least had the guts to stand up and be counted before their peers.

But we as electors are also entitled to make our own judgments and I believed her to be a mistake from the outset with two things only going for her. One, she is female and that is both a progressive sign and made her a harder target for Salmond, and two, she presented as a real Labour wummin. I don’t mean to patronise with that phrase, I mean that her demeanour and public persona allowed her to connect with the core Labour vote as ‘one of them’, something that was necessary after the 2011 disaster.

But she also stepped up at a time in our history when an instinct for constitutional change was a pre-requisite. Labour needed to sound serious and intelligent and able to duck the punches and land a shot or two on the resurgent Nationalists on the consuming issue of the day.

I spoke to a key figure in the Labour movement – by no means her enemy. ‘Johann is a British Labour politician with no instinctive grasp of devolution. She has sat on every committee but has never instigated any new policy and would be happy if there was no devolution.’

When Labour needed craft and commitment, they got maladroit and timorous. In place of guile she had Paul Sinclair, surely the most disastrously ill-judged spin doctor appointment since John McTernan was signed up by Julia Gillard. Into her mouth went venom and spite. At PMQs she glowered like Tam’s housebound wife…’gathering brow like gathering storm, nursing her wrath to keep it warm.’

Something for Nothing was like spitting in the face of poor Labour voters. Nationalism as ‘a virus’ repelled independence-voting Labour folk and ‘not genetically programmed to make decisions’ became the phrase that most thought fitted her best.

She joins a long list of those whose ego and entourage convince them they are people of destiny and will flourish in office…in recent times William Hague, Iain Gray and John Swinney. Gray at least as an intellectual base to call upon and has a trained mind. He struggled to contain his anger and simply lacked the leadership gene.

Johann ditto but she never betrayed anything approaching intellect. She was too soft in allowing others, including the thuggish Paul Martin (‘Salmond is a bare-faced liar’) to shape her image and tone and they made sure the dry wit and sly charm remained hidden. I fear she never overcame her nerves, a severe difficulty in such a role.

The inevitable post-resignation praise will sound hollow, especially as she is blaming others for shoving her in the back. How much better to bow out gracefully and leave the bitterness and excuses to history…

The succession should be fun for all. This is when we get to see the full array of sparkling Labour talent on display. Forget Brown. He runs from trouble and the next two years are a minefield for Labour. Anyway, Holyrood is beneath his dignity. He prefers the World Bank.

I’d like a bolter to emerge from the backbenches, somebody new and vivacious, with no history of headquarters’ compromise, charting a dynamic route for a new Labour. But I don’t hold my breath.