McTernan to head up the branch office

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Derek Bateman writes a fan letter to Labour’s new branch office ‘chief of staff’

It isn’t getting much airtime yet but there is deep unhappiness at ground level in Scottish Labour.

As leadership figures thrash around for direction and credibility, at the street level there is gnawing doubt and deep anxiety. It just isn’t possible for many Labour lifers to switch parties because they don’t belong anywhere else and, in any case, they want to retrieve their party and revive its historic mission.

John McTernan
John McTernan

The inevitable election of Murphy with his machine politics was followed by a incontinent spray of populist bilge – his equivalent of the giant chocolate pound – that makes real Labour believers cringe. They are unsurprised that another creature of Westminster, Blair McDougall should be the ominous figure behind much of this but the news of John McTernan’s billet as Murphy ‘chief-of-staff’ will for many be a step too far.

Unlike the McDougalls of ‘fixer/spinner’ fame, McTernan’s actual views are known and are public record. He makes a living from exposing them, the more controversial and grisly, the better. He completes a Westminster clean sweep in the office of ‘Scottish Labour leader’ which in itself is indicative of the new demeanour of the Branch Office. But it is his instinct for anti-Scottish, pro-privatisation, sub-Blair rhetoric that marks him as an undesirable in Scottish Labour eyes.

The truth about many of the membership is that they don’t actually hate the SNP – they admire their efficiency, recognise their comparative talent and are tempted by the independence idea while stopping just short of endorsing it. If the SNP package was coloured red and marked Labour, they would go for it.

McTernan, as some of us know from personal experience, is a devotee of division and a pedlar of prejudice. He is hate-filled beyond the rational and not just against Yes and a new Scotland. He excoriates and humiliates anyone from any side including his own whom he regards as opposition. I think he calls it breaking legs. Nice.

His one sojourn on his own outside the London comfort zone with all its Blair-connected buffers, was Julia Gillard’s desperate election bid in Australia where the full grotesque reality of a spitting, swearing control freak was unleashed  on Oz politics, not known for its tea party mentality.  Journalists were shocked at the gangland approach and profane terminology of this caricature of a special adviser, finally unleashed from constraint.

Much of this was learned in Blair’s offices where the chain of command appears to have been: Alastair Campbell as monkey to Blair’s organ-grinder, and McTernan as the bell on Campbell’s tail.

He failed to inculcate the other strength (along with intimidation) of Campbell – the facility to command respect. One suspects that McTernan does indeed have the capacity to analyse politics and articulate scenarios and could produce potential solutions, but that it is his hostility and aggression that clouds his judgement as the red mist descends.

As a facilitator, he is more destroyer. He enjoys rubbing people the wrong way and disconcerting with extreme opinions. He will misread the public view of the SNP and become Paul Sinclair Mark 2, demonising Sturgeon, ridiculing policy and ensuring that any idea of cooperation and reconciliation will be stillborn.

He will intimidate the journalists, many of whom have shown themselves to be puppets of big politics in any case, threatening them with no stories unless they co-operate. Our politics will become toxic again, the stench of contrived accusation and mendacious claim will be pervasive and – my guess – he will commit the cardinal mistake and become the story as he tries to badger Labour MSPs to do his bidding and ends up in conflict with the unions.

This could all work sweetly for the SNP and at the same time give a stomach ache to those progressives still left in Labour and wondering where to turn.