By Derek Bateman
If you have a memory greater than a gnat – unlike the Better Together propagandists at the Daily Record – you’d have a belly laugh this morning at the paper’s political correspondent berating the SNP over Braziergate. (Remember? Three Renfrewshire SNP councillors burning a copy of the Smith Commission in a bin).
David Clegg was tweeting – and re-tweeting proudly – a piece saying that the reinstatement of the councillors after their suspension was ‘the SNP’s Militant Tendency moment.’ In Paisley!?
If you had been around in the 80s when Davie Clegg was in short breeks, you’d know that Renfrewshire was the stamping ground of one Hugh Henry, now Labour MSP, occasional minister and former self-declared member of Militant Tendency.
That’s right, THE Militant Tendency – the one that was based on the Revolutionary Socialist League, a Trotskyist group working within the Labour Party through the tactic of entryism. Better to break the law than break the poor, they used to chant. The group was proscribed (not just suspended like the Nat cooncillors) and members expelled.
Hugh declared once: ‘The ideas of Marxism are becoming more relevant to people in the Labour Party. Marxism is now firmly on the political agenda.’ Better still – and aptly for today’s decrepit Labour Party – he said: ‘I want to counteract the impression that it is the Left who are infiltrating the party. I would argue that the real infiltrators in the Labour Party were the academics and intellectuals who used the Labour Party as a vehicle for their political ambitions.’
Could he mean Paisley buddy Douglas Alexander?
Now, I genuinely like Hugh. I’ve known him a long time and backed him to be Presiding Officer before Tricia Marwick because he’d have done a good job and made sure the SNP didn’t dominate all of Holyrood. He made a conversion to Labour and good luck to him. But you can’t hide your past and frankly I would think he’s quietly furious that the Labour-friendly Record made the Militant reference which to anyone who wasn’t in school at the time is known as an embarrassing period for the party.
During his leadership (of Renfrewshire Council), the council was divided by furious rows over allegations of sleaze and cronyism which led to police being called to the council headquarters to break up the confrontations, reports the Scotsman. I was at one of those meetings and a real Tammany Hall effort it was with threats and chants and a total collapse of order.
As local SNP Councilor Colin Campbell said when Hugh emerged in Jack McConnell’s ministerial team: ‘He was Leader of the Labour Group on Renfrew Council at a time when allegations were made about funds at Renfrewshire Unemployed Workers Centre. He was a leading light in the party during the scandal that beset Ferguslie Community Business and he was a central player in the party when the now disgraced Tommy Graham was endorsed as a candidate. Jack McConnell has to explain how it is that a man who was so immersed in the cronyism and sleaze of the Renfrew Labour Party is fit to be a minister in the Scottish executive.’
Now that’s what I call Militant Tendency…
Paisley of course is a place where you couldn’t have a better contrast between the ersatz Labour Party of today and its roots in industrial Scotland with the campaigning of the weavers who played a key part in the Insurrection of 1820. From the 80’s onwards Paisley became a graveyard of credibility for the party. The list of Labour failures makes grim reading for a place once represented by Norman Buchan.
For the Record’s education, let’s remember the mighty Tommy Graham.
Following the suicide of his parliamentary colleague Gordon McMaster in July 1997, a long investigation was launched, since in his suicide note McMaster had accused Graham of smearing him that he had a homosexual affair with a 17-year-old employee of Graham’s. In September 1998, Graham was expelled from the Labour Party for bringing the party into disrepute, despite his categorical denials of any wrongdoing. He became an independent and described himself as a Scottish Labour MP. For a comprehensive list of dodgy Labour Party behaviour try this from the Independent in 1997.
In there is a story I covered myself in Paisley when Jack McConnell was general secretary. The paper reports: ‘Mr McConnell thought he had sorted out Paisley in 1995 when three constituency parties – the two Paisleys and Renfrewshire West, represented by Tommy Graham, were suspended following irregularities in membership records. There were claims of pensioners being enlisted without their knowledge and subscriptions paid for 44 trade union members with a single cheque. The object, according to local activists, was to influence selection ballots.’
It was at this time I discovered that the editor of the local paper and the chief reporter were both members of the local party and yet were supposed to be investigating it. I haven’t even touched on Irene Adams and her alleged involvement or indeed her expenses. The Sunday Post reported in November 2014 that Adams had claimed £53,000 of expenses during a period when she did not speak in debate or submit any written questions.
There’s a nice quote from the Herald around the time of the McMaster/Graham affair. ‘Scottish politics should be captivated by the devolution debate, not mired in an urban Labour enmity which threatens to blow out of the water all the work done to produce an electoral system guaranteeing that the worst kind of old-style Labour cronyism did not dominate the Scottish parliament.’
The Daily Record really should have the nous to take more care if doesn’t want to damage further its political bedfellows. The SNP Three, to be blunt, behaved like a bunch of fannies. They were suspended, did their time, and have returned not via Nicola Sturgeon, but via the votes of local members. If you apply the Record’s logic, they should never return and Hugh Henry should be thrown out of parliament. Brilliant…
But the Record can’t help itself. Instead of attacking the councillors, the Record also conflates it with the rise in SNP membership and the odd loony to construct a crisis for the leadership. (Yeah, Nicola’s in real trouble, isn’t she?) I think you’ll find Militant Tendency – the real one – and the corrupt Paisley Labour Party were what real crises are made of and I bet Record readers know that a lot better than the hacks clearly do.
(This commentary was cut short due to an editorial error earlier today, and is now restored in full)