So I go away for a few days, and have a great time apart from a rampant allergy to my daughters’ cats, and all sorts of things happen in my absence. Gordon Brown announces that he’s standing down at the next election, Ukip kicks both the Tories and Labour up the backside in a by-election in Rochester, Niclasturjun replaces Alicsammin as the synonym for Scottish independence in the British media and holds a rally attended by thoosands, the Radical Independence Campaign hold a conference just over the road also attended by thoosands, many of whom are the same thoosands as those who went to see Nicla, a new pro-independence newspaper gets launched without a regular column by a small reddish canine who’s really quite affordable (cough cough), and Jim Murphy had a damascene conversion and discovered some real political principles. OK, so that last bit is a lie.
Let’s start with Gordie, whose departure from politics was announced to the general surprise of everyone who thought he’d already departed. But Gordie’s toddling off into a sunset of devoting himself to extremely well remunerated soporific after dinner speeches does raise an interesting question, one which is unlikely to be answered by Gordon Brown. Nor indeed asked by an extremely well remunerated BBC politics correspondent who didn’t get the job because they’re related to John Smith.
Mind you, Gordon doesn’t answer questions, and certainly not questions posed by anyone who hasn’t been vetted beforehand. But for what it’s worth the question in question is: Was it not Gordon who swore blind that he personally would ensure that the Vow with the Capital Letters would be implemented by the Westminster Parliament after the May 2015 election? This was when he was still pretending he was the current as opposed to the former Prime Minister, and the current as opposed to the soon to be former Prime Minister was quite happy for him to do so.
The answer would appear to be that Gordie can just as easily ensure the passage of the Vow by not attending Parliament as a former MP as he can by not attending Parliament as the MP for Kirkcaldy. So that’s sorted then, and the Scottish electorate must be terribly reassured. Or, which is more likely, past the point of caring about anything Gordie says or does.
Dahn sarf, Ukip won the by-election in Rochester in the latest episode in the English electorate’s miserabilist challenge to the entrenched Westminster parties. Funny isn’t it, it’s supposed to be Scots who are dour and miserable, yet our challenge to Westminster’s business as usual is relentlessly cheerful, upbeat, and outward looking. Meanwhile in England many people complain that they have no one to vote for since the only realistic challengers to the existing system are a bunch of neo-Thatcherites who want to retreat into some imagined golden age of the 1950s which never existed. So if you live in England and hate Westminster, you can vote for Ukip a party which promises to increase the powers of Westminster. That’s a deeply unattractive proposition even before you look at the grinning self-satisfied mug of Nigel Bawbag Farage.
But the truth – a truth which the UK media is unlikely to dwell on – is that after the next Westminster elections Ukip are unlikely to gain more than a handful of seats. The first past the post system of voting, which Ukip favour, pretty much guarantees the continuation of the existing duopoly unless a party can establish itself as the largest single force in a constituency. Then the first past the post system works in that party’s favour. And this is why Nicla is so buoyant, because the SNP looks like it’s made that breakthrough in Scotland. She’s also ensured gender equality in the Scottish cabinet, making Scotland one of the best performing countries in the world in terms of women’s representation in politics – although there’s certainly still a long way to go. Westminster, in case you were wondering, is way down the rankings, bobbing along somewhere in the 1950s where women made the tea for Nigel Farage. Westminster only talks about increasing female representation in politics, Scotland does something about it. Mind you, only just over a quarter of SNP MSPs are women, so Nicla’s still got her work cut out for her.
A series of opinion polls have shown that the SNP is well in the lead in Westminster voting intention, and may very well reduce Labour to a small rump despite the best efforts of the BBC to marginalise distinctively Scottish voices. The SNP continue to pile on new members, while Labour’s membership figures in Scotland remain a closely guarded secret. While the SNP is on course to have 100,000 members by the time of the Westminster General Election, Labour in all probability has fewer than a tenth of that number. These are the folk who’ll be chapping on doors, delivering leaflets and getting the vote out, and in Labour’s supposedly safe seats in the Yes voting areas of the Central Belt, they’re outnumbered over 10 to one by the SNP. And that’s before you start counting the Greens, SSP, and unaffiliated Radical Independence supporters, who have likewise piled on new members – all of whom will be just as eager to ensure that Labour gets a kicking for wrapping itself in the Union flag and standing shoulder to shoulder with the Tories.
Aware that his party is more screwed than a lightbulb in a joke factory, Jim Murphy has announced that he may, or may not, be in favour of devolving control of all income tax to Holyrood after all. This is a considered policy decision which is the exact opposite of his considered policy decision last week when devolving income tax would be the worst thing to happen to Scotland since the bubonic plague. But enough about Ian Davidson. Of course the real reason for the announcement is to get Jim in the papers, and to try to rescue Labour from being the party offering the weakest devolution proposals – weaker even than the Tories. It also, handily, gives Jim a stick with which to beat the SNP, as he can promise to increase taxes on the richest. Jim claims this will raise £250 million a year in entirely made up statistics. The real figure is a tiny fraction of that, but what’s accuracy when you’re a Labour politician? It’s only SNP politicians that the BBC holds to account, so that’s OK then.
Jim can make these announcements and get them plastered all over the telly and the papers because the telly and the papers have decided that he’s already the branch manager of the Labour party’s unstocked supermarket in Scotland. Jim’s in charge of the checkouts, and he and his party will be checking out very soon. The other contenders for branch manager have been relegated to the stock cupboard, where they’re currently fully occupied with counting the number of members the party has lost over the past few years.
It’s pretty obvious to one and all that the Labour leadership – the only Labour leadership which counts, the one in London – has already decided that Whispering Jim Smugurphy will get the gig as branch manager. It suits Ed Miliband to get rid of a troublesome Blairite, Ed would rather Jim was fully occupied in Scotland than engaging in briefing campaigns against his shoogly peg of a leadership. Jim is quite happy to take over in Scotland, because he sees it as the last chance he’s got of rescuing his ailing career, and we all know by now, Jim Murphy’s career progression constitutes the nearest thing to a set of principles that Jim Murphy has got.
And finally – apropos of nothing in particular. That’s over a month now without a ciggy, and I think I can finally call myself an ex-smoker.