The shine has come off the SNP, say people who’ve spent the past decade throwing mud and crap at the party in the hope that some of it might stick. The main result of this exercise has been to leave crap all over the hands of the mud throwers, and an SNP which sails on unperturbed by the ripples created by Scotland’s media pond life. Mud slinging is a dubious political tactic, consisting at base of the unconvincing and base selling point that we should vote for a unionist party because a pro-independence party is as sleazy as a unionist party.
It’s a tactic which is doomed to fail. Every time Kezia Dugdale gets up at Furst Meenister’s Questions to hurl some more dirt at the SNP, all she does is to remind us just how dirty the Labour party is now and has always been. There’s not a lot of mileage in accusations of impropriety directed at the SNP out of the mouth of the leader of a party which only a short while ago saw five of its MPs receive jail terms. Then there’s the goings on in Glesca Cooncil under Purcell, the sink of North Lanarkshire and sectariangate, the pauchles of Falkirk selections, and a litany of scandal and sleaze which long since ceased to be a series of isolated incidents and became an intricate macramé of mafiosos.
Labour in Scotland is not a political party tainted by sleaze, it’s sleaze with the occasional spots of politics. Scandal and sleaze is what defines them. Not that that stops Labour from trying to claim the moral high ground, when in fact all they’re doing is clambering on top a pile of corpses, most of which have been stabbed in the back by a former SLab MP. The result of this well known history of rankness is that when Kezia and her pals scream SNPbad, all the Scottish electorate hears is “See that SNP, they’re just as bad as we are.” It’s not a message that’s going to get any of their former support to return, but even though it’s a tactic that has been as successful as business selling pan scourers as toilet paper, Labour keeps scraping. They don’t know what else to do.
We’re told that it’s always important not to confuse the messenger with the message, and in the general run of things this is true. But in Labour’s case the SNPbad message is being delivered by a party which has a proven track record in badness. It’s like getting a warning about the dangers of organised religion from a Young Earth Creationist, or the Mongol Hordes railing against caravans on the A9. The message has no credibility when the messenger is guilty of far worse.
Another of Labour’s attacks died a death over the weekend when the director of T in the Park revealed his company had received financial support from the previous Labour Lib Dem coalition in Holyrood. For weeks now Labour and the Lib Dems along with the Tories have been trying to make out that the festival’s receipt of a grant from the Scottish Government was an atrocity on a par with the Massacre of Glencoe. Although that was carried out by Unionists and so was really just a bit of a misunderstanding and not in any way typical of Westminster’s historic attitude to Scotland, oh no.
Meanwhile, faced with a Tory government that’s demonising immigrants and dismantling the NHS, Labour chooses to attack the Tories by asking why Jeremy Hunt’s Chinese wife came to live in England. So much for the much heralded new politics. Corbynism has given Labour in Scotland the same sort of bounce that was last seen on a spacehopper which had lost an argument with Jim Murphy’s broken Irn Bru bottle. The SNP’s commanding lead in the opinion polls remains bright and shiny. It should be clear to even the most obtuse party leader by now that all the SNPbadness in the world isn’t going to do the Unionist parties any good, but it’s all they’ve got.
The only way in which the Unionist parties could start to make a serious dent in the SNP’s support is a way that’s closed to them. They’d have to start making a real commitment to the kind of devolution that they promised during the referendum campaign, and not the kind of devolution they’re currently trying to pretend is what they meant all along.
Oh but when we said home rule we didn’t actually mean, you know, home rule. We meant limited extra responsibilities over limited forms of taxation. And road signs. And no, don’t even think about getting your hands on the TV remote control. Now eat your cereal and go to your bedroom where the TV is set to the BBC and don’t dare imagine you can change the channel. What we really meant by the closest thing to federalism possible is whatever is going to advantage our parties, not what the people of Scotland want. This is still the game that the Unionist parties are playing, and it’s still the game that the electors of Scotland see right through.
If Labour wants to eat into the SNP’s support, it can only do so by attracting SNP voters back. That’s never going to happen if all that Labour has to offer is repeating ad nauseum that the SNP is as bad as Labour is. But then Labour’s real problem is that it’s so discredited that it could offer incontrovertible proof that it could give every person in Scotland winning lottery tickets, the ability to walk on water, the powder to turn base metals into gold, and most importantly of all, some actual real jam – but people would still not believe it.
All the SNP has to do is to be mildly competent and it’s still miles ahead of the competition. People are still going to vote for them no matter how much Unionist party sheep go SNPbaaad because they want to punish Labour and the Lib Dems and their proven record of incompetence, because they have no faith in the Westminster system, and because they want another independence referendum – and whatever your opinion of the SNP another independence referendum offers the people of Scotland the opportunity to wrest power for ourselves. Nothing Labour can offer is able to match that, no matter how many sheep bleat SNPbaaaad.
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