Labour’s holding its Scottish party conference this weekend, and no one cares, not even most of the Labour party. Despite all the big words, some of which have been spelled correctly, the conference won’t change anything. Labour is the junkie child who has promised to mend their ways so often that no one believes them any more. And like many addicts, Labour insists that it’s going to mend its ways while insisting with equal vehemence that none of it is their own fault. It’s all the fault of bad people, bad influences, SNPbad making Labour a poor defenceless victim. Labour lives in a permanent Halloween, where the SNP bogey man lurks behind every corner but there’s never any sweeties. Delegates to the Labour conference scare one another shitless by sneaking up behind each other and yelling SNP!
The truth is it no longer matters what Labour promises. On Thursday evening Scottish branch office manager Kezia Dugdale made an appearance on the BBC’s Question Time programme. Kezia announced in what was obviously a pre-rehearsed speil that very soon her party was going to have singing policies, dancing policies, Scottish policies. We’d be rushing back to the Labour church like atheists who’d just witnessed an apparition of the Virgin Mary manifesting itself in the pages of a Richard Dawkins book. All sorts of goody wonderfulness is about to happen to Labour in Scotland and those who vote for them, so much so that Mary Poppins will appear like a hard bitten cynic in comparison. Kezia’s spreech – a cross between an oration and a scream for help, in case you were wondering – reached its crescendo, lifted aloft on her hopes and dreams and carefully crafted sentences from the press office and all that was missing was Jim Murphy’s halo … and then came the silence that sucks out the soul.
No one clapped. No one jeered. No one harrumphed. There was no laughter, no derision, just the cold silence lost in the depths of space far from the warmth of any sun that says we’ve heard all this before. It was the silence of a nation cleaning its fingernails, the silence of a country that was wondering why there’s a greater grasp of political nuance on the Jeremy Kyle show, the silence of a nation looking embarrassedly at its watch in the hope that the torture of seeing a young woman make a fool of herself live on TV might end soon.
Sadly Kezia’s embarrassment didn’t end there. While her appearance on Question Time, recorded early in the evening, was being broadcast, she was also appearing live on STV in a car crash of an interview in which her attempts to explain how the Labour party in Scotland really was autonomous this time honest dissolved in the acid bath of mild enquiry. Incapable of answering the simplest question on how exactly her own proposals were going to work in practice, Kezia attempted to deflect, dodge and blame the SNP. Welcome to the new politics, same as the old politics.
The following day a Labour campaign video was released online, pitching Kezia – who’s spent her entire adult life as a policy wonk – as da voice of da yoot. It succeeded marvellously , if succeeding marvellously is defined as proving that Labour in Scotland is going to be completely autonomous from the rest of the Labour party when it comes to spelling. Kezia’s campaign video was talkin bout my genertaion. It was a trivial matter, but it compounded the image of an out of touch party going through the mtoions. What was more significant was the promise made in the video that Kezia aspired to be the leader of a strong oppostiion. Labour has pretty much admitted that it’s not going to be in power for a very long time.
The conference itself spent more time attacking the SNP than it did attacking the Tories. The promise to debate Trident and perhaps pass a resolution against renewing it was undermined by another resolution adopted by the Labour conference that Trident renewal represented a way of protecting the steel industry. Although I thought it was lead plate that was needed to protect ourselves from the radioactive fallout.
Jeremy came and promised sunshine. In Scotland. He also claimed that the SNP government was a grevious threat to human freedom, by which he presumably meant Labour’s freedom to reign unchallenged. Jezza and his pal John the shadow chancellor spent far more time attacking the SNP than they did the Tories.
Kezia’s big policy announcement was a promise to reverse the cut in tax credits, which Labour will pay for by not implementing any cut to Airport Passenger Duty, by raising the income tax rate to 50p for the highest paid, and by “resisting Tory plans to raise the threshold for the 40p tax rate from the current £42,385 to £50,000 by 2020”. The first two aren’t going to bring in anything like the revenue required to make up for the income taken from the pay packets of the poor by the Tories, and the last measure isn’t within the power of a Holyrood government. Meanwhile Labour in Westminster thinks it can resist the Tories by abstaining.
Jim Murphy, Kezia’s erstwhile boss, fought the Westminster election in Scotland on the basis of Holyrood promises. Kezia wants to fight the Holyrood election on the basis of Westminster promises. Labour’s still attempting to get back into power on the basis of confusing the electorate, but when you’re dealing with one of the most politically aware and sophisticated electorates in Europe, that’s a strategy with limited traction – especially when we’re faced with the prospect of Jackie Baillie as finance secretary.
We’ve heard all this before so many many times. It was a lie then, it’s a lie now. Kezia’s problem isn’t a shortage of policies, it’s a shortage of trust. When people can’t even be bothered to heckle, it’s because they’re no longer listening to a party that doesn’t know how to listen. It’s because Labour stopped caring and so did we. It’s a relationship that foundered on the rock of a party that refused to budge from its privilege and entitlement. So Scotland ditched the sinking ship of Labour and watched it disappear beneath the waves of contempt and disdain. Kezia would be as well to yell from the bottom of the sea. No one can hear and no one cares. Labour is drowning in its own irrelevance.
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