The Labour party in Scotland is having one of its reviews again, like the one it had after the 2007 election, the one after the 2011 election, and the one after the 2015 election. Labour has had almost as many internal reviews as it’s got elected politicians left to do the reviewing. It’s got far more reviews than it’s got coherent policies to review. Labour in Scotland has seen more consultations than a doctor’s surgery during an outbreak of food poisoning, and considerably more diarrhoea. Never in the history of politics have so few bollocksed up so little for so fewer. If the party had put as much time and energy into ensuring that it was listening to the people in the first place as it expends on its reviews, it might not have needed to have so many reviews in the first place.
Every time Labour suffers an electoral humiliation it announces that it’s learning and listening and is going to consult far and wide. It’s always the same story. We’re listening. We’re learning. We’re going to be autonmous this time, no really don’t laugh. We’re going to be so amazingly autonomous that James Kelly will get his own wind-up key and will be able to do his impression of a clockwork drone without any help from central office. We’re so incredibly humble and things are going to be different next time. Swear to God and on my granny’s grave. And then nothing much happens and it’s back to the SNP bad business as usual which hadn’t stopped in the interim anyway.
The reason that nothing much changes is because on closer inspection Labour’s exercises in consultation always seem to turn out to mean that the party has asked a failed politician who has just got their jotters to ask some other failed politicians who have just got their jotters if they can think of a way of saying that the SNP is really, really, bad which the voters might actually pay some attention to. Unsurprisingly the answer is invariably, “Not really, but the SNP is really, really bad. And that’s a fact. Why don’t you make sure that Anas Sarwar gets re-elected, he might not help the party’s election chances, but at least the party hacks are guaranteed a good dinner. Mmmm banquet.”
Every election Labour receives a kicking that’s even worse than the historic kicking that it received at the previous election, and still the party is locked into the exact same pattern of self-destructive behaviour that led to it receiving the kicking in the first place. Screaming SNP bad even louder than the last time doesn’t count as renewal and renovation. The real problem is that the self-described party of the people always puts the party before the people. If Labour had cut its ties from the Westminster party and become an independent Scottish party which allowed its own members to make up their own minds on the topic of independence and campaign accordingly then perhaps it might have saved itself. Instead it poured a torrent of vehement and vile abuse on Labour for Independence and drove its supporters from the party while the party leaders posed for photo ops with Tories and told pensioners that they wouldn’t get a pension and told people in need of transplants that they’d be left to die in agony. Instead it’s Labour which is dying in agony.
The time for that has passed. It’s now too late for Labour in Scotland to pose as an autonomous party which allows members the freedom to express their own views on independence because none of the public believe a word it says. Labour’s problem isn’t a problem of policies, it’s a problem of credibility. It doesn’t matter if you have a new message if that message is being delivered by the same tired old faces that you didn’t believe the last time.
Labour’s pals in the papers are now touting that the Scottish branch office of the party may get the sort of autonomy that it has been claiming to have since Labour failed to win the 2007 election. Labour in Scotland may even become an independent Scottish Labour party, and Labour in Scotland may end up as a party that believes in independence for itself but not for the country it hopes to represent. In any event, the key word in that sentence is of course ‘may’. May is a word that covers a lot of eventualities, but it doesn’t mean any of those eventualities are actually going to happen. The atoms making up the body of James Kelly MSP may spontaneously rearrange themselves a form a human being with intelligence, wit, political nous, and charisma, and indeed there is a somewhat greater chance of that happening than there is of the Labour party in Scotland becoming a fully independent and autonomous party, but the chances are still close enough to zero as makes no difference.
If you wanted an illustration of the laws of karma you can’t do much better than to look at the Labour party in Scotland. It is in fact pretty much all that the party is good for. Having spent the last few decades telling Scotland that it’s too wee, too poor and too stupid to become independent, Labour has haemorrhaged so much support over the years that it doesn’t have a big enough membership base to fund itself, and is reliant upon tranfers of monies from the UK party in order to keep afloat. And it’s lost so many elected politicians over the years that it has long since gone through the bottom of the muddy puddle at the bottom of its talent pool and it’s reduced to touting the likes of James Kelly, Anas, and Jackie Baillie as big hitters. Intelligent and thoughtful young kids who were considering a career in politics once looked naturally to Labour as their first choice, no more.
The irony is that it’s Labour in Scotland which can’t become independent because it’s too wee, too poor and too stupid. Scotland will prosper without them.
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