They are all falling into line now…the die-hard Unionists are scrambling and falling over themselves to find ways of giving Scotland more powers as the independence pressure builds. What a hoot! One day we’re told it’s gone far enough and all it needs is a tweak here or there. Then, as the water level rises, they panic and start baling like mad.
It’s Jim Murphy hinting the Union is ever-changing, Gordon Brown entrenching powers and adding taxation and Stephen Purcell saying the Union is finished (and needs to be reformed).
Add in a splash of Johann’s commission, Ming’s report and Ruth’s Conversion, sorry, Commission – is it actually doing anything? – and the boys and girls at Devo Plus, and the world of Unionism is in a ferment. And why? Because the Nats are hammering at the door. In my lifetime, the only time anything remotely positive happens in Scotland is when the SNP is on the rise. Without the nationalists, Scotland stagnates, the debate dies down, London ignores and impoverished, unequal, backward Britain stumbles on deferring to the rich and and patronising the working poor.
We hear from Labour how Salmond is “obsessed with independence” when people are crying out for help. Ask yourself this: If it wasn’t for Salmond and the referendum, what exactly would Johann’s party be talking about? What else has she concentrated on, what policies has she developed on housing, crime, renewables, environment, taxes, business development, industrial strategy? None. She has a sort of policy on further education – she opposed the successful streamlining that is now saving money in the college sector – but given the chance to make a practical improvement in our schools, she stood against free meals, a simple, proven way of caring for children and aiding education. She did so out of blind opposition – because the Nats would get the credit just as Labour did over minimum pricing. If it wasn’t for the referendum, Labour would have died out of boredom. It shows just how vacuous they have become that not one shiny new policy idea has emerged in two and a half years that has caught the public imagination.
And here’s the other thing, while Johann is satisfied to lie low rather than risk an intervention, it is her London comrades who make the running in the debate in her own backyard. In recent days I’ve read ideas from Gordon Brown, Jim Murphy and Margaret Curran. Where are Johann’s contributions to match those of Douglas Alexander for instance? I know what Johann doesn’t want but I haven’t a clue what is on her wish list. She doesn’t even compete with Ian Davidson on the intellectual input front. Who is advising her? Has she nothing to say? Is she the first political mime artist?
Gordon of course has lots to say, at least according to the media which seems to feel the ground shake when the Gruffalo of Fife hits the campaign trail. I always welcome interventions from any source but his are accompanied by my yawns. There is something maddeningly typical of a senior Labour man out of office demanding all sorts of radical changes he could have executed in office. Isn’t it a genuine and glaring weakness in the Unionist case that both Alistair (Darling) and Gordon Brown had the power and the overwhelming majorities to effect deep and reforming changes to Scotland which might have avoided the independence debate today, but that they failed miserably even to try?
Brown to my knowledge never expressed the remotest interest in Scottish policy – only in manipulating the Scottish party – when he was in Downing Street (10 and 11) and Alistair was so disengaged that as a Scots MP and an advocate, he wasn’t aware in 2003 that the British Government had no powers of its own to disband the role of Secretary of State for Scotland. Blair tried to do so but had to be informed by the Civil Service that it was a statutory appointment and could only be dissolved through primary legislation. So Alistair, already Transport Secretary, became part-time Scottish Secretary as well. Didn’t he know anything about Scotland and it’s role in the British government?
I agree with Brown’s concept of entrenching the powers of Holyrood and have complained here about the failure to do so, leaving us open to overnight abolition if there was ever a coalition of mad right wing Tories and UKIP…do you think he’s been reading the blog? But it’s too little too late as, I suspect, is the reported burying of the hatchet between the two of them. I honestly think Darling will never forgive the way he was treated by Brown, not to his dying day. So if there is a rapprochement, I reckon it’s best described as a temporary truce to deal with Salmond.
However, he isn’t talking about devolution of key tax and welfare responsibility and when he says there should be a “legally binding vision of social justice”, what on earth is that? A legally binding vision?! If you don’t see the same vision as me, I’ll sue?
There is, I’m afraid, a weird side to Gordon which acts as a buffer between his words and his audience. He does seem to inhabit a different place from the rest of us, perhaps believing he’s on a superior planet and I question if he’s really recovered from what happened to him and his credibility in Downing Street, the most discredited Westminster Scot in Labour eyes since Ramsay MacDonald. There will be some Scots ready to give a sympathetic hearing to anyone attacking Salmond but perhaps many more who will be reminded of those glowering, hubristic performances when his arrogance burst through and who will remember how he disappeared from sight when the going got tough for Blair. Newsnight had to hunt him down to talk reluctantly about Iraq.
I read Jim Murphy’s appeal that all we need do is change government, not constitution. He wrote that independence was for ever and an election was not and I thought: Exactly, Jim. We will never again have a right wing bunch of public school zealots humiliate our working poor and our disabled. Those days will go and never come back. We will be free of them for ever if we vote Yes. Unless, of course, a Labour government of Scotland continues its Tory-style campaign against universal benefits…
I’m glad to see Stephen Purcell back fully in public life. It’s unedifying to see the relish with which sections of the public pounce and devour a political opponent who is exposed to have weaknesses. I don’t condone anything he admitted to but I do remember a different kind of politician in Glasgow City Chambers with a grasp of what the city might become modeled on European examples and who was happy to work closely with the SNP government in a national project. If he is re-entering politics, let’s give him the second chance we would extend to any political comrade and welcome what in the Sunday Times was one of the best and most radical expositions of Union reform we’ve had from a Labour source, far ahead of anything from the leadership so far. (I’m tempted to add: Just behave yourself from now on)
Incidentally if you want to hear a mad rant from a Nationalist nutter, click here.