“Traitor” is a word that’s highly emotive and confrontational, and implies a deliberate and malicious act against a group’s interest: the reality is that one can easily be duped into committing treason of some sort, even when they think they’re doing good. It’s no surprise “traitor” has become a dirty word, because why wouldn’t it be? Any nation or government is threatened by any action against the state, so treason is inflated into a mortal sin, greater and more heinous than any crime. We saw during the referendum that civil servants put aside impartiality, for the integrity of the United Kingdom was at stake. So it’s natural that “traitor” is used as an insult, a slur, a defamation against political opponents – and don’t let it be said that it’s purely pro-independence Scots who are tarred with the word.
Speaking of the news, I had a skim over the latest Private Eye. I noticed Dave McEwan Hill got a letter published rightly chastising Eye for calling many of the SNP MPs “Braveheart dreamers, useless time-servers and local authority drongos” in the previous issue. So naturally, instead of sucking it up and acknowledging they were being a tad insulting in calling SNP MPs naive idealists, worthless wastes of time, or political no-hopers – you know, like grown ups – they put Dave’s letter in a column headed “Even more thin-skinned than UKIPPers…” The irony of petulantly acknowledging criticism with a passive-aggressive title like that while calling someone else “thin skinned” seems lost on them.
I guess Private Eye feels it’s allowed to say whatever they like about whoever they like with impunity, because they’re a satirical magazine. But if you say it’s unfair for them to characterise elected officials as naieve, useless or drongos, then you’re being unreasonable.
This wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t have “Auld McSparky” (the “cute” Scotchified handle of Old Sparky whenever he talks about Scottish energy – would he call himself “Ord Spalki” when talking about Chinese energy issues, or “Mohammed Al-Sparkeh” for Pakistan?) perpetuating the old “Scotland is heavily subsidised by the UK” myth and the newer “oil price is 1/10th what Alex Salmond predicted” misconception – though at this point, calling them “myth” and “misconception” rather than “slur” and “flat out lie” is probably being overly generous.
Again I feel the need to point out how much I appreciate Private Eye, even if I can’t bring myself to buy it anymore. It started off with a belter about the Chancellor’s RBS sell-off, and just about everything that doesn’t regard Scotland is usually top-notch, so far as I could see. The problem is that Private Eye is not operating in a vaccuum: the SNP are constantly attacked from all corners of the media, from the press to television, from all the Westminster parties, from big business and beyond. They’re not saying anything new, or unique, or ground-breaking: they’re just another wasp buzzing around nipping at the SNP, and too often, that spills over into anti-Scottishness.
Again, this is not because I believe the SNP and Scots are synonymous, or even the SNP and the independence movement – it’s because criticisms of the SNP too often throw Scots under the bus in their desire to get at Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon. Hence they couldn’t resist calling Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh a “Scot on the make,” Old Sparky gives himself a shortbread tin makeover when spouting nonsense about Scotland’s energy, and all the jokey stuff in the back can’t help but make comparisons to Braveheart or Trainspotting or Brigadoon or whatever piece of Pop Scotch comes to mind. And when this comes within memory of some of the most outrageous statements, accusations and editorials, it isn’t a case of having a thin skin – it’s a case of being fed up with the nonsense we’ve put up with for too long.
We’re getting along fine without Private Eye in Scotland: we have our own champions taking the media, government and business world to account. But England and Wales needs them more than ever: they owe it to themselves to better themselves.
The constituency was represented by Francis Pym – yes, a Conservative, but not always a supporter of his Prime Minister – who once said, “Landslides do not on the whole produce effective government.” So our Prime Minister can rest assured of an effective and smooth five years. And it was the home of Oliver Cromwell, who defeated the Scots at Dunbar, incorporated Scotland into his protectorate and transported the Scots as slaves to the colonies. Now, there is an answer to the West Lothian question – but not one, of course, that I would recommend.
The Conservatives were never known for their sensitivity, but Lucy Frazer’s contribution today was remarkable even by their standards.
I wasn’t planning on doing a lot of reading up navel-gazing commentators wondering on how New Labour lost the election. Anyone following the election campaign would have scores of evidence. But The Guardian has an absolutely fascinating account based on what those higher up in the party felt went wrong. It’s mind-bending just how clueless the people who are supposed to be the Brains of the Second Party of Britain are – for they still don’t get it.
More significantly, the rush from Scotland to the conference meant that the party put very little thought into how to re-engage with defeated independence supporters. “It was an astonishing collective failure,” another of Miliband’s closest advisers said. “We never foresaw how much we would get the blame for the defeat.”
Seriously? You never foresaw how much you’d get the blame? Seriously?
You had Gordon Brown do party political broadcasts every day in the final week. You had Alistair Darling debating with Alex Salmond – twice. You had Jim Murphy going about a magical mystery tour of a hundred Scottish towns. With the Tories and Neo Lib Dems toxic in Scotland over the coalition, it was only New Labour politicians who could provide the pro-Union cause. And then in the days after it, we see that all Brown’s and Darling’s and Lamont’s promises of powers and federalism and home rule came to naught.
New Labour were the face of the No Campaign. And you say you didn’t see this rejection from Yes-voting Labour voters coming? Then again, you did hire John McTernan…
At its heart are the twin forces that would prove to be the party’s undoing: the profound doubts about Labour’s instincts on the economy and the surge of nationalism in Labour’s onetime Scottish heartlands.
Now, a lot of people are criticising New Labour blaming the SNP for losing the election for them, and on the surface, I can see why. It shows characteristic abdication of responsibility to lay all their woes at the skull-treading feet of the Nationalist Hordes. But the thing is, maybe it’s true. Maybe the SNP did lose the election for New Labour – not because the SNP actively sabotaged them, but because New Labour were so weak, so wan, so milquetoast that the Conservatives had to scaremonger about the influence of a party that wasn’t even contesting seats outside Scotland on the election rather than worry themselves overmuch about New Labour actually getting into power.
Both the Tories and New Labour made the election all about the SNP – and in the process, they just made the SNP look all the more powerful. That the Tories did it is natural, but for New Labour is spectacularly clueless. If a party which only fields 59 candidates every 5 years can have such a profound effect on one that fields over 600, then doesn’t that make the 59 candidate party look more competent, effective and powerful than the 600+ candidate party that’s so scared of it?
Labour’s focus groups were still finding that Tory attacks on Miliband’s leadership had not had the intended effect. But in mid-April, the Conservatives finally found a charge that stuck: the threat of the SNP. With the polls unanimously pointing to a hung parliament, the SNP provided a more vivid way to play on fears about Miliband’s leadership and Labour’s economic record. “If the polls had reflected reality, it would have been a totally different campaign,” one of Miliband’s close advisers said. “The agenda would have been about a second Tory term” – and what that might mean for the NHS, Europe, tax credits and Scotland. Instead, it turned into a referendum on the risks of a minority Labour government. This had long been Douglas Alexander’s worst fear.
And if New Labour’s ideas reflected reality, maybe they would have won.
But New Labour still miss the point: they still concede that the Tories are right in several regards. By rejecting a deal with the SNP, that cements the idea in the minds of voters that the SNP are a party to be feared, a party that you shouldn’t do deals with. It’s perhaps natural they would take that route – after all, they’re fighting seats in Scotland, so to suggest that a deal could be made would be all but throwing their Scottish seats away if people got the impression they could just vote SNP and get a New Labour government anyway. Yet in trying to save those Scottish seats from the dreadful SNP, New Labour just legitimised the Tories’ line that the SNP were a dangerous force in Britain – and in that case, why should marginal seats vote New Labour?
Miliband had first ruled out a coalition with the SNP on 16 March, but it was not until 26 April that he also ruled out a confidence and supply agreement between the two parties. Even then, the question refused to go away. Shadow ministers were being asked whether there would be implicit understandings between the two parties, or whether they would even speak to SNP MPs in the corridors of Westminster. The party’s focus groups also showed that voters did not believe Miliband’s denials, since they did not think he would ever spurn the chance to be prime minister.
See what I mean? The Tories set the agenda of the SNP being bad, and New Labour just went with it. Why are they letting the Tories dictate political reality?
Yet this passage, above all else, shows the depths to which New Labour had sunk:
Labour was so desperate that on 22 April, Lucy Powell, the campaign chair, wrote to the BBC’s director of news, James Harding, to complain about the broadcaster’s coverage. In an email obtained by the Guardian, she alleged:
“Your bulletins and output have become disproportionately focused on the SNP and Tory claims that Labour would enter into a deal which would damage the rest of the UK … We strongly object not only to the scale of your coverage but also the apparent abandonment of any basic news values, with so much reporting now becoming extremely repetitive.
“The BBC’s relentless focus on Scotland is potentially of huge political benefit not only to the SNP but also to the Conservative party. Indeed, it is becoming apparent that this has become the main Tory message in this election and you have regularly shown images from their posters and advertising designed to reinforce this attack. But the BBC has a responsibility not only to reflect what the Conservatives are saying but also to reflect on it.
“For instance, if the BBC has ever asked David Cameron and his colleagues why they are spending most of the energy talking up the SNP, I have missed it … The BBC includes growing amounts of commentary in its news bulletins. But you have barely ever reflected our view – and that of many commentators from across the political spectrum – that the Conservatives want the SNP to win seats from Labour in Scotland because that represents their best chance of remaining in Downing Street.”
“The BBC’s relentless focus on Scotland.” That’s the party of the people, who until 2015 relied upon Scotland to deliver 40+ seats. That’s the party started in Scotland. That’s Keir Hardie’s party. Attacking a public broadcaster’s relentless focus on Scotland.
Another aide explained why the Campbell speech was axed: “The rival view was that our vulnerability on English nationalism was really very severe and anything that sounded like we were defending the Scots would be music to the Tories’ ears, and just make the problem worse. So the two arguments cancelled each other out.”
“Anything that sounded we were defending the Scots would be music to the Tories’ ears.” Never mind the Scots being valued and equal partners in the United Kingdom. Never mind the UK Parliament representing all parts of the UK. Never mind just fighting an entire referendum on convincing the Scots to stay in the UK. The SNP are the Scottish government. They are popular: people in Scotland like them. Nicola Sturgeon is the only party leader in the campaign with a positive net approval rating. And you’re treating them as if they’re as bad as the Tories, to the point where you will not even countenance a deal with them, for fear that you’ll get Tory voters’ hackles up.
And people wonder why we want independence.
On 30 April, Miliband went even further in attempting to distance Labour from the SNP. On BBC Question Time that evening, he stated that if a deal with the SNP was what stood between him and Downing Street, “then so be it. I’m not going to give in to SNP demands – whether that is on Trident or on the deficit.” But by then it was surely too late.
See what I mean? They’re still conceding the Tories are right about the SNP, and people are not going to believe that New Labour will stand up to them. They’re treating the SNP as if they’re the Tartan Tories, yet they’re completely oblivious to the fact that the SNP are actively challenging things that New Labour and the Tories agree on: austerity, Trident, welfare, immigration, and so forth.
The next media setback came three days later, on the final weekend before the election. That Sunday, in a car park in Hastings, Miliband unveiled an 8ft 6in slab of limestone, into which had been carved Labour’s six election pledges. The mockery was so intense that the location of the “Ed Stone” became the subject of frenzied media speculation after the election. “The only reason it got through 10 planning meetings was because we were all distracted, looking for a way to punch through on the SNP,” one adviser said.
God almighty, they’re even blaming the Ed Stone on the SNP. Is there no beginning to their sense of responsibility?
New Labour were practically an afterthought to the Conservatives. The SNP were the real danger here – and the Conservatives knew it.
Miliband’s aides say that, looking back, he blames the Labour defeat on the SNP, and the failure of the campaign to inspire hope among certain key voting blocs – known, in the argot of pollsters, as Mosaic groups G and H: middle-class families with small children, and young couples trying to settle down.
There you go.
New Labour lost because they were weak. They never stood up against the Conservatives’ distortion of the financial crisis. Instead of rejecting the Tories’ welfare reforms, they engaged in a game of one-upmanship over who’d be toughest on benefits. Instead of exposing the Tories’ worst excesses and failures, they let them off the hook. Instead of debunking the Cult of Austerity, they meekly agreed that Austerity was inevitable, they’d just fiddle about with the details. Instead of fighting the Tories on immigration, they conceded that it was a problem, just in terms of degree. Instead of challenging the Tories on SNP influence, they echoed the Tories’ line on not working on a party that aimed to “break up Britain.” Everywhere they turned, they found themselves agreeing with the Tories.
And that is why the Tories could sell the idea that New Labour were weak. Because they were weak. If you cannot rely on the opposition to oppose the government, then what good are they?
In the first Prime Minister’s Questions following the election, the SNP leader Angus Robertson’s first question was not about further powers for Scotland, nor about the Barnett Formula, or Scottish funding HS2 and London sewers – but about the Mediterranean refugee crisis. In the absence of New Labour, someone has to hold the Conservatives to account. None of the frontrunners for leadership show anything like they’ve learned a thing. New Labour may as well just make it official and let the SNP do their job for them.
“… former members of the International Marxist Group, a bus load of town councillors, party apparatchiks, fading TV presenters and welfare rights officers. But among the Braveheart dreamers, useless time-servers and local authority drongos arriving in Westminster are some seriously ambitious Scots on the make.”
So spaketh Private Eye in the latest issue in regards to Team 56, after a predictable sang on Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh which should fit right in with their interminable “Salmond Loves Murdoch” gong-bashing. I’ve gotten past my initial anger at Private Eye after the Wakefield scandal and the growing disillusionment as it seemed clear they were toeing the Establishment line in regards to the referendum almost by default: now, all I can do is laugh, for as with Wakefield, poor old Eye are very much on the wrong side of history here.
So here’s the Speaker of the House chastising those rascals in the SNP for showing disrespect for Parliament by applauding their Westminster leader Angus Robertson:
I’m sure your point would have been more potent if you had shown similar laldy on those other occasions where such “disrespect” was shown in the House. Perhaps we can forgive you being caught up in the emotion earlier this year, where you were roundly applauded by MPs after successfully seeing off William Hague’s petty coup:
But what about this from two months ago, where Conservative MP Charles Walker was soundly applauded by New Labour MPs?
Still, perhaps previous speakers were more stringent?
That MPs abide by pointless and ancient customs with no practical or logical purpose is one thing, but I’d at least hope for some consistency.
One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.
– Martin Luther King
It’s clear to me that the Tories are treating the SNP like the foxes they so desperately want to see torn to shreds, and have formulated a dangerous trap: abandon the principle of voting only on legislation that impacts Scotland in the interests of cross-border left solidarity, or abstain from a vote in the knowledge that 56 votes could prevent a grave injustice?
It’s an insidious snare the Tories have placed in front of the SNP. The First Minister is on record as citing fox-hunting as one of the issues the SNP would not normally vote on, and the arguments in favour of SNP voting on the issue are sadly tenuous at best: from zoological (fox populations in Scotland will be affected by migratory patterns) to political (what if a Northumberland hunt happens to stray over the border?) And even if all 56 SNP MPs vote to keep the ban, it is no guarantee that it will be enough – if, say, the DUP, UKIP and a few others choose to back the Tories, and a few rebel New Labour, then even Team 56 might not be enough.
But the way I see it, not only would the SNP voting in a successful motion fail to save English & Welsh foxes in the long term, there is a possibility which seems frighteningly likely to me – that it could serve as an excuse and precedent to erode Holyrood’s powers on a wider scale.