As Jimmy Reid famously said, he didn’t leave the Labour Party – the Labour Party left him. This is a week where that statement echoed down the years.
Last week we poked fun at Ed Miliband’s content-free delivery in Inverness. To be fair Johann Lamont’s speech (‘Putting fairness and honesty back in politics’ ) was much better. In an instant I knew more about Lamont than I do about Salmond.
‘I grew up in Anderston with my heart in Tiree’ is a great line. The truth is that when carefully scripted, Lamont can deliver well, but off the cuff, thinking on her own two feet, in political exchange, she’s pretty hopeless. The truth is that her party remains bitterly untogether over her incoherent plans for income tax to be devolved.
The speech was clever, if hackneyed. But there’s some real fundamental problems with it. Like Ed’s it seems short on any real policy commitment. But there’s also a real problem in Labour’s effort to ‘go for Salmond’. The first is of course that even though they hate him with undisguised zeal he retains approval ratings the other leaders couldn’t dream of.
As IPSOS MORI reported last year: “Despite setbacks, the First Minister commands higher levels of satisfaction than any party leader in Holyrood or Westminster and a look at Ipsos-MORI data from the 1970s onwards shows that even his reduced ratings in recent polls make him the envy of most political leaders.
Our August 2011 poll, conducted with the SNP still basking in the glory of its unprecedented election victory, showed 62% of Scots satisfied with the job the First Minister was doing. Put in context this is only surpassed in any meaningful way by the early days of the New Labour government when Blair enjoyed approval ratings of up to 75% among British voters in late 1997 and in 1998. When you consider that Salmond has been in power since 2007, his approval ratings are still high when compared with those of any Prime Minister after the same length of time in office.
There are two other noteworthy aspects of Salmond’s ratings. First, his personal approval rating far outweighs support for independence. Second, his rating is high among that vital group in the electorate, those who support greater powers for the Scottish Parliament but who oppose independence.”
Scottish Labour seem consumed by their hatred of Salmond and the SNP (there were 22 mentions of the SNP in Lamont’s speech and Salmond was name-checked 13 times), so much that it blinds them to the reality that this hatred isn’t, like so many benefits, universal.
Lamont and Labour seem obsessed with the SNP and all over the place in terms of lining up ‘Labour values’ (the main thrust of Johann’s speech) with the simple reality of them being swiftly abandoned. Here’s Mary Lockhart – a member of the Labour Party for over 30 years – describing the epiphany of shifting from No to Yes as a result of Labour’s ongoing betrayals (‘Socialism will work better in an independent Scotland’):
On 19 March 2013, 40 Labour MPs voted against retrospective legislation to overturn the outcome of a court of appeal judgment and ensure the government would not be forced to pay £130 million in benefit rebates to about a quarter of a million jobseekers. The remaining 218 obeyed the party whip, and abstained. That night, I tossed and turned, and slept fitfully. I remembered the Drumchapel school children hauled off to Dungavel in the grey dawn from the only home they knew, in a devolved Scotland, with a Labour administration at Holyrood, and under a Labour government at Westminster.
I remembered the trades union legislation which Margaret Thatcher introduced, and which Labour failed to repeal, which keeps workers divided. I pondered a Labour Party which had failed to highlight the bedroom tax at earlier stages of the Welfare Reform Bill, a Labour government which had pledged to renew a redundant nuclear deterrent. And I went to sleep wondering if the Labour Party socialism by which part of my identity is defined was beyond redemption.
On the 20 March, I awoke with a sense of hope, and with new resolve. A resolve to vote Yes in the referendum for Scottish independence. It won’t deliver Utopia. But it will deliver the chance for socialists to help shape a Scotland which reflects the identity of its people.
As Robin McAlpine of the Reid Foundation said: “If Scottish Labour was a prisoner it would be on suicide watch. If it was a dog, you’d put one of those cones on its head to stop it worrying its wounds.”