Everything But the GARL
The Lunchgate affair has been rumbling along nicely for the past week like a half-digested chicken tikka. Labour must be loving it. If today’s poll is anything to go by the drip-drip of bad news about the minority SNP administration has helped contribute to the salvaging of Labours fortunes after the disastrous leadership of Wendy Alexander.
The shiney-bright sure-footed media-savvy SNP, reminiscent of New Labour’s triumphant early-days now look as tawdry as any Westminster trough-filling, moat-loving waster. Alex Salmond and his deputy Nicola Sturgeon were caught on video flogging corporate schmoozey lunches at Holyrood to Scottish-Asian businessmen. It looked bad and after the expenses scandal probably was stupid, but otherwise, on the scale of scandals was more of a poppadom than the full bhuna. No, the full bhuna is the charging of four Labour MPS with theft and their subsequent attempt to hide behind parliamentary privilege. So why are the Scottish papers crammed with news about the SNP auctioning off a lunch? The two affairs are not even on a similar plane.
What’s at stake is the funding of the Scottish Labour Party, and the closed-loop of Scottish media and political forces are in over-drive to attack the Scottish Government and the Scottish National Party.
What’s also at play in the battle for Glasgow Central is the asian vote. If the nationalists win they can lay claim to a totemic Govanesque urban victory. If Labour win it they can portray the Nats as a party of the regions, without significant Glasgow backing.
Some background may be required as this stuff doesn’t usually get aired through the unionist media filter. Glasgow Central MP Mohammad Sarwar has previously raised £300,000 to the Labour Party. No small change for a party that has haemorrhaged members in the past ten years.
Sarwar – who himself has been investigated for expenses (but then again who hasn’t?) is hoping to pass the seat on to his son with dynastic slight of hand. To win their ultimate goal the SNP needs to win and win big outside their heartlands in the North-East. To win parts of Glasgow you need the vote of the significant numbers of asian Scots, and their business backing helps too. This is the real reason why we’ve been fixated on the fripperies of the lunch auction. That it acts as a neat distraction from Jim Devines suicidal defense case is handy. It’s interesting to note that it’s broadcasters like Channel 4 News who have gone big with Devine, they being immune to the slushy consensus of West coast politicos, hacks and churnalists.
Osama Saeed wrote this week: “That Glasgow Central is within reach of the SNP at this General Election has been devastatingly demonstrated this week.” Labour, Saeed argues are incensed that another political party is doing the glad-handing and money-raising in ‘their patch’, while Labours disastrous foreign policy continue to alienate Muslim and Hindu Scots alike.
All of this has been heaven-sent for Scottish Labour as their feckless leader Iain Gray has been unable to lay a glove on Salmond at First Ministers Questions and as a party they flail around reactively trying to find policy ideas like a drunk man fumbling for his key at the door.
On the SNP’s minimal pricing on alcohol policies – ideas with cross-sectoral backing by the medical profession, the police, social work, academics and health researchers – and bizarrely supported by UK Labour.
In Labour’s desperation they today announced a bizarre a Commission to consider ways of reducing problem drinking. It was an open goal for cross-party collaboration. But Holyrood is infected by partisan politics and this opportunity for working together, in the manner that the smoking legislation – another obviously good thing – received parliamentary support.
The truth is that Scottish Labour has run out of ideas as much as London Labour has. Their website boasts ‘protection for seals’ and ‘slates Mackaskill’ and ‘slams the Tories’. Every opportunity is used to bemoan the cancellation of the GARL (Glasgow airport link). The truth is that there’s a bus link to the airport that gets you there in about 25 minutes for the city centre. The plan is to create a strong sense that the SNP administration is ‘against’ Glasgow. It’s the most powerful weapon in Labour’s otherwise empty arsenal of ideas, decommissioned by twenty years of New Labour conservatism. Red Wendy and friends have a difficult task to achieve, nimbly presenting themselves as the ‘Peoples Party’ whilst simultaneously promoting an agenda of new nuclear, Trident 2, and PFI.
So we have three problems. The parliament, which we once hoped to rise above Westminster style negativity is embroiled in a bitter election campaign that will effectively last two years, crossing Westminster, Holyrood elections and the Referendum. We can expect no cross-party support for self-evidently good and simple policy.
Second, we have a media dominated by a Unionist outlook that is parochial and petty and therefore open to the sort of egregious errors of judgement that this week has seen. The online ‘cyber nats’ may be open to ridicule or hyperbole but at least their allegiances are clear. But the murky waters of Scottish media mean that editorials, ownership and political pressures range from the overt to the discrete to the subconscious self-censoring of decades of cultural subjugation. The Daily Record on the day of Devines denouement instead focused on the tribulations of Rangers defender Marcus Beasley. The same paper recently dropped long-running and popular column by Elaine C Smith because it was moderately positive about the Megrahi decision. The last column she submitted, supporting Kenny McAskill was pulled at the last minute.
Third, in the race to pillory politicians we may contaminate the body politic. In a post-ideological age journalists as much as the rest of us swim in a sea of gossip, celebrity and vacuity. But in isolating Jim Devine, and not the institutions that created him, and by not being able to get a proper measure of ‘Lunchgate’ the media can succeed only in vilifying politicians of all stripes.