Bambi Saves the Union

Tony Blair’s considerable political skills have been put to great use since he resigned as Prime Minister. Since then he’s been busy bringing peace to the Middle East, now he’s going to save the Union. Yesterday Alistair Darling confirmed that he will play a major part in the No to Independence campaign. As the plans for the Scottish independence campaign shape up ahead of launch on Friday, many in the Yes camp see Blair’s arrival on the scene as a gift from the gods.

The suggestion that Blair should have a role in this campaign could only be made with any seriousness by a Labour Party leadership who have no real idea about what happened five years ago or how New Labour is regarded in Scotland. It reeks of a party leadership still deep in denial about the economic, cultural and military shadow that hangs over Labours record in office, and Blair’s stature in Scotland. And yet it makes sense. This is the man who, more than any, tried to recreate a fuzzy sense of Britishness, post-Diana, all touchy-feely and shorn of any of the harsh realities about his foreign misadventures and his assault on civil liberties.

This may be a ‘call to arms’ in Darling’s words, but it’s not his iconic status as warmonger-in-chief [http://presstv.com/detail/2012/05/21/242296/tony-blair-warmonger-speech/] that is the real albatross around Blair’s neck. Blair’s five ‘wars’, beginning with the air strikes in Iraq (1998) through the Kosovo war (1999), and then on to the dispatch of British troops to Sierra Leone (2000) and the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) may have included an unprecedented breaches of international law, but there are more compelling reasons why his contribution may hasten the end of the UK. Uppermost of these is his personal sense of importance and the well-recorded fact that he was against devolution itself. He has no political capital in Scotland. But more than that, his great inability to comprehend Scottish politics is a fatal disability.

In what has to be described as a giant understatement he wrote himself: “I was never a passionate devolutionist.” Continuing in typically confusing rhetoric he has stated: “It is a dangerous game to play. You can never be sure where nationalist sentiment ends and separatist sentiment begins.” What the No campaign needs more than anything is someone quintessentially Scottish, not someone who feels deeply uncertain about the place, the people and his own relationship. In Blair’s self-hagiography ‘A Journey’ he writes: “I was born in Scotland, my parents were raised there, we had lived there, I had been to school there, yet somehow they contrived to make me feel alien.” The ‘they’ in that sentence is revealing. Whilst Jeremy Paxman raged about the ‘Scottish Raj’ and cited Blair as one of this McMafia, few in Scotland recognised Blair as even Scottish at all.

As Nicholas Watt wrote after the SNP landslide last year: “Scotland is already detaching itself from the rest of the UK. One of the strongest examples of the parting of the ways was the role the UK Labour party played in this year’s Scottish election: none.” Now, all that’s changed. The coalition parties know it would be a disaster for them to lead the No campaign, as the Lib Dem meltdown at the local election has just shown, so they have to rely on Labour. Yet in Blair they have a politician who like George Robertson saw devolution as a means of killing nationalism, little more. These people can’t make a positive case for the union because they see home rule as a self-defence mechanism.

Then there is the wider issue is about Blair’s own enduring legacy and how this is perceived. Blair created a political persona based on openness and honesty, ‘I’m a pretty straight kinda guy’. But his political life ended with him deeply associated with cronyism and corruption.

Nor can remnant Blair acolytes point to Blair’s ‘reform agenda’ as an enduring legacy in Scotland for Blair to touch on as a unique (and elusive) ‘positive case for the Union’. As that rare breed, a Scottish Tory writer Alan Cochrane put it: “The saddest aspect of the Blair relationship with Scotland and Scottish Labour, was that it ignored the Blairite reforms on schools and hospitals.” Sad indeed, but true. Cochrane glosses over why that would be the case. The reality is that the New Labour values found little resonance in Scotland, and it would be conceivable to fight the No campaign on the back of a progressive reform government. Fighting it on the behalf of the Quad and the Bullingdon Club is a different matter.

So Labour under Johann Lamont’s competent but uninspiring leadership are caught with a unique balancing act: on one hand they can define themselves as Not New Labour and circle the wagons by carving out a defendable west coast niche, on the other they need to make alliances with the Tories to defend the Union and put forward Tony Blair as spokesman for Cool Britannia. These two approaches are very difficult to reconcile with any public credibility.

Not that Labour doesn’t have aces up it’s sleeve to play in Scotland. Devolution, minimum wage, tax credits – all good – but not from Blair. Instead he’s associated with landmark policies and actions such as PFI, Iraq, “modernisation” of public services, infringement of civil liberties, pandering to Daily Mail/Sun and as a cheerleader for a bankrupt model of globalisation. In 1999 Linda Colley briefed 10 Downing Street (‘Britishness in the Twenty-First Century’) arguing that: “Instead of being so mesmerised by debates over British identity, it would be far more productive to concentrate on renovating British citizenship, and in convincing all of the inhabitants of these islands that they are equal and valued citizens irrespective of whatever identity they may individually select to prioritise.” The problem is no-one really believes that any more.

Blair is responsible for all of this, and as such is the best possible to lead the disfigured Labour Party out of the mess of it’s own creation. What was once impregnable, deeply certain, now seems afected by the same precarity as the rest of us.

As Tom Nairn writes in After Britain (Granta, 2000): ‘The Constitution of old England-Britain once stood like a mighty dam, preserving its subjects from such a fate; nowadays, leaking on all sides, it merely guides them to the appropriate slope or exit. Blairism has reformed just enough to destabilise everything, and to make a reconsolidation of the once-sacred earth of British Sovereignty impossible. As if panicked by this realisation, his government has then begun to run round in circles groaning that enough is enough, and that well must now be left alone. The trouble is that everything is now broken – at least in the sense of being questioned, uncertain, a bit ridiculous, lacking in conviction, up for grabs, floundering, demoralised and worried about the future.’

The reality is that Darling, Kennedy and Blair are yesterday’s men, indelibly tainted by yesterday’s failures. You can almost feel the hand of history on Tony’s shoulder once again.

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  1. lupusincomitatus says:

    Yes, educated in Scotland.

    Fettes was it?

    The SNP must be wondering if there are more “stars” to come into alignment?

    Alastair Darling and Tony Blair.

    What a dream team

    1. lupusincomitatus says:

      Now if we can only encourage Gordon Brown to make up the half back line?

  2. Now let me see this in daylight: the Fleet Street Mafia, belittled Darling Blair and Brown,now they hope to resurrect them convince everybody in Scotland that they are now wise and great leaders? So did they lie the first time or this time? The English establishment called them hopeless useless, and the worst politicians ever! Now suddenly they are to become the saviours of the UK, if there is sense there then I must be too stupid to see it.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Yes, that seems to be the idea. Actually the media fawned over Blair for years, then savaged Brown.

  3. JPJ2 says:

    ” few in Scotland recognised Blair as even Scottish at all”

    No wonder, given that Blair himself declared (notwithstanding his Edinburgh birthplace and his Govan granny) that he regarded himself as English.

    It might be a very poor show by Gordon Brown to Have described himself as “North British”, and to laud as his favourite goal Gascoigne’s against Scotland in Euro 96, but to deny any affinity to Scotland as Blair did must undermine him totally in the context of the referendum 🙂

  4. ewanmc says:

    George Galloway is on Scotland Tonight later, perhaps he might be asked as to whether he would share a platform with Blair in the defence of the Union and British militarism.

  5. David Moynagh says:

    Tories are despised in Scotland and Blair destroyed the true labour party so much that he turned it into another tory party. Scotland will consider him repulsive and whatever he natters will be mocked as one would lagh at at ventriloquist’s dummy. He is gone and should stay that way.

  6. Bill Cruickshank says:

    An excellent article which neatly sums up the task facing the unionists. The killer blow for me is the description of Darling, Kennedy and Blair being “yesterday’s men”. The YES camp must exploit this fatal flaw in the unionist argument. As Scotland looks to the future it should be reminded at every opportunity of the failures of the past.

  7. John Souter says:

    To be blunt, Blair has no credibility other than that which is awarded him by the propagandists in the MSM.

    Which of course makes him the ideal candidate to head an argument which is devoid of substantive purpose or logic other than to maintain the status of a system spiralling headlong towards failure.

    Scotland’s choice is not between independence or Westminster but rejuvenation or the slough of despair.

  8. Tom Donald says:

    Delightful! We’ve really got a chance this time..
    I never thought I’d be glad to hear that Blair was getting involved with Scottish politics…

  9. lupusincomitatus says:

    There is some chatter on t’internet that Blair is a shoe in to take of Van Rumpoy’s Presidency of the EU, as was the original plan, in order to bring about the political integration of the EU.

  10. Blair Liddell says:

    Will Johann and pals quietly ditch the anti-Rupe rhetoric now that Tony’s back in town?
    And ewan mc; that would probably be the best double act since Punch and Judy

  11. James Morton says:

    Tony “honest guy” Blair – warmonger and after dinner speaker. Alistair Darling Monobrowed architect of giving tax payers money to banks for nothing. Annabel “Aunty” Goldie – popular but not with voters…and some bloke who used to run the liberals…erm what was his name again…hang on….its on the tip of my tongue.

    Out to save a Union near you!

    You couldn’t make it up – I waiting for some Tory wassock to insist that Thatcher be involved as well.

  12. FrankyBoy says:

    Where’s Helen Liddel? Can’t she help Blair out? We want Helen Liddel as well!

  13. pmcrek says:

    Ha Blair, who is next?

    And now pleading the case for the union, please welcome in the studio, Darth Vader, The Woman Who Put A Cat In A Bin and Heather Mills.

    Although to be honest, I might vote for Darth. capital spending on a new Death Star might just be the ticket to save the economy.

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