Gerry Hassan and Iain Macwhirter, two of Scotland’s best political writers, here is my challenge to you:
You got what you wanted. The complete annihilation of the Scottish Labour party. I know, I know, they only have themselves to blame. And I know, I know, you never actually said you wanted complete annihilation. But thats what’s happened. So lets scan the landscape.
Labour has not been in power at Westminster for 5 years and lets face it, its unlikely to happen again for a long time. They have not been in power at Holyrood for 7 years and lets face it, its unlikely to happen again for a very long time. And barring two notable local exceptions, they have not been a force in local government in Scotland since Labour introduced PR for local government in 2004. And lets face it, that one’s shot the craw.
So Labour are finished. For a generation at least.
My view is that, Scottish Labour have a good record. Personally, I am most proud of free early years education, civil partnerships, our modern police force, transformation of further education, biggest school building programme ever, free bus passes for over 60s, free central heating, big reductions in child and pensioner poverty and trebling Scottish public spending. And, although it was by stealth, none the less, they raised taxes which were invested back into public services.
And we all know these are worth celebrating as the SNP often claim credit for them and they have been swept to power.
Labour at Westminster have an even better record, I can write you a list if you really want? But lets leave it, otherwise I will never get to my point. Lets just say, I presume you except the minimum wage, the Scottish Parliament and trebling of the Scottish budget is a good thing.
So, what happens now?
My worry is, beyond a general plan to take power, and a general vision thang about ‘team Scotland’ they don’t really have much of a plan. Except, maybe to crush labour, be competent and run things. Which is not really a plan. Not a plan to change lives.
So ask yourself this. With Labour gone whose going to push for those big reforms and hold the SNP to account. Surely you don’t want them to falter now. And this is my point. When Labour swept to power in 1997 I did not worry about the Tories. I thought great, lets get campaigning for that minimum wage we were promised.
This is now the new Scotland. Its the one you wanted. Democracy is, according to you, thriving. Scotland has at last found its voice. Don’t give up on the big idea now.
My problem is I have not seen either of you (and in fairness not many of your colleagues) use your considerable journalistic skills to consistently tackle the big issues in our small country. Not in the same way you’ve tended bore on about Labour.
(I have gone through your last 15 columns and cant find any examples. Although, I apologise if I have not delved deep enough into your back catalogue.)
Even this week, Gerry was on twitter asking ‘where have the defeated Labour MPs all gone?’ In truth Gerry, that’s not a hard question. I would hazard a guess that they were taking a few weeks off after a gruelling election campaign, losing their jobs and making their staff redundant. And your resulting article, “Is there a future for Scottish Labour?” Hmm, we are still not improving lives with this, are we?
And Iain, your column this week, “Scottish Labour should change its name”. Sorry, I just can’t muster up the enthusiasm to comment.
The only way I can think of putting it is to say: Hey! Your country needs you!
Here are a few things that might be worthy of investigation by your undoubted journalistic skills, that could make a real contribution to Scotland and the people who live here.
Scotland has the worst widening access to Higher Education in the UK. Higher Education in Scotland is protected by the Scottish middle classes for the Scottish middle classes. Just ask yourself how can Tory England do better than us at this. Especially being that ‘free education’ was meant to do the opposite. What has happened?
Scottish local government has been strangled for 7 years. There has been over 40,000 Job losses across Scottish local government. And disabled people, low income families, and pensioners are seeing costs rise for local services. All so the middle class benefit from a council tax freeze. This is hardly the Keynesian, anti-austerity programme we were promised. I thought we were upping our public spending. Are you really going to let them off with it?
Further Education is where working class kids go to find a better future; where women return to education to lift themselves and their children from poverty and where industry gets its skilled workforce. But it’s in crisis. 80,000 fewer women attend. Largely because it has suffered horrendous cuts to pay for the middle class to go to free university and so they can pay less in local tax. Ask yourself this, what has happened to Wendy Alexander’s ideal of lifelong learning?
The SNP’s cowardly defence of the Tory policy of ‘1000 extra police officers’ is an unmitigated disaster. They protect police officers while demanding £1.1bn cuts to the police budgets by 2021. That’s pretending they are not cutting law and order when in fact they are, simply to save their own jobs over the jobs of ordinary civilian police staff. Who is asking that tough question?
What about our care sector which delivers that Scottish triumph of egalitarianism, free personal care (a Labour reform by the way). It is a disgrace that it’s delivered by an army of women paid under the minimum wage. The charity sector are the worst offenders. (Those Scottish middle classes again). But who in Scotland is investigating that?
And of course, what about that promised oil boom? You know, I know, and Sturgeon knows that full fiscal autonomy would be an unmitigated disaster for Scotland. It would make the council tax freeze look like a progressive, Krugmanesque policy. The price of oil has almost halved. Halved! Surely this is why they would have us believe that independence could be done and dusted in 18 months and full fiscal autonomy would take 4 years. Does it really not matter when a political party proposes a policy that could jeopardise 30,000 public sector jobs, or could bring £7bn cuts in public spending, and need exceptionally high tax rises? Surely thats worth a bit of journalistic effort?
Why do SNP policies benefit the Scottish middle class? They always seem to take more or pay less. Might there be a link between this and the access the Scottish middle class get to the Scottish machinery of government?
And one final question. What is the role of the middle class writer in all this? The one who focuses on the weak opposition not the mighty government. Who cleverly justifies middle class welfarism. Is there a link between their access to government, the middle class welfarism from which they benefit, and what they write?
Does that question not need to be asked too?
Labour Hame would be delighted to publish responses from Gerry and Iain should they be willing to offer them. firstname.lastname@example.org