A challenge to Gerry Hassan and Iain Macwhirter

danny phillipsDanny Phillips, a Labour member in Glasgow South, issues a challenge to two of Scotland’s leading political writers.


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. info@labourhame.com

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43 thoughts on “A challenge to Gerry Hassan and Iain Macwhirter

  1. Fine feisty piece Danny. Would be good to see responses, especially re tertiary edication. We can all swap slogans all day long – indeed ‘until the rocks melt in the sun’ – but the comarison with England re students from poor backgrounds tells its own story.

  2. I’m sure the Herald wouldn’t mind you reproducing my column here. If you read past the headline you might find that it offers some suggestions about how Labour can move on from this defeat by reaching back to the social democratic traditions of the Independent Labour Party. Remaining an undifferentiated branch of UK Labour is likely to lead to Pasokification. http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/columnists/iain-macwhirter-scottish-labour-should-change-their-name-to-the-ilp-to-make-any-m.126420332

    1. Iain, I’m surprised and sort of disappointed that you even responded to this ‘toss the toys from the pram’ nonsense.

      I too would be interested to know what the likes of Tom Harris are now doing with themselves though. Of course, I mean from a human interest perspective. Maybe he could start one of those Ben Hur / Dog Walking businesses…

    2. Yes Iain, but the question you are really being asked is WHY ARE YOU NOT WRITING ABOUT SOMETHING RELEVANT!!!!!

      My son sits in a primary class of 33 children and one teacher. We used to live in an African country. There the State schools had a limit of 24 children to one teacher. So a Third World country thought that 33 – 9 children were the most a teacher could be asked to cope with. Where is your article about classroom sizes/missing teachers/poor numeracy rates/confused examination situations

      1. My 8 year also sits in a class of 33 with one teacher. Her 17 year old brother had no more than 25 at that stage, with an additional teaching assistant. Why are these journos not taking the SNP to task?

      2. Yes exactly. We can blah blah about what social democracy is till the Aberdeen Anguses come home, but more important to ask why education is failing in Scotland at every level – and why Nicola Sturgeon could only respond to Kezia Dugdale’s questions with a cheap and irrelevant gibe.

        Our political journalists could help by asking the right questions – why for example, is Jordanhill, basiaclly an Englsh style independent, the best performing state school in Scotland? Parental involvement and class are part of the anwer of course, but how can we make more schools work like this?

    3. My father was the Scottish Chair of the Independant Labour Party and, I recall, used to regularly travel down to Leeds for National Executive meetings of the ILP. He hated Nationalism in any form and I’m just glad he’s not around today to witness the present political state of his beloved country. If I had the faintest idea of what Pasokification was, I might reply to that too. All I know is that working with his English comrades for the common UK good, enriched his personal and political life.

      1. Excellent Jess. Was it not the case that when the ILP Red Clydesiders went down to Westminster, the crowd sang “Jerusalem”, Blake’s hymn of the British radical movement, rather than any Scottish nationalist anthem?

    4. Iain, you really could have done with a little more research into the ILP.

      You might have then realised that it was formed in Bradford, and that the consistently most right-wing section of it (in relative terms of course) was in Scotland.
      I can only presume you looked at the word ‘Independent’ and got a bit carried away.

  3. Lauding the school building programme when it was done via PFI just about sums up modern Labour.

    Time for Lab to crawl into a hole and reinvent themselves as something relevant and worthwhile – neither of which they are at the moment.

    1. Stu,
      Can you name me a school built by the SNP that hasnt been built using a form of PFI?

      Just one will do.

        1. How so? The whole article is asking why Labour are being held to account but the Scottish Government are not. Your answer is to abuse Labour’s record of school building on the basis of the funding model. You are then shown that the Scottish Govt funding model is the same (more of that one rule for Labour, another for SNP thing). And you fail to see that your response is exactly the problem! What Labour did in the past is not necessarily what Labour will do in the future on a range of issues. But as we never get any analysis of what the SNP are doing RIGHT NOW it makes it difficult to critique and hold them accountable.

        2. You attacked Labour for building schools using PFI. I asked you to name a school the SNP have built without PFI. How on earth is that “whataboutery”?

        1. £21m!

          To put that in context…

          Labour in Glasgow is spending £250m in capital to refurbish or rebuild its entire primary school estate 2012-2017, no PFI, all conventional borrowing (and very little additionality at all from the SFT, the Scotgov PFI which is delivering SFA).

        2. How much of that £21m is coming from Central Government, and how much via Scottish Futures Trust, the Scottish Government’s vehicle for channelling private money into infrastructure?

          Are these schools being built by the HubCos – the PFI delivery and management companies which charge every bit as much as the PFI contractors used to do – for the reason being they ARE the old PFI contractors?

  4. Sorry Danny but the days of the Labour Party dictating what journalists write in Scotland is drawing to a close. You still have the Daily Record for that purpose.

    And have you read MacWhirter’s book? He was in no way anti-Labour; and to my mind still isn’t. Not at least until Labour agreed with the Tories that they would try and sabotage an independent Scotland by not allowing us to use our currency. Labour were going to put it in their manifesto. A policy designed to screw you and every other Scottish Labour member and their families should Scotland have the audacity to vote YES. Along with border guards.

    MacW and Hassan’s reporting on the current demise of Labour and considering where they are headed is hardly anti-Labour – it is simply the political story of the moment. A huge one at that. It is happening in every paper in England, particularly so in the Guardian.

    This article is a howl at the moon with all the pre-election tropes in place. Basically Labour history great, SNP bad. And very few in Scotland are listening. Glasgow South was the largest YES area in SCOTLAND. I live there with you. We were represented by Tom Harris who was exactly the sort of talentless deadbeat that Scotland had to put up with for decades. He did have a personal cause all the same: parents with a dead child to get an extra week off work to grieve. Coz he cares, see? He also distributed literature begging Tory and Lib Dem voters to vote for him. I don’t know if it worked but it did persuade my card carrying Scottish Green neighbour to (this once) desert the reasonable Green candidate Alistair Whitelaw and vote SNP. He also commented that when Harris’s hub opened in Cathcart Road was the first time that he had seen Harris’s face in the three years he had lived in the area.

    One last point. You write:

    “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?”

    This is beyond parody from a party who begged and threatened Scotland to stay in the UK run by Westminster with their free & egalitarian press.
    Have you seen the candidates Labour are putting up for leader? Imagine if Umunna had not been caught calling the general populace trash or Tristram had sought nominations earlier? Middle class next to these good old Oxbridge boys and gals is like a refugee to a GP.

    Please go away for the a couple of months, take your members with you and relax and reflect. This flailing about in a temper shouting at the bad people in the SNP and the idiot voters is unedifying and self-defeating.

    1. First. Well done Labour Hame for publishing Davie’s comment.
      Second. Danny, Labour in Scotland are where they are because they have been rejected by Scotland. Gerry and Ian are not to blame, they are trying (I believe honestly) to examine why this has happened.
      My opinion, for what its worth: Danny and his fellow Labour supporters have to decide, British or Scottish?

  5. Wages of the lowest paid have stagnated for years, at the same time the cost of keeping a roof over your head & feeding your family has skyrocketed.
    An every growing number of working poor need foodbanks to prevent them & their weans from starving to death because they don’t have enough money to pay the bills.
    Yet you would like to add to their burden & push them even further into debt by increasing their council tax bills.

    1. No one is suggesting those on low incomes pay more council tax! But how about those who can afford it and who sit in the affluent areas pay their share to help fund public services ?

      1. That’s exactly what you’re suggesting, even with the low pay council tax reduction any increase in council tax means the working poor have to pay proportionally more, money that they just don’t have

      2. Council tax takes no account of income. It’s entirely predicated on Band. I am on a low income and I’d be totally stuffed if they raised it.

  6. That’s the written equivalent of eating six cream crackers at once.

  7. An excellent piece Danny that nicely illustrates the middle-class priorities of the SNP.

  8. I am not sure what Iain MacWhirter means by “Pasokification”.

    PASOK was essentially a party created by and in the image of a single charismatic politician (Andreas Papandreou) which stumbled on after his passing in the hands of his acolytes and his son.

    Its policies were notably to re-establish a strong national identity (especially in the context of its larger neighbour), to establish economic growth on the back of increased indebtedness, and finally to enter an asymmetrical Currency Union which stripped the country of macro-economic autonomy or even influence.

    Any resemblance to the SNP and a post-indy Scotland is not confined only to both countries having a blue and white flag.

  9. Iain the point of Danny’s piece was that you are all great at critiquing ( unto death) the Labour Party … but the party which is actually Governing Scotland – well not so much.

    And ehh while you are recommending your latest column…just what are “Scottish” about “pacifist, socialist and anti-imperialist principles”? ( I’m sure Gandhi and Fenner Brockway amongst others would love to know). Especially when espoused by a political party which operated UK wide after being founded in Bradford.

    1. Let’s assume you are correct in your assertion that Iain and Gerry have an SNP bias in their reporting.

      Honest question: do you think that it is at least balanced out in the rest of the media by papers/reporters/tv stations with an anti-SNP position?

  10. *sigh* Labour has been out of power for half a decade and is vanishingly unlikely to regain it and pretends that it is the fault of journalists because there are two in Scotland who haven’t slavishly promoted them. And of course Labour can’t rebuild by actually looking at why this is so and working to improve it. Oh, no.

    It is not the responsibility of journalists to cover the issues that Mr. Phillip picks out. Instead it is the responsibility of the Labour party to do at least a nearly decent job as an opposition instead of the laughingstock it currently is. Then it might to turn itself once again into a party that people even MIGHT consider trusting with their vote.

    1. Spot on JR.

      If Labour are to become relevant again they need a time of serious self reflection – blaming everyone apart from their appalling leaders and strategists is helping nobody.

      Scotland need an effective opposition – the laughably amateurish Dugdale is not the leader of such.

    2. No that is not the point here. The Scottish press needs to ask questions about the so called progressive policies of the SNP. The education system is failing our children down to their policies – plain and simple.

  11. Great article and valid critique of Hassan and Macwhirter.These guys used to expouse a radical,progressive Scotland – ‘succulent lamb’ comes to mind.Time to start asking the difficult questions as Danny suggests

    1. Hilarious. You are seriously suggesting there’s a “succulent lamb” culture in the Scottish mainstream media in terms of how they treat the SNP? That’s what you’re saying? Seriously, you’re really saying that? please clarify.

      Not often I come on here and find myself in tears laughing…

  12. Good post. We must ensure the snp take responsibility for their record. We must support them where our aims align, but also hold them to account when the fail.

  13. Hello, I don’t normally comment on blogs (some of the replies on here are the reason why) but I couldn’t resist commenting on an article criticising the likes of MacWhirter. First of all, can I say that I agree with most of the criticism of the Labour Party from those inside and outside the party. We have been poorly led and have made many poor decisions over the last few years. To those who say that Labour party members ‘don’t get it’, I can tell you most of us do. However, what I don’t get is why those disillusioned with the party feel that the SNP should now be the recipients of their support. I can understand why the Scottish Greens and Scottish Socialists would be. This leads into the criticism of those so called ‘social democrats’ in the Scottish media. If the SNP was subject to the same scrutiny that the Labour Party has been in their articles then they would have been exposed for what they are.

    One example which is particularly relevant to me as a social worker is the council tax freeze. This freeze has resulted real term cuts in social work funding. This has had a huge impact on the people living in the poorest communities, those struggling with disabilities and poor health. It is a regressive policy. The SNP should have been crucified in the media for this but apart from some token references to it they have got away with it. However, I will accept that Labour have been particularly poor at challenging it also.

    To finish off, I would like to say those in the media like MacWhirter who question what the Labour Party are doing for the poorest in our communities what exactly are you doing for them. You sit there in your cosy little middle class journalist world completely out of touch with the lives of many in Scotland. You constantly undermine the morale of people working in the health service, education and social work in your reporting (the ‘award winning’ Reporting Scotland seem to relish the knocking the NHS) without effectively challenging the real reason for many problems in these areas i.e. Scottish Government policy. The cynic in me would say that those in the media and arts who support the SNP are doing it out of self interest i.e. it is good for their careers.

  14. This article is an exercise in whataboutery, and besides, what makes you think the annihilation of Scottish Labour is complete?

  15. Incisive and effective analysis in your blog of the questions that need to be asked by our political commentariat. That our government in Hollyrood rule us unchallenged and their rhetoric is so often placidly accepted by them is deeply worrying for the future of our country. It’s irrelevant to the need for scrutiny of our government’s behaviour whether Labour is alive, dead or in a coma. The need for independent media voices has never been greater, however on the evidence of the last few years it’s unlikely to be found in the current high profile individuals mentioned in your challenge. Labour may need a new generation of activists to lead on repairing and rebuilding the party, I think the same is probably true of our media class if we want to stop the slide towards a SNP mouthpiece culture in Scotland.

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