Increasingly, I am coming to believe that what Scottish Labour needs is not a review but a political Gok Wan, someone to take a long hard look at what you do, how you present yourselves and help you to strip away the tired habits that have come to dominate how you engage politically.
Because not even the most devastating election result in decades – the worst since 1931 remember? – seems enough to persuade your elected representatives to ditch the old and get some new garb. How else to explain the current focus on the Scottish Government’s media contacts and alleged involvement in Honours nominations? Now this is the nice piece on recent activity – for a much more critical analysis feel free to visit the companion piece over at Better Nation, and read if you dare. Its theme involves cans and worms.
But back to the need to bring in Gok Wan. Despite lots of earnest and honest soul-searching immediately after the rout in May, and acknowledgement that some painful adjustments would have to be made, it seems that lessons are still not being learned. It’s understandable: we all have clothes that have seen better days but their familiarity and comfiness, means we still dare to wear them, even when our nearest and dearest roll their eyes in disgust.
One of the constants in Scottish Labour’s approach to opposition at Holyrood between 2007 and 2011 was the almost pathological need to oppose. No issue, no policy was too big nor small to invite righteous indignation and contortions from your benches as you tried to find ever more ingenious ways to oppose what the SNP Government put forward. In fact, at one point I think your MSPs managed to vote against your own amendment and certainly, decided to abstain on a measure that you had successfully amended. It might have made sense to you, but it did not make sense to the voters. They expect better from Holyrood, it’s what they were promised out of devolution, remember?
Also, in May, you may recall that one of the key dividing lines between the SNP and your good selves was hope versus fear, positivity versus negativity. It was a bit of a blunt description that was not totally accurate but presentationally, the SNP sold it successfully. The electorate bought it in their droves.
So what have you spent the last couple of weeks doing? Being relentlessly negative. No issue too big nor small to have you frothing at the mouth, braying for blood, with a bored and restless media – eager to while away the hours of recess – all too happy to give you airtime and column inches. They like stirring it up and you are only too happy to oblige. Hence, the need to stick it to the First Minister and his government over their supposedly too cosy relationship with News International. And to try to create a stushie over Brian Souter’s knighthood.
Allow me at this point to declare an interest. As a political junkie, I like these bare knuckle fights in the political boxing ring as much as you do. And occasional visitors to my ain blog might have noticed that I am not overly keen on sycophantic behaviour nor anything that allows cosy elites to flourish either. I am an anti-establishment disestablishmentarian.
But do not mistake the excitement of the chattering classes for a real issue that bothers voters. One of your best lines in recent years has been that independence and Scotland’s constitutional future is not exactly the talk of the steamie. Well, neither is whether Alex Salmond had too many lunches with Murdoch envoys nor whether it was he, some other politician, or a cabal of civil servants that decided Souter was worth a knighthood. Funnily enough, people have other things on their mind right now. Like their jobs. Or how they will manage through the winter with rocketing fuel prices and frozen wages. Or what the recent madness in the stock markets means for their pensions and savings.
Make no mistake, folks’ brows are furrowed but it ain’t over what you think it is. And I can’t help thinking that you know this too but because you have been doing it so often and for so long, it is impossible to resist sniping for sniping’s sake. These kind of forays into the fray are easy hits but too often they are missing the target. You have retreated into the kind of behaviour that got you into the electoral mire in the first place; it’s like buying only black clothes because they looked good on you once, a long time ago, but they are a safe choice.
Nope, you definitely need a Gok Wan in your lives to issue a little shock treatment. To encourage you to take a long hard look at yourselves, to uncover why you disguise your political origins and instincts in such dowdy and unattractive policy clothes, to persuade you to clear out your wardrobe and get some new ones, more suited to your heritage and Scotland’s political future.
You need a Gok Wan to teach you how to love yourselves and the political body you have. And yep, go naked on the electoral catwalk too.