DH cropDuncan Hothersall, Editor of Labour Hame, takes a look at the Easter weekend’s big political story and asks what we really now know.


On Friday night – right in the middle of the BBC’s Eurovision’s Greatest Hits, which was unbelievably fantastic, by the way – a big story broke about a Scotland Office memo of a meeting between Nicola Sturgeon and the French Ambassador in which this is the stand-out paragraph:

“The Ambassador also had a truncated meeting with the FM (FM running late after a busy Thursday…). Discussion appears to have focused mainly on the political situation, with the FM stating that she wouldn’t want a formal coalition with Labour; that the SNP would almost certainly have a large number of seats; that she had no idea ‘what kind of mischief’ Alex Salmond would get up to; and confessed that she’d rather see David Cameron remain as PM (and didn’t see Ed Miliband as PM material). I have to admit that I’m not sure that the FM’s tongue would be quite so loose on that kind of thing in a meeting like that, so it might well be a case of something being lost in translation.”

Within hours both Nicola Sturgeon and the French Ambassador, Sylvie Bermann, issued statements flatly denying the central allegation, that Sturgeon had expressed a preference for a Tory government in May.

It’s tempting to say that is all we know for now. But it really isn’t.

In fact we know that a number of SNP strategists do indeed hold the perfectly logical view that a Conservative government in Westminster is helpful to the SNP. It’s helpful to the SNP because it helps the cause of independence as it makes it easier to paint Westminster as out of touch with Scotland. We know this because the respected journalist James Cook has said so, and both Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond have endorsed him as a reliable source.

Indeed, anyone with any political nous knows this. Anyone who lived through the independence referendum knows that the most effective line by far that the SNP could muster was “vote Yes to get rid of the Tories”. Of course they want to keep that line in their armoury. I am, however, inclined to accept Nicola Sturgeon’s assertion that she didn’t say this to the French Ambassador, and I said so on Friday night. She’s simply a smarter politician than that.

We also know that David Cameron and the Conservative Party want the SNP to do well in Scotland, because the more seats they take off Labour here the better the Tories’ chances of returning to government. Again the logic is inescapable to those who are prepared to take an honest look at the political reality, but the evidence is also there: George Osborne openly briefing for Nicola Sturgeon after last week’s debate, and Tory mouthpiece The Sun continually spinning pro-SNP messages north of the border.

But so much for the spin and the briefings. It’s time to look at what we really know about the choice facing Scots in less than 5 weeks.

First we know that, despite what the SNP constantly claim, it is actually the Labour Party which has consistently made the running on progressive policy proposals that can improve people’s lives:

  • Labour committed to restoring the 50p top rate of tax in January 2014, back when the SNP was still trying to butter up the wealthy to broaden the support for independence. The SNP finally announced their support for this Labour policy more than 14 months later – in fact, just a week ago.
  • Labour has committed to applying a mansion tax on properties worth over £2 million across the UK, and redistributing the proceeds in Scotland into increasing funding for the NHS. The SNP don’t support the redistribution of wealth from rich to poor across the UK, so they don’t support this.
  • Labour will end the bedroom tax across the UK, freeing up the £35m a year the Scottish Government is currently spending to mitigate the policy in Scotland, and has pledged to spend the saved money as part of a bid to fight poverty and end the need for foodbanks in Scotland. The SNP aren’t standing across the UK, and don’t care what happens south of Berwick, so they can’t support this.
  • Labour has a carefully considered plan to improve working conditions through ending exploitative zero hours contracts and ensuring those who choose such contracts get far better protection from unscrupulous employers. Labour announced this plan in September 2013. The SNP rushed out a soundbite saying they will abolish zero hours contracts just two weeks ago.

It is clear from the evidence that, contrary to the constant spin from the SNP apparatchiks, it is Labour that is dragging the SNP to the left on policies, not the other way around.

But second, and probably most important of all, every single vote for the SNP gives more credence to their agenda of isolating Scotland from the rest of the UK. And that harms Scots.

The SNP’s policy, now that independence has been democratically rejected, is for so-called “full fiscal autonomy”. This is the notion that, rather than pool and share resources across the UK – like the revenues from the mansion tax, or the North Sea oil tax take – in order to even out the peaks and troughs in income and expenditure, Scotland should share nothing with the rest of the UK. It is nothing more than independence-lite – the same economically disastrous policy which Scotland rejected last year.

And last year, Labour and others were accused of “scaremongering” when we said that the risk of oil revenue drops could leave Scotland with such a massive multi-billion pound deficit that we couldn’t afford to run essential public services. Well, it’s not scaremongering if it’s true.

So let’s cut through the memos and the leaks and the spin.

We need to fight for a Labour victory in May, not because the SNP want a Tory government, and not because the Tories want an SNP win in Scotland, but simply because only through progressive Labour policies can we actually reverse Tory austerity and offer help to the people who need it.

Only Labour or the Tories can form the next UK government. Any seat taken from Labour by the SNP simply helps David Cameron to stay in power. So if we want to end this Tory disaster and get a progressive Labour government led by Ed Miliband, there’s only one vote that makes sense: vote Labour for Scotland.

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36 thoughts on “This is what we know

  1. Duncan I hear what you say and agree with that line of political thought but can I ask you this, on what is perhaps a more serious issue:

    Do you condemn, unequivocally, the leaking of documents to the press by the civil service in order to subvert the political process?

  2. Thanks for that prompt and concise reply Duncan. Can I further ask:

    Do you think the avalanche of tweets by Labour candidates disseminating such a leak was appropriate?

    1. The memo is real. While civil servants should categorically not be leaking to try to subvert democracy, the document once leaked is a valid piece of evidence. It is entirely reasonable for anyone, including Labour candidates, to disseminate the story, which has in fact been vindicated by the release of the memo.

      The questions now focus on why the memo’s contents, which are deemed false by both participants in the recorded conversation, came to be. That is a question I’m sure we’re all keen to have an answer to.

      1. “The memo is real”

        Is it? If so it would have an author and an origin. Do you know who the author is? And if not then what gives you the right to claim its real?

        a piece of paper with writing on it cannot be classified as a memo or a document or an official account if its origins and author are unknown.

        And in this respect the voracity in which labour party members in particular reacted to a second hand published printing of a piece of paper with words written on it was breathtakingly idiotic in the extreme and shows a distinct lack of personal control and political savvy at the very least!

        Even now this 2nd hand publication of a piece of paper with words written on it nobody outside of the Telegraph has actually claimed to have seen is still being given a credibility it doesn’t warrant or deserve.

        You’re still spinning this utterly worthless piece of nonsense for all its worth Duncan after giving yourself a lifeline of credibility with your direct public apology to the FM for your initial unadvised reaction.

        Best to leave it alone until somebody somewhere at the very least gives it an official origin and author.

      2. As a former civil servant myself, I had to sign an official secrets act. The leaking of information under such an act would and could result in serious prosecution. Its actually sort of gone well for people like Duncan who immediately jumped on the band wagon of lies to now have egg on their faces.

        Funnily enough, Julian Assange of Wikileaks leaked countless archives of evidence regarding the legality and barbarism of the Iraqi war but both Labour and Tory would side with the US to put him in jail. Leaks suit you when they suit your agenda and keep their dark acts hidden from the public domain.

        Even if Sturgeonhad said these things, she does not have blood on her hands like anyone passively does who does not condemn Labours Iraqi involvement.

  3. I’m not sure I agree there – think that it’s terrible own goal. Given that Mr Carmichael stated last night that he knew who was responsible we should all hope that the head of the civil service will report without delay.

    What did you think of Mr Carmichael’s comment to channel 4 news yesterday that “these things happen during an election”?

    1. I think he more or less admitted to being responsible for the leak.

      1. But what exactly did he leak? An official Scotland Office memo? An Official Scotland Office account of gossip? Somebodies memoirs? Somebodies doodles?

        What is this piece of paper with words on it and what worth does it have?

      2. If Carmichael is responsible for the leak directly from the Scotland Office why did the Telegraph report the “memo” came from the Foreign Office?

  4. If that turns out to be true it’s going to very damaging for politics.

    Is there not an argument for Labour to come out with a very strong statement asap to condemn, in the strongest terms possible, attempted subversion of an election? Maybe just because it’s the right thing to do?

    I fail to understand why that wasn’t the line taken immediately. There was no need to twitterstorm the memo – did people think it wouldn’t be noticed?

  5. It was greatly to your credit that you were one of the (sadly relatively few) Labour people to correct this after the initial tweet Duncan. We still appear to be waiting for most of the Labour MPs and MSPs who tweeted the original smear with such glee to act so honourably, particularly since they all acted suspiciously quickly, in concert, and using exactly the same words at the time?

    From a personal point of view, #ProjectSmear, the Labour party’s reaction to it, and worst of all Ed Miliband’s bizarre interview about it the following day finally made my mind up; I joined the SNP yesterday. From the twitter reaction to the whole sorry episode, it seems I’m not alone. I may not agree with everything in the SNP platform, but I’m more convinced than ever that only the widely based movement they represent has any chance of delivering progressive policies both to Scotland and the UK more generally.

    As to the “guts” of your article, you assert once again that the inescapable logic of the current situation is that more SNP gains from Labour make a Tory government more likely. Sadly this little nugget becomes no more true for the constant repetition, and is as false in its own way as the constant Labour refrain that the biggest party gets to form the next government “end of story”.

    Electoral arithmetic just doesn’t support your argument. The reason is quite simple: Labour can only win an absolute majority by winning more seats in England. Even if the SNP won no seats at all in Scotland, it still wouldn’t deliver a Labour majority. Your own Westminster MPs know they are doomed and are now apparently referred to as the walking dead.

    The reason Scots have abandoned the Labour party in droves (and continue to do so it seems) is that they do not believe your argument that the current Labour party would drag the SNP to the left. They have by and large accepted the SNPs argument that only a large bloc of SNP MPs at Westminster will keep Labour honest, serve Scotland’s interests more directly, and have the chance to see truly progressive policies enacted. We just don’t accept that a purely Labour administration would do this, still less a Labour/LD or (God forbid!) a Lab/Tory coalition or other “agreement”.

    The Tories CAN’T form the next government if the SNP hold the balance of power; it simply won’t happen. Labour CAN form a government, but only if they respond positively to the SNP. A Labour vote in England makes sense; we need more English Labour MPs. You’ve already lost the argument in Scotland, so continuing to make it, just loader and more insistently just makes you look like the tories preaching at the Scots in the 80’s that we were all the victims of false consciousness and would come around to their way of thinking and accept the Poll Tax if only rammed it down our throats hard enough.

    They were wrong then. You are wrong now.

    1. Andy, The SNP are following Labour’s lead on tax increases, playing catch-up on zero-hour contracts, and failing to follow Labour’s pledges on the mansion tax and a whole range of other progressive, economically left-wing policies.

      How does electing more MPs from the party that is behind the curve on progressive policies, ensure that more progressive policies get enacted?

      The answer is, it doesn’t.

      1. Would Labour be pursuing all of these policies if it weren’t for the pressure they’re under in Scotland Duncan?

        For instance, was Jim Murphy a supporter of free tuition a few months ago?

        1. Scottish Labour’s policy on free tuition hasn’t changed since we INTRODUCED THE POLICY.

          It is entirely typical of the SNP to pretend it was their idea – like they do with personal care.

          Labour has been the driver of progressive policy in Scotland, not the SNP.

          1. Labour didn’t introduce free tuition, they cut tuition fees by 50% (from £1100 per year to £2000-ish for the four years) and that only because the Lib Dems made it a condition of the coalition deal.

          2. Labour introduced free tuition. There have been no tuition fees in Scotland since 2000. You’re allowed your own opinion but you’re not allowed your own facts.

          3. you did scrap the £1k a year tuition fee in Scotland (that UK labour introduced the year before we should say!), but you then added the graduate tax for graduates earning over 10k as opposed to the 25k mentioned in the Cubie Report

            Its this kind of comment that doesnt help Scottish Labour’s cause IMO

            Makes you sound sneaky

          4. Forgive me Duncan, but David Blunkett introduced tuition fees in 1998. When Labour the Liberal Democrats formed the first Scottish Government it was the Lib Dems that made tuition fees ‘non-negotiable’ if they were to form a coalition government – it was in direct opposition to a Labour policy which was introduced the previous year! http://www.theguardian.com/education/2000/jan/28/tuitionfees.highereducation

            I don’t think you are entitled to your own facts neither Duncan. I think we should give credit to the Lib Dems when it’s due (or not if anyone is against it – I guess ‘Boo Lib Dems!’ I that case!) But that’s more than enough praising of the Lib Dems for one day.

      2. Cherry picking a few progressive policies that Labour have signed up for isn’t that convincing when your set it off, as most potential voters surely will, against Labour’s past record, how likely we think you are to enact these if you get into power, and the fact that in most other regards your party is basically signed up to broadly the same austerity policies as the Coalition, just not quite as fast or quite as deep.

        Evidence seems to show the Scottish people don’t trust your party to deliver, and that many people in England don’t either given the positive reaction to Nicola’s performance in the leader’s debate.

        1. Our past record is the introduction of the minimum wage, the Scottish Parliament, LGBT equality, lifting millions out of poverty, doubling investment in the NHS, building more schools and hospitals than any government since the war, and presiding over a decade of economic growth before the global banking crash happened.

          And folk only think that Labour is signed up to the same austerity policies as the Tories because SNP supporters continue to lie about it.

          1. What Labour has done in the past isn’t the issue though Duncan is it? Laudable as many of these things were and are, they must of course be offset against other more questionable policies and failures. Constitutional change they could control was an “easy sell”, particularly as it was specifically designed as Lord Robertson said to…what was it again…kill nationalism stone dead? How’s that working out for you by the way? Even that has to be offset against abject failure to reform the house of Lords, the electoral system, and increase devolution to other parts of the UK.

            Lifting people out of poverty is great. Nobody can REALLY argue with such a “motherhood and apple pie” statement, can they? And yet, 1 in 4 children still live in poverty and almost 1 million people depend on food banks. I, and many others, don’t trust that the progressive instincts of some within the Labour party will be translated into policy.

            The past 5 years have been bad enough, but the 13 before that don’t fill us with confidence that a minority Labour government, still less one dependant on LD or other non-SNP support, would be qualitatively different either from the Coalition or the deeply regressive New Labour administrations of Blair and Brown.

            I don’t think Labour and the Tories are the same, or that their policies are identical; they just aren’t different enough, and the instincts and core beliefs of many of the leadership give me no confidence that they will deliver without a truly progressive block of SNP MPs to keep them honest.

            You can insist all you like that Labour austerity policies aren’t the same, or aren’t as bad, but they are still bad, and they are still a choice. The difference is one of degree, not substance.

          2. The fact that Labour instituted the biggest redistribution of wealth from rich to poor since WW2 and thereby lifted millions of pensioners and children out of poverty is not a “motherhood and apple pie” statement, Andy. It is something of which we should ALL be proud. That you cannot bring yourself to acknowledge the massive achievement it was says more about you than Labour.

  6. I’ll say it again since my previous comment seems to have “disappeared” –


    1. Difficult to believe such a comment might have been moderated out.

  7. I too was quite impressed by your quick response when it was realized the memo was lie but since I’m now reading you basing an entire story on the premise that memo (allegedly) espoused I’m a bit, well, meh.

    Anyway, you state above that the SNP are “playing catch-up on zero-hour contracts”. Really? I’m pretty sure I remember Tony Blair saying a decade ago that Labour would be fixing that soon as. What have you all been doing in that time. Also, why are zero hours contracts always prefixed by “exploitative”? Who decides what is and what isn’t exploitative?

    Oh! One more thing. What’s your view on Labour activists actively canvassing for the Tories in Perth?


    1. Labour’s policy on zero hour contracts is set out here: http://www.labour.org.uk/issues/detail/zero-hours-contracts

      If you take a read you’ll see how it defines exploitative and is a carefully designed, rounded set of policies to reduce exploitation both by improving the chances of a normal contract and improving the working conditions of those who choose zero hours.

      I oppose any Labour members campaigning for anyone other than the Labour Party. I am, however, all in favour of tactical voting for Labour. 🙂

  8. Out of interest, why do Labour have a long standing electoral agreement with Irish Nationalists in Northern Ireland but the idea of such an alliance at Westminster with Scottish Nationalists is so repellent?

    For many years Labour have agreed to not stand candidates in Northern Ireland to help the SDLP win votes and seats, in return the SDLP unofficially take the Labour whip in Westminster. This policy has been debated and agreed at Labour’s NEC.

    You claim “every single vote for the SNP gives more credence to their agenda of isolating Scotland from the rest of the UK. And that harms Scots.”

    But the SDLP also want to ‘isolate’ (in your words) Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK because their stated policy is the reunification of Ireland. So what’s the difference?

    1. Scotland isn’t Northern Ireland, is the short answer to your question. Nor do I hope it ever will be. Nor should anyone else hope to make it so.

      1. I think the peace process achieved in Northern Ireland under the last government was one of Tony Blair and Mo Mowlam’s greatest achievements. You don’t seem proud of the great progress made, in fact you seem rather negative about it.

        Why should Northern Ireland under the peace process be treated any differently to Scotland? Is it not part of the ‘UK family of nations’?

        Ed Miliband recently described the SDLP as a ‘sister party’ which suggests kinship, family etc.

        So why have close ties with Irish nationalists but not Scottish nationalists?

  9. Surely the point is not whether the memo is genuine or not – I think most regard it as something dodgy that was written to be leaked – but whether it would be politically possible for the SNP to cut a deal of some kind with the Tories? In other words, no matter what Sturgeon’s private views may be, as a politician she and her party cannot side with the Cameroonians.

    Yesterday I wandered into the Leith SNP campaign shop and was given a rather nice badge that had the SNP logo on it, along with the words: “End Tory Rule.” Now it could be that this is just tosh, with the aim of duping people into voting for a party that secretly wants to do a deal with the Tories, or it could be genuine SNP policy.

    My feeling is the latter.

    1. I think you missed the point here. I’m not suggesting the SNP want to do a deal with the Tories. I’m suggesting they want to have a big bad Tory government in Westminster in order to foster grudge and grievance against it.

  10. “I am, however, all in favour of tactical voting for Labour”

    Is that not against the Labour party charter? to vote for other parties even if it helps and supports Labour?

    1. You need to read more carefully, “Mike”. I said I support tactical VOTING FOR LABOUR. I do not support voting for other parties.

  11. like some others, I thought, “good on you!”, when I read that you had admitted being duped and had the good grace to withdraw your remarks….. But on reading your blog and this article particularly, I am less impressed….. Why? Well, it seems you place an inordinate amount of trust in newspapers (do you really or is that just your get-out clause?) that the moment they publish something, it must be true and you are therefore justified in repeating it, even knowing that it was third or fourth hand hearsay and opinion, rather than a factual account. I don’t believe for one moment you are as naive as you suggest….. The truth is that the source, attribution and unconfirmed nature of the alleged remarks was simply too good an opportunity to miss out on and THAT is what justified the remarks….. Had the temperature of public opinion risen in the opposite direction, against Sturgeon, I doubt very much that the withdrawal of your ill-timed remarks would have been forthcoming……. As voters, I think we would have had more respect for the integrity of yourself and other politicians and commentators, if you had followed it up with…..”and because of that, we will not offer any further comment, until the civil service investigation has reported”….. Not a hope!!
    Of course, in Scotland we are more aware than most, that truth is never allowed to get in the way of a good story, especially if it’s from Labour attacking the SNP…… I wonder how many new members were driven to the ranks of the SNP by yet another cack-handed master-stroke of political ineptitude…… Wake up Labour…. You are doing the SNP’s work for them!!!!. Any hope of offering even a credible opposition at Holyrood in 2016, is fast disappearing down the WC….

  12. The best outcome in the election, obviously, from a Scottish perspective, is that Labour do reasonably well down south and the SNP dominates in Scotland. Labour obviously don’t want to be hamstrung by a dependency on the SNP and would rather ignore and disregard the needs of Scotland as they have done for almost 100 years; for this reason they came up with the slogan ‘vote SNP and end up with Tories’ but it isn’t logical.

    The suggestion that the SNP wants the Tories to win is counter-logical and will not stand up to serious scrutiny. I’m quite happy to see labour press this stupid argument, better this than an argument that holds water, but it’s the worst kind of spin and to sustain it they are backing it up with lies and the usual media support.

    Because the Tories want the SNP to trounce Labout up here, and they obviously do since it weakens their overall position, it doesn’t follow that the SNP support the Tories. That said, I will admit as a life-long labour voter that it probably would give me some satisfaction to see the Labour Party trounced up and down the UK but that’s my heart rather than my head talking.

    Here’s the problem with labour. They lost credibility up here and elsewhere when they jettisoned their left wing soul. Now they want to deceive us into thinking they still have a soul but we all known — after Iraq — that it cannot be so.

    Now, as if all that isn’t bad enough, they use the most satanistic tactics to discredit their political enemies in an attempt to convince us all that they still have a soul. There’s an obvious paradox in using evil means to convince the electorate that they are not evil, a paradox that seems lost on everybody except those who have a vested interest in the Labour Party, and to be honest it is clearly making the position of labour worse, not better, but that is the strategy. It’s doomed to fail.

    I regard all Scottish labour party MPs and representatives as evil doers now. I’m ashamed and embarrassed to remember that I once voted them. Similarly, I regard most of the media in the same light — they share the agenda which is to subvert and undermine Scottish democracy.

    This isn’t trivial stuff. Not when one in five children in Scotland are in poverty. Not when we have those horrid nuclear weapons on our doorstep. Not when unemployment and hopelessness run so high across th country. I could go on and on.

    And you, Mr Hothersall, a mouthpiece for the evil doers, claim to have some pride in Labour’s record up here, suggesting that the SNP are trying to steal it. Let me assure you, there’s nothing there to be proud of and nothing worth stealing. You should be ashamed.

    If there’s one thing you should be proud of it’s that we are civilised people — when we look back at the truth of what you, the Scottish media, and the Labour Party have done towards subverting our lives, and some day we will, you will be glad that we are so civilised.

    I despise everything you stand for. May God have mercy on your soul.

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