Graeme Downie, Scottish Labour’s candidate for West Fife and Coastal Villages in May’s local election, compares the values exposed by the last two years of Tory and SNP government to those by which the Labour Party seeks to serve.
“Adversity does not build character, it reveals it” said the novelist James Lane Allen, and this applies about as clearly to the years of Covid political decision making as it does to any time of the past. It is therefore worth reflecting on what government responses over the past two years tell us about the character, and indeed values, of Scotland’s two ruling parties, the Tories and the SNP, and their leaders, Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon. They must be considered in the same breath because these two parties and people, for good or bad, are the ones that have led us to where we now are.
What was revealed about their instincts, their first reaction to the problem? Back in March 2020 we had the Prime Minister putting his fingers in his ears and pretending nothing was happening; missing COBRA meetings, rejecting a furlough scheme until the last minute, playing it all down, reverting to a mythical “Battle of Britain” spirit that somehow could shoot down Covid like Heinkel and Messerschmitt.
His and his party’s instincts were clear. A party, in more ways than one, that wants to say “No”. We saw it time and time again over the past two years, “No, we aren’t going to extend furlough”, “No, there won’t be another lockdown”, “No, Christmas won’t be affected.” You could hear the echoes of Margaret Thatcher, “No. No. No.”
And the other government that led us here, the SNP and its First Minister? It could be argued their first reaction was even worse. The first chance they had to reveal their character and values was the outbreak of Covid at a major Nike conference in Edinburgh. Their reaction? They didn’t just bury their heads in the sand, they actively sought to hide it! We can’t have this here first, this is a London thing at the moment. Always looking to create constitutional mileage out of every crisis.
I guess their secrecy was effectively implemented at least, taking months until the public knew anything about it, but when we did it immediately showed the First Minister’s “honest conversation” schtick as the sham it is.
The true values of the SNP that have been exposed over the past two years is perhaps best summed up by a small green character from popular culture. No, not that one! The one who disappointingly muttered, “Always with you, it cannot be done.” Yoda may as well have been speaking to the First Minister rather than Luke Skywalker. I believe Nicola Sturgeon is fundamentally a good person but in the last two years she has shown herself as the person who says “Yes” a lot, but delivers little and always blames someone else for the stark shortcomings of her government.
Her instincts and values lead her to know what she should do and what people want her to do, but then cynicism takes over and we see a half-baked intervention that sounds good but is overshadowed by blame and grievance. The party that wants to say yes … but doesn’t.
Now let’s contrast both of these responses with the last time the Labour Party was in charge during a crisis: the banking crash of 2007/08. Instead of pretending it wasn’t happening, Gordon Brown and his Chancellor, Alastair Darling, worked to build an international coalition, the type of which had rarely been seen before and hasn’t been seen since. After long hours, detailed work and hard negotiation a solution was found.
Was that solution perfect? Absolutely not. Should the industry and individuals responsible been punished and conditions attached to their bailout? Of course they should. But a solution to that crisis meant wages were still paid, ATMs still worked and there was still cash to buy food. In that case, the Labour Party’s response showed its true values. Our first duty is to protect those most in need, so just bloody get it done!
That crisis also showed another value: that helping those most in need should be done regardless of the political or electoral cost. In 2008 the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and many others would have known that by intervening and saving banks they were binding themselves to the bad guys in the public mind and would be punished by the electorate, as indeed they were. But still, the values were clear. Help the people who need it first and damn the politics. That is courageous leadership.
Compare and contrast the Labour values that were exposed in a crisis with the last two years of the Tories and SNP. Boris Johnson pretends a crisis isn’t happening, Nicola Sturgeon makes excuses for inaction. Only the Labour Party’s first instinct is to roll up its sleeves and do what is necessary to help those in need.