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Red White and Blue Labour

It’s great news that Labour have discovered social media, and devolution. Whatever next, are these guys playing Sigue Sigue Sputnik on their Walkmans? Though if this Daily Record editorial is anything to go by I’m not sure if Kirk Torrance (@KirkJTorrance) and Stephen Noon (@stephennoon) will be quakeing in their boots:

“Local party branches should be geared towards the independence referendum and Holyrood election – as even Westminster MP Murphy now recognises. It’s also high time to address some of Labour’s glaring failures of recent years. Some – like the need to use social media for campaigning – are easy to fix. Even cash-strapped Scottish Labour can afford a smartphone.” Quite.

The use of @LABOURSCOTLAND may have wound Scottish Labour up at the last election but the lack of gumption was there for all to see. A declaration of faith in social media without a deeper understanding of purpose will be fruitless for the disconsolate People’s Party. If you believe in Twitter, but don’t believe in Scotland, nobody’s going to listen.

Writing on, LabourHame, Ann McKechin, Shadow Scottish Secretary (so we’re told) said: “In 1999, we devolved power in our country and set in place a Scottish parliament with massive power and massive potential. But we forgot to devolve our party.”

That was indeed forgetful.

Each of the three candidates suggested so far, has a fateful achilles heel. Tom Harris, MP for Glasgow South and ‘one of the Scottish party’s most active backbenchers’; Johann Lamont, an MSP, former justice minister and current deputy leader at Holyrood; and Ken Macintosh, a former EBC producer and Holyrood education spokesman.

Harris is hopelessly wedded to the party’s right and no amount of Tweeting about Doctor Who will really alter that when he actually comes under a modicum of media scrutiny out of the Westminster / new media bubble. Johann Lamont is praised for having ‘trade union’ support yet suffers a media style that makes Iain Gray look talismanic. Ken Macintosh is competent but has little to say and so shallow a hinterland he will be dispatched however much spin and resurrection is contrived. What does it tell us that he’s been an MSP since 1999 but has held no ministerial post? These candidates, plus massive internal ructions and dispute will mean little change of success for Labour in Scotland without a more deep-rooted awakening of self-confidence and purpose. It’s precisely the sort of re-awakening they fear among the populace, and herein lies the trouble. All of the language and logic they are using will conspire to contradict them.

But having wrapped themselves in the shroud of the Union Jack it’s going to be very difficult for Labour to resurrect it’s Scottish credibility. When asked what his favourite footballing moment was in 2006 Gordon Brown declared it to be, not an obscure but homely Raith Rovers classic, or (predictable but undeniably safe) Archie Gemmill, or perhaps McFadden in Paris – but this.

Football matters less than the thousands killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can hear Tony Blair (presumably fresh from great success as Peace Maker in the Middle East) spluttering excuses about civilian death count here. But the memory of Gordon’s golden footballing moment is a problem for Labour. Having strived to resuscitate a dying sense of Britishness how can Scottish Labour now contrive to reappear all Saltire-tastic imbued with new found confidence for a project (devolution) which few of their senior figures have little taste for?

As Tom Nairn put it: “Brown was not of course elected, parachuted from On High, or installed by an indignant mob: over many years he materialized in fits and starts, glimpsed intermittently like a ghost from times past, brooding but saying almost nothing. Then suddenly the spirit was there, seated all too comfortably in the Anglo-Brit living room, account-books and Britannic sermons to hand. The armchair’s previous occupant had left for Jerusalem. Such is death in life.”

Just as Brown materialised in fits and starts out of the glaur, Scottish Labour seems to be appearing like some sort of political miasma drifting forth but without any real substance. Gray announced he would resign immediately after the SNP won its overall majority at Holyrood in May, but the new Labour leader will not be in place until 17 December. If Brown was the Undead of British Zombie politics Scottish Labour are the Unborn.

Even the staunchly unionist Ian Jack in the Guardian struggles to find inspiration: ‘Meanwhile, the arguments for unionism have declined to a bromide (“We are stronger together,” as Alistair Darling said this week)”. As Labour in Scotland struggle with a Groundhog Day of recurring re-launch another poll indicates that people in Scotland are coming to accept independence as inevitable.

Blue Labour

The argument that the Labour Party had a wellspring of fresh thinking was espoused by those circling around the (supposedly) communitarian agenda of ‘Blue Labour’ thinker Maurice Glasman. Hi one-man-think-tank seemed to shudder to a halt last month when Labour MP Jon Cruddas and Middlesex University academic Jonathan Rutherford both informed Lord Glasman they no longer wish to be associated with the project following an interview given by the controversial peer in which he expressed a belief that immigration to the UK should be completely halted.

Asked by the Daily Telegraph’s Mary Riddell whether he would support a total ban on immigration, even if just for a temporary period, Lord Glasman replied, “Yes. We have to draw the line.”

In response to a further question on whether he supported Welfare Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith’s call for British jobs for British workers, he responded, “Completely.”

The Telegraph profile was the latest in a series of increasingly eccentric interviews and public appearances given by the Labour Peer, in which he has attacked David Miliband, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Neil Kinnock, and claimed his agenda is influenced by Aristotle, Miles Davis, Aldo Moro, Lionel Messi and the Pope.

The project seems to have come unstuck as it veered towards a regressive agenda earlier, arguing for Labour to adopt a programme of conservative values centred on “flag, faith and family”. Indeed Glasman’s colleague Jonathan Rutherford talks of the need for ‘Individual self control, hard work and willingness to delay or forego reward and gratification provided social glue and the purposefulness of a national, imperial destiny!’ See Soundings.

Rule Brittania.

The closure of the Blue Labour project has been accused by some of being anti-intellectualism, it’s not it’s anti-incoherence. But Glasman’s analysis in areas beyond immigration had some limited merit. In describing the inadequacy of the Labour leadership battle he wrote:

“There has been no account of how Labour failed to realise Tony Blair’s promises of stakeholding, democratic decentralisation and solidarity – all lost in managerialism, marketing and militarism. No reckoning, either, with the stale, European, social democracy that Gordon Brown inhabited, sucking the life out of the Labour tradition.”

There’s little to disagree with there, and he was correct to point out that:

“The Blair/Brown psychodrama was the environment within which both David Miliband and Ed Miliband developed as political leaders. Leadership of the “progressive” left is the mantle they both claim from their father, Ralph, a Marxist academic. Neither has succeeded, so far, in articulating a Labour position that could transform the party and the country. What began as a family argument within the Labour Party has turned into a political argument in one particular family.”

This inability of Labour to move beyond ‘managerialism, marketing and militarism’ is the twin catastrophe for Scottish Labour wedded to a failed constitutional structure and increasingly defeding the indefensible elite crumbling structures.

A recent glossy feature had Glasman ‘the iconoclast’ interviewed outside the House of Lords, the institution the Labour Party failed to reform for ten long years despite manifesto commitment, whopping majority and acres of popular support. Here, smoking roll-ups on the balcony (or so the feature told us), Labour’s one-man thinker reeled off hours of ideas trailing off down the Thames. The problem was not to engage the brain but to do so in isolation.

Like most think-tankery Glasman was sent out into the wilderness and to come back with an idea from a party that didn’t have one. Such is the loss and disorientation of Labour and the origin of it’s demise, rootless, feckless and in many senses utterly useless.

Black and Blue Labour

It’s hard to know why Labour are so quiet about the deluge of allegations about misconduct, brutality and assault that British military are awash with. Surely, Ed Miliband would want to use this opportunity to emphasise the clean break he’s made with the Blair regime, how he’s shed the whole Iraq fiasco and can move on?

Why so coy?

Obviously it would upset Scottish Labour Leader candidate Tom Harris, a well known Iraq cheerleader, but surely that’s not the reason? Writing this time last year Ian Cobain and Fariha Karim exposed that:

“David Miliband gave MI6 the green light to proceed with intelligence-gathering operations in countries where there was a possible risk of terrorism suspects being tortured. During the three years Miliband served as foreign secretary, MI6 always consulted him personally before embarking on what a source described as “any particularly difficult” attempts to gain information from a detainee held by a country with a poor human rights record.

While Miliband blocked some operations, he is known to have given permission for others to proceed. Officers from MI5 are understood to have sought similar permission from a series of home secretaries in recent years.”

This is worth recalling now that the horrific injuries and buses to Baha Mousa and countless others have been brought into the light. Never has the phrase ‘not in my name’ been more worth repeating. Séamas Ó Sionnaigh outlines the clear parallels drawing on Robert Fisk in the Independent here (‘From Ireland to Iraq Same Army Same Abusers‘).

There’s a reason Ed Miliband doesn’t want to go over the ground of British Army atrocities. His leader and mentor Blair created the horrific situation and his brother was in charge of managing it. You’ll recall that as foreign secretary, Miliband fought an unsuccessful legal battle to prevent the public seeing part of a court judgment that showed MI5 was aware Binyam Mohamed was being tortured in Pakistan before one of its officers was sent to interrogate him. He also resisted calls for the publication of the secret interrogation policy governing MI5 and MI6 officers, on the grounds that to do so would “give succour to our enemies”. Since then he has been sensitive to questions about the role he played in authorising counter-terrorism operations.

From social media, to party structures to think-tanks and new thinking – all of this is welcome from Labour (red white or blue) but all is about form not content. In all of the procrastination and brow-beating not a single critical word has been raised about the fundamentals of Blair-Brownite orthodoxy or constitutional issues, this despite significant numbers of Scottish Labour being pro-independence, the vast majority being pro-significant new powers to Edinburgh and (I’d wager) the bulk of the party wishing a clean break from the failed Blairite project.

Where are they?

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  1. I don’t know how it looks in Scotland, but down here, Glasman’s politics look a million miles closer to the vies of actual people in actual communities than that of the wider ‘left.’ This is why the left is nowhere at the moment – out of ideas, no party to represent it, hollowed out. This is certainly true of Labour, and has been for years – but it’s true of the wider left too. Why is the left not seizing the crisis of global capital with both hands? Because ‘the left’ barely exists, and where it does, no-one is listening. That’s because it has been dismissing street-level concerns (including those about immigration, but not limited to them) for decades, and clearly continues to do so. That in turn is the reason why the hard right are seizing on this crisis much more successfully. They know what they want, and they know what people want – in short, they know how to be populists.

    I get the impression that in Scotland the independence issue is a good vehicle for the left, and helps to keeps it alive, since at least it has some populist elements about it. Certainly in England – and in wider Europe, I suspect – this is not the case. Hence the empty hole where radical thinking should be. All the interesting ideas I see these days come from people who refuse to be labelled.

  2. PS: ‘Glaur’ is an excellent word. Thanks for introducing me to it.

  3. @dhothersall says:

    Yet another comment from a Labour opponent that this latest outcome of the Scottish Labour review has not delivered anything on policy. Given that it didn’t set out to do so, the classification of this as a failure is just silly.

  4. bellacaledonia says:

    Thanks for your comment Duncan, your probably the first Labour person to have commented on the site in four years. I suppose the point of the article was not just about your review but about the set of contradictions Labour faces that means that the review in itself – should you agree on it – will be woefully inadequate to alert your electoral fortunes. I do find it amusing too that you would distinctly seperate form and content, and that you would also have form preceded content. Good luck.

    Paul – I see ‘the left’ morphing and finding expression all the time, rarely in institutional politics.

    I agree with you “All the interesting ideas I see these days come from people who refuse to be labelled” but I’m also aware that sometimes people become so detached they simply f l o a t a w a y

  5. maxwell macleod says:

    The comment is made that so and so is the first labour supporter to comment on the site for four years.
    What on earth do you expect? So many of your comments are laden with nasty, twisted, bitter insults against labour, and indeed anybody on the planet who is a unionist, that ithe web site often makes ugly reading
    Having run a web site ” Scotlandquovadis.” for a few months my admiration to any organisation that has the energy to maintain these sites is huge, these forums are useful and indeed essential now that papers such as the Herald have lost over half their readerhip.
    I am not a member of any political party, but I do believe in civil exchange and accordingly am increasingly warey of the brutality of so many of the Nat activists and am not alone in my concern. I recently had dinner with three people involved in business in Scotland, all shared my horror at what they had been seeing on the web from the nationalists, a recent outpouring of bile against one of Allan Cochranes articles was particularly grotesque.
    The universal opinion was that if this is what nationalism is about, econmic agruements aside, our beloved Scotland would be a hideous place to live in if such monsters ever took control.

    1. Niall says:

      Maxwell, Can you tell me point me to anywhere that you have complained about the “brutality”, the “nasty,twisted, bitter insults” and the “horror” of the abuse that unionist “monsters” shower independence supporters with?
      Have you complained about the use of words like fascist and rascist to describe the snp?
      All this comes from a media dominated by unionist supporters.

      Personally I think the monstrous brutality of invading Iraq leaving a million dead, countless more injured, maimed and displaced, the use of torture, the continuing scandal of Afghanistan, the imperial adventure in Libya, the massive uk spending on the military
      (inc. their beloved nuclear weapons), the erosion of civil liberties, the prioiritising of money over human beings etc etc ….. does deserve condemnation. Actually, it seems pretty sick to demand people use civil language in the face of the monstrous incivility of the Unionist state.

      Lastly,do you consider saying “Scotland would be a hideous place to live in if these monsters ever took control” an example of the civil exchange you claim to believe in?

  6. Luke Devlin says:

    Mike, you MUST submit this to Labour Hame! Just to see on what grounds they refuse it.

  7. bellacaledonia says:

    I’m not sure if your comparing my writing with responses to an Alan Cochrane article Max, if so, I’m not sure that makes sense? I’m not responsible for anyone elses bile but my own. This site does publish a mixture of serious pieces, news, features and polemic.

    It’s difficult not to speak out strongly against the party that took us into such catastrophic wars in recent years and I make no apology for doing so. I believe Blair’s social economic policies and the military strategy of British State to be an abomination.

    We do welcome and have invited people from across the party spectrum to contribute and will continue to do so, we also have a very liberal moderation policy – only people expressing abusive, racist or sexist views are debarred.

  8. Siôn Jones says:

    Bellacalledonia – apart form the wars, which the Celtic nations are paying for disproportionately in terms of lives lost – don’t forget the reckless way they de-regulated the banks ( most neocon policy) , and allowed them to all but bankrupt the UK economy!

    Until 1955, I believe, the policy of the Labour Party was for self determination for Scotland and Wales. I think Aneurin Bevan was instrumental in changing that policy, believing as he did that Class trumped nationality every time. Apart from the NHS he was wrong about so much! A tragic decision, and it has been down-hill ever since for both our countries.

    PS Can I suggest you add http://syniadau– to your blogroll? Apart from intelligent and very well informed commentary on things of interest to Welsh nationalists, he is also very up to date on Catalunya, Euskadi and Belgium.

  9. HenBroon says:

    It would be wonderful if maxwell macleod would direct us to the Cochrane article and the so called abuse. Given that most of the stuff I have read by Cochrane is so laden with lies and abuse of Alex Salmond and the SNP who he demonstrates visceral hatred for, I would suggest if he cannot take the heat he needs to GTF oot the kitchen. Cochrane at least allows comments on his lies which his political editor Simon Johnston does not and his lies are as bad.

    Like the pig ignorant chattering you hear in the house of commons during Scottish questions, as we heard again today despite the speakers interventions, it seems that it is OK for anyone to say any thing they like about the SNP and supporters of home rule, but when the boot goes on the other foot it is shreiks of fouls, and fascists, as we recently heard from Iain Davidson MP of “who cares” fame.

  10. HenBroon says:

    Forgot to say, what an excellent article by Bella Caledonia.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks Hen, how’s Daphne?

      1. Hen Broon says:

        Aye the gastric band was a failure, never made wan recording ;o)) She’s hingin oot wi some bad yins these days.

  11. James Morton says:

    I think Scottish Labour has the same problem as the Scots Tories: A very small pool of talent from which to draw. Talentless managerial types are not going to transform into political leviathans just because the camera is on them- they are going to remain talentless managerial types. Leaders need to be bold and decisive not run away from voters and hide in a sandwhich shop. They have to do the vision thing, not drone on about finding the money so kids can do more PE at school or nick someone elses ideas and tippex out SNP and write Labour in blue biro. They find themselves on the wrong side of the argument and can’t frame any policies because they supported laissez-faire banking while in power, deregulating the power industry, no oversight on PFI contracts – the list is endless. They were more tory than the tories and promised to be worse than Thatcher and folks call them left wing? They know something needs to be done, but can’t bring it up without bringing up their own involvement. So they sit there and wring their hands looking pathetic, desperate to be seen not to have an opinion on anything. They didn’t win, because they didn’t derserve to win.

    1. Andrew says:

      Aye, ye kin shave a dugs erse, but its still a dug.

    2. “I think Scottish Labour has the same problem as the Scots Tories: A very small pool of talent from which to draw. Talentless managerial types are not going to transform into political leviathans just because the camera is on them- they are going to remain talentless managerial types.”

      Agreed and I think this is one (deserved) reason the SNP have done so well recently; they take the Scottish Parliament seriously. That said, I think “talentless managerial types” could be said to sum up most of party politics in Europe and the US today!

      Great article by the way Mike. I think both it and Peter Kingsnorth’s comments illustrate the need for ‘the left’ to fill the gap left by old Labour. Thankfully the far right haven’t been as successful in Scotland and I wonder would there be any stopping a genuine centre-left party who endorsed independence?

  12. mcd2 says:

    Police to investigate ex-MSP’s allowances

    Paul Hutcheon and Tom Gordon EXCLUSIVE

    17 Sep 2011

    POLICE are investigating alleged financial irregularities in the Holyrood allowances of former Glasgow Labour MSP Frank McAveety after receiving information from a one-time member of his staff.

    Andy Muir, a Glasgow city councillor, was interviewed on Thursday after contacting the police about the use of public money in Mr McAveety’s Shettleston constituency office. The SNP last night urged the police to conduct a “thorough” investigation.

    A former Glasgow City Council leader and culture minister, Mr McAveety was a Labour MSP for 12 years until he lost the seat to the SNP in May. He employed several staff to help him with his Scottish Parliament duties, including Mr Muir and another Labour city councillor, Alex Glass.

    Mr McAveety said the allegations made against him were “totally without foundation” and said Mr Muir’s contract was terminated after he failed to fulfil the duties expected of him.

    It is understood Mr Muir, 31, who worked for Mr McAveety from 2008 to 2010, approached the police earlier this week.

    He gave a taped statement to CID officers at Glasgow’s Stewart Street police station.

    According to the Scottish Parliament’s allowances database, Mr McAveety claimed £15,486 in 2010-11, £34,192 in 2009-10, and £37,404.31 in 2008-09, for travel, hotels, mileage and office costs. The figures do not include staff costs, which are not made available by the Parliament.

    Mr McAveety’s role as culture minister was marred by a row over his late arrival to the chamber, which he said was due to his attendance at a Scottish Arts Council book awards. He was later forced to apologise to Parliament after it was revealed he had actually been in the canteen eating pie and beans.

    He lost his job after former First Minister Jack McConnell reshuffled his team.

    Although Mr McAveety resurfaced as convener of the Parliament’s petitions committee, he resigned last year after being caught on microphone referring to a young female member of the audience as “dark and dusky” and likening her to a figure from a Gauguin painting. Mr McAveety is tipped for a return in next May’s council elections.

    Mr Muir, a Baillieston councillor for Labour since 2008, is a member of Strathclyde Police Authority and vice-chairman of Glasgow’s licensing board. He was recently rejected by Labour in a ruthless sift of candidates for the local elections in Glasgow.

    Around 20 other Labour councillors also face deselection as a result of a cull aimed at bringing fresh talent to the City Chambers.

    Last night, Mr Muir confirmed his attendance at the police station, saying: “I’m helping the police with their investigations.”

    A spokeswoman for Strathclyde Police said: “We can confirm we’ve received a complaint regarding alleged financial irregularities. We are at an early stage of our inquiries and it would be inappropriate for us to comment any further.”

    James Dornan, the SNP MSP for Glasgow Cathcart, said: “This is a worrying development and I hope the police will thoroughly investigate any evidence. Labour must ensure that if there is evidence of financial irregularities no-one involved is able to stand in the coming council elections.”

    Mr McAveety said last night: “These allegations are totally without foundation. Andy Muir was employed to work in my constituency office but as time went by it became clear he was not fulfilling the duties expected of him. To assist him, we reduced his hours, but eventually we had to terminate his contract.

    “I am disappointed in the claims this ex-employee has made because we gave him every opportunity to meet the requirements of his post.”

    A spokesman for Scottish Labour said: “These are matters between individual MSPs and parliamentary authorities so political parties have no locus in them and to suggest otherwise is quite false.”

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