It was a good move on the part of Johann Lamont to refuse all Q and A’s following her keynote speech in Edinburgh, but it would have been an even better move to refuse all speeches. The Scottish Labour leader’s address, in which she called for an end to free tuition, prescriptions and the council tax freeze, was a surefire vote-winner in Scotland and such a resounding success that the SNP immediately called for further speeches.
In the address, Lamont, a bewildered soul, managed to mistake the tax system for a “something for nothing culture”, alienate core voters and insult virtually everyone living and working in Scotland. She stopped just short of calling us ‘scroungin bastirts.’ If I understand her fully, and that’s a big ‘if’ given the fragmented logic of the speech, somebody has to pay for Jim Murphy’s nukes and Lamont has decided – from outside a position of governance – that it should be the poor, the sick and anyone who wants an education.
Not that these regressive notions have actually been formulated into policy yet – Scottish Labour are ‘policy-lite’ and we’ll have to wait two years for that – but a decision has been made and it went something like this: ‘What we are saying is we will look at these things.’ I think what this means is that the SNP will continue running the country with some very popular policies whilst the Scottish Labour leader looks at scrapping them.
Despite its lack of concrete substance, the implications of Lamont’s speech were clear and its message was divisive. The unfortunate director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation had to be talked down from the rooftop before he could find the strength to discuss it, whilst the Conservatives lauded its merits and the Welsh Conservatives in particular are now looking to Lamont for guidance.
On Newsnight, Lamont expanded on her ‘what we are saying is we will look at these things’ by saying ‘all I said was what we are saying is we will look at these things.’ Exhausted presenter Isobel Fraser had to take two weeks off following the onslaught of gibberish.
After these combined car crashes I’d have thought the Labour Party would see Iain Gray as positively statesman-like and beg him to return. But instead, they confounded us all by allowing Lamont to make another speech, this time at the party conference in Manchester.
If anything, this was an even bigger triumph for bad writing, poor delivery and mangled thinking. Here was the befuddled Scottish Labour leader, having thoroughly alienated her core voters in Scotland, instead attempting to woo middle England with further nonsense about the “free-for-all approach” of the current SNP administration, and suggesting that the Nats wanted to wear her clothes. Not that the Nats minded – by now they were offering her a shovel to continue mining this rich seam of drivel. And of the many gems uncovered, accusing the SNP of being ‘Tartan Tories’ was spectacularly ill-advised and won the conference’s ‘Unmitigated Gall’ award.
Scots were appalled. Trade Unions asked for a refund. The poor director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation was back on the rooftop. However, it was when Ed Miliband spoke that the penny dropped in Scotland.
After he was given a badge for having attended a comprehensive school, Miliband set out his stall and outlined his big idea: One Nation. Unfortunately his big idea was somebody else’s big idea – Tory politician Benjamin Disraeli. And whilst we might have been willing to overlook this, as well as the tedious monomaniacal repetition of his new catchphrase, what we were not willing to overlook was what One Nation meant for Scotland: a return to Westminster solutions to Scottish problems.
Lamont has already implied that devolved matters could be returned to Westminster, thereby becoming the first politician ever to want less power. Her two speeches made clear that Scottish Labour meant to align themselves with Westminster politics despite the electoral consequences in North Britain. Combined with the One Nation mantra this meant in effect we had just witnessed the launch of ‘Devo Minus.’
So here’s what a ‘No’ vote in the 2014 referendum would mean. If Labour, the only party with any interest in delivering devolution, do not want to extend it, and in fact are willing to face defeat in Scotland by proposing the handing back of powers, then what remains is no longer a choice between independence and the status quo. It’s now independence or something worse than the status quo.
As to what Labour intends to steal next from the Tories, bookmakers William Hill are taking bets and the odds-on favourite is ‘Their Popularity In Scotland.’
Thanks to Rose Garnett.
For more on Greg Moodie and his satirical fiction, see Tony Boaks’ Despairing Notes – Easily Mistaken For A Funny Blog. Or follow on Twitter @gregmoodie.