Noises off

Ian Murray applauds Richard Leonard for “listening to voters and acting so swiftly to change party policy”. But those of us who don’t possess a pair of Union Jack boxer shorts far less an entire suit cut from the ‘butcher’s apron’ may be considerably less impressed. Not being deluded British Nationalist ideologues, we will be aware that however dutifully Leonard’s announcement of support for a ‘confirmatory vote’ is applauded by the faithful (defined as those from whom Leonard has not yet received a complimentary dagger), the whole thing is totally meaningless.

Outside the orange-tinted ambit of Murray’s hard-line Unionism, we are well aware that so-called ‘Scottish Labour’ is not a real political party and that British Labour in Scotland (BLiS), as it is more truthfully called, has only cosmetic autonomy and absolutely no authority to make policy independently of its parent party.

The fact that Scottish Labour’s Executive Committee has endorsed Leonard’s call for the ‘party’ to back a confirmatory vote on any Brexit deal with Remain as an option on the ballot paper is of academic interest only to an academic whose paint has all dried. It is, to borrow a particularly apt theatrical term, noises off. Noises made offstage during a performance which are intended to be heard by the audience. Noise, in turn, may be defined as the part of a signal which carries no useful information.

If this conjures an image of Richard Leonard standing in the wings muttering random words and phrases solely for effect while being pointedly ignored by the main actors and barely impinging on the consciousness of the audience, then you’ve pretty much got the picture.

For the lolz, let us play the part of that ennui-afflicted academic and look at what it is Richard Leonard and Ian Murray are getting so excited about. Let’s see if we can tease from the BLiS statement what it is that they think is meaningful. Or what they want us to think is meaningful.

Firstly, there is talk of “a confirmatory vote on any Brexit deal”. Note the word “any”. Which seems to imply the possibility of a choice between or among more than one deal. But just about every politician and high official in the EU has stated in the most unequivocal terms that there will be no further negotiation. Negotiations are closed. Negotiations shall under no circumstances be reopened. The parrot is dead, Richard! It is not just resting! It is deceased! Expired! Kicking the cage and making out that it twitched is just plain dishonest!

There is only one deal. The deal that there is. The deal that has already been rejected rejected repeatedly by the British parliament. It is the pig that David Cameron wouldn’t stick his member in even after Theresa May put her best lipstick on it. There is only ‘Theresa May’s deal’. And, in the words of the statement issued by Richard Leonard, “Theresa May’s deal is dead”.

So, what is this “confirmatory vote” about? Is Leonard seriously proposing that there should be a referendum on whether to accept a dead deal? Or is he trying to peddle the notion that there might be a different, non-dead deal? Is he, in blithe disregard of everything that has been said by EU politicians and officials, clinging to the fantasy of fresh negotiations?

Or, as seems more likely, is the term “confirmatory vote” no more than noises off? Just sounds made for the sake of making sounds?

The other bit of noise that stands out is “Remain as an option on the ballot
paper”. What does our terminally bored academic make of that? Being an academic it is likely that no amount of tedium could stop her asking what Remain actually means. What does it refer to? And why does Richard Leonard not explain it any more than he does his concept of a “confirmatory vote”? Why are these terms just pumped out and left floating in the air like farts?

Even if Article 50 is revoked, there can be no return to the status quo ante. Too much has already happened. Too much damage has already been done by the bewildering madness of dumping all the solutions that the EU has come to provide for no sufficient reason and without either a viable plan or a credible alternative.

Even if there was the realistic possibility of a Remain victory in this referendum that Leonard makes noises about, there is certainly no political will to act on that choice. A 3-option referendum – Deal / No deal / Remain – is surely an idiocy too far even for BLiS. But the reality is that, even if there could be clear and deliverable options, there is no outcome of any UK-wide referendum on the EU which wouldn’t leave in exactly the same bind.

What is the point of a policy statement from a pretendy party which has no authority to formulate policy? What is the point of a referendum where the options cannot be defined and/or couldn’t be delivered? What is the point of BLiS?

More importantly, why is Scotland still being made to play a bit-part in this very British farce?

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The state of BLiS

Kevin McKenna may be correct when he says that “the Labour Party in Scotland has been on the wrong side of the constitutional debate in this country”. (For the benefit of Unionists, “this country” refers to Scotland.) But he doesn’t seem to realise that it is the only “side of the constitutional debate” that they can possibly be on. He advises that “it [‘Scottish Labour’] must fashion a realistic and more pragmatic position on Scottish independence” having earlier noted that “the relationship between Westminster Labour and Holyrood Labour proceeds on a master and serf basis”. Does Kevin McKenna fail to fully comprehend the nature of a master/serf relationship?

Firstly, we must issue the regrettably still necessary advisory that there is no such political party as ‘Scottish Labour’. No such party exists. The thing calling itself ‘Scottish Labour’ is not a political party. There is no ‘Scottish Labour’, there is only British Labour. And there’s a bit of British Labour which is in Scotland and which, therefore, should properly be referred to as British Labour in Scotland (BLiS).

Journalists seem to have particular difficulty getting their heads around this apparently very simple concept. It’s quite unreal the way they persist in treating ‘Scottish Labour’ as if it was a real political party and whoever has their name chalked on the ‘Scottish Labour’ leader’s office door as if they were a real leader of a real party. They really need to get real.

(It goes without saying that the BBC is particularly bad for this. As far as BBC Scotland is concerned, ‘Scottish Labour’ is still the main political party in Scotland. That’s what comes of listening to their own news bulletins.)

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Now that we’re all (except the Pacific Quay mob) clear on the fact that ‘Scottish Labour’ is NOT a political party in its own right but is, in fact, British Labour in Scotland, it should be obvious why it is “wrong side of the constitutional debate in this country”. (For the benefit of Unionists, this still means Scotland.) The clue is in the word ‘British’. It is British Labour in Scotland. It is a British party. It is in Scotland, but not of Scotland. And certainly not for Scotland.

British Labour in Scotland can no more “fashion a realistic and more pragmatic position on Scottish independence” than the British Conservative & Unionist Party in Scotland (BCUPS). Both are ineluctably and immutably part of the British establishment. They are embedded in, and utterly dependent on, the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. They are the servants of the British state.

The outposts of these British parties in Scotland have no meaningful autonomy. They cannot formulate policy independently of the party of which they are but a small part. They just can’t. They pretend to. But they can’t.

Both BLiS and BCUPS can only be on the British side of the constitutional issue. Neither can fashion a realistic or pragmatic or even sensible position on Scottish independence because they are bound by their essential nature to seek the preservation of the Union at any cost to Scotland and its people.

But perhaps it is not the nature of the relationship of the pretendy parties to the real parties that Kevin McKenna hasn’t quite grasped. Perhaps it’s the nature of the constitutional divide itself which eludes him. Maybe he still thinks of it as a divide between Scottish Nationalists and Scottish Unionists. If that ever was the case it certainly isn’t now. The divide is between Scottish Nationalists and British Nationalists. Between Scotland and the British state.

British Labour in Scotland is on the “wrong side” of the constitutional issue because it is on the British side. Not as a matter of choice, but because it cannot be otherwise. The people who associate themselves with BLiS do have a choice, however. They will shortly be called upon to make that choice.

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Of divides and loyalties

SNP depute leader Keith Brown says the poll showed Labour could not stop the Tories in Scotland. But, in truth, British Labour in Scotland has no real interest in stopping the Tories in Scotland. Their imperatives are –

  • to punish the SNP and anybody who votes for them
  • to regain the status they consider theirs by right
  • to reassert the British parties’ control of the Scottish Parliament

The first imperative is spiteful. The second is self-serving. The third is treacherous. Petty, partisan and perfidious. We could be describing any of the British parties currently squatting in Scotland’s Parliament.

The problem for British pollsters and the British analysts who analyse their polls and the British commentators who comment on both the polls and the analysis, is that the British two-party context is no longer relevant in Scotland. Regarding Scotland’s politics through the prism of the British political system became inappropriate in 1999, when the Scottish Parliament reconvened. Increasingly so ever since. But British pundits don’t seem to have realised this yet. And the British media, for the most part, stubbornly denies that there is a distinctive Scottish politics.

British chatterers’ and British scribblers’ first instinct is to regard Labour/Left versus Tory/Right as the default divide in all ‘domestic’ politics. I’m not sure to what extent this is even true in England these days. It certainly isn’t applicable in Scotland. The defining divide in Scottish politics is constitutional. It is Nationalist versus Unionist.

Not that this excludes or ignores the many other divisions in society which are supposed to be managed by the democratic process. It’s just that the constitutional divide has come to encompass things like class and ideology. In one sense, this makes Scottish politics simpler – because, crudely speaking, everything ultimately boils down the constitutional issue. In another sense, it makes Scottish politics more complicated because the constitutional issue is an additional element which must be considered. Or should be considered.

All too often, it isn’t. Analysts and commentators coming at Scotland’s politics from within the bubble of the metropolitan cosy consensus inevitably find it difficult to take account of the fact that what they regard as ‘the Labour vote’ is at least as likely to be the ‘Tory vote’ on account of the constitutional divide. They find it difficult to take account of this only if they even realise that it is a real phenomenon.

And where these British analysts and commentators do acknowledge that the dividing line between British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) and the British Conservative and Unionist Party in Scotland (BCUPS) is somewhat blurred, they tend to talk in terms of ‘tactical voting’. It is NOT tactical voting.

When BLiS voters put their cross next to a BCUPS candidate or party – or, to a lesser extent, vice versa – they like to call it ‘tactical voting’ because this puts a sheen of rationality on a choice made solely on the basis of emotional and often fervent loyalty. Loyalty to the British state. Fealty to the British ruling elites. Devotion to the emblem of British Nationalism.

All of which can be a cause of confusion and consternation to those British pollsters and British analysts and British commentators who share these loyalties so innately and deeply that it is extremely problematic for them to conceive of their being alternative loyalties and a defining political divide between the two.

We have all heard British pundits react with incomprehension when confronted by Scotland’s independence movement. They simply can’t grasp; or can’t take seriously, the proposition that there may be significant numbers of people in their imagined British nation who owe their loyalty to something other than the British state, the British ruling elites and the Union flag.

They simply don’t get that British Labour in Scotland has no real interest in stopping the Tories because they share a loyalty that overrides mere partisan interest. They don’t fully understand that politics in Scotland is an existential battle. Either Scotland survives, or the British establishment prevails. Those are the options. That is the choice facing Scotland’s people. It is my passionate hope that most voters will choose Scotland.

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The big wolf in little wolf’s clothing

richard_leonardWhen an anonymous “insider” speaks of “an opportunity to prove that Scottish Labour is not a branch office” what they actually mean is a chance to perpetuate the ancient deceit that ‘Scottish’ Labour is something more than a branch office.

Of all the con tricks played on the people of Scotland by the British establishment this may well be the most insidious. For decades, the notion of ‘Scottish’ Labour as a meaningful alternative to the Tories has helped to ensure that the British state’s grip on Scotland is maintained. By the simple expedient of having the media treat British Labour’s operation in Scotland as if it is a real political party with real leaders and real policies, the people of Scotland have been duped into supposing that voting Labour is the way to effect change.

But the very notion of ‘Scottish’ Labour as a distinct, autonomous political party represents a jarring contradiction. On the one hand, we have British Labour insisting that the UK is ‘One Nation’ and playing the ‘class solidarity’ card. (They also characterise themselves as ‘internationalist’ but claim that this ‘class solidarity’ cannot function across borders.) On the other, we have the same two-faced British politicians saying that Scotland is different enough from the rest of the UK (rUK) to require its own policies. Which is it?

Of course, we know that Scotland does have its own distinctive political culture. And that the political cultures of Scotland and rUK are diverging at an accelerating pace. In all areas, Scotland requires policies which are tailored to the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people. This can only be achieved if those policies are formulated by politicians who are accountable to the people of Scotland. Politicians who respect the authority of the Scottish Parliament. Politicians who acknowledge the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. In short, Scottish politicians.

It should go without saying – but, regrettably, doesn’t – that this does not mean Scottish in any ethnic sense. Being Scottish is not about a common heritage, but a shared commitment. Scotland needs Scottish politicians in the sense of needing politicians who are committed to serving the interests of the nation and its people. In this, Scotland is no different from any other nation. All nations demand of their political class that its first allegiance must be to the nation and people. All nations’ demands in this respect are satisfied to a greater or lesser extent according to the health of their democracy. Scotland’s demands are particularly ill-served due to the pernicious nature of the political union imposed on the nation more than three centuries ago. The well-being of Scotland’s democracy is cause for grave concern.

All of this presents a dilemma for the British parties in Scotland. They are British. Their allegiance is to the British state. They are ineluctably committed to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. Their needs are British needs. Their priorities are British priorities. Their aspirations are British aspirations. And yet they must canvas electoral support from an electorate increasingly aware of the difference between British and Scottish.

As noted earlier, British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) seeks to resolve this dilemma by deception. They pretend to be a separate political party. They profess an autonomy that they simply cannot have. Every so often they proclaim policies which, superficially at least, are distinctively Scottish. But it is all empty rhetoric. It is all a sham. Policy is determined by the British party. BLiS can publish the glossiest manifesto imaginable, it counts for nothing. Because, just as Scotland is always subordinate within the British state, so ‘Scottish’ Labour is always the underling to British Labour.

Even in devolved areas, policy is always subject to London’s approval. All policy must conform to the British Labour party line. Talk of BLiS having its own tax policy is beyond nonsensical. It is political flimflammery of the most vacuous sort.

A vote for British Labour in Scotland is not a vote for ‘something different’. It is not a vote for change. It is not a vote for progress. It is a vote for the British state. It is a vote for British rule. It is a vote for the British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project, with all the continuing and worsening misfortune that this implies for the health of Scotland’s democracy.

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richard_leonardI don’t care. I’ve thought about it. I’ve tried very hard to think why I should care about the internal squabbling of the British parties in Scotland. But I can’t think of a single good reason.

Of course, I object to the way they treat the Scottish Parliament – our Parliament – with open contempt. I am appalled by behaviour. I deprecate their abysmal failure to perform the function of a democratic opposition. But I can’t bring myself to care about their bickering amongst themselves.

It’s increasingly as if the British parties have opted out. It’s like they have little or nothing to do with Scotland’s politics. Our Parliament and Government function despite the presence of British parties rather than because of any contribution they make. The Scottish parties – mainly the SNP – get on with the business of running the country as best they can given the crippling constraints of devolution and the need to constantly mitigate the economically destructive and socially corrosive policies imposed on Scotland by the British regime. Meanwhile, the British parties are preoccupied with their own petty concerns. At best, they are an irrelevant sideshow. At worst, a malign hindrance.

Over the last couple of decades, Scotland has developed its own distinctive political culture. The British parties are not involved. Not in any meaningful sense. Certainly not in any constructive way. They stand apart by choice. They choose to remain aloof from our politics. They decline to engage. They want to do British politics in the British way. They don’t really understand Scotland’s new politics. They want no truck with it and wouldn’t even if they were capable. They crave a return to the old ways. They hunger for the restoration of the old order.

The British parties are an ever more alien presence in Scotland. The more alien they become, the less I care about them.

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The habit of malice

jenny_marraUnless Jenny Marra had good reason to believe her claim of a £300,000 “golden goodbye package” then the claim was a malicious untruth. If she cannot demonstrate that she had reasonable grounds to suppose the figure she quoted was accurate then she must, perforce, be branded a liar.

Of course, we know from the Alistair Carmichael affair that, among British politicians, lying to smear political opponents is, not on acceptable, but expected. Should Ms Marra be unable to offer a sufficient explanation for her behaviour we must not expect that she might be condemned by other British politicians. Or that she would be disciplined by British Labour. That’s just not the British way.

At the time of writing, Jenny Marra has not offered any sensible explanation for asserting that Ms Lesley McLay was being given £300,000 by Tayside Health Board. An assertion which we know to have been totally false. Her ‘defence’ appears to be that she was obliged to make up a figure because Tayside Health Board had not told her what the actual figure was. Although it also seems that she neglected to ask them what the actual figure was. So that ‘defence’ looks about as substantial as Danny Alexander’s chin.

More extraordinary than this inane rationalisation is Ms Marra’s insistence that Tayside Health Board should flout its legal and contractual obligations to a former employee. A demand which would be outlandish coming from any politician, but which is truly outrageous when it comes from the convener of the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee – which is charged with scrutinising the financial performance and general governance of public bodies such as Tayside Health Board.

Jenny Marra might have survived her original offence, whether that offence was wilful dishonesty or just an embarrassing misjudgement born of mindless malice towards the SNP of the sort that has been so long actively encouraged by the British parties that it is now habitual. But it is difficult to see how she can possibly continue as convener of the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee having evinced such a cavalier attitude to legal and contractual compliance.

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Scotland’s tragedy

corbyn_leonardI don’t suppose I was the only one to predict that British Labour would quickly find a way to back off from their momentary and superficial solidarity with the SNP in defence of Scotland’s democracy. They appear to have found a route back to the customary British Nationalist contempt for Scotland by way of a political fudge which attacks the detail of the ‘power grab’ whilst leaving untouched the underlying principle that the British political elite can do whatever it likes to Scotland.

To anyone with a modicum of respect for democracy, it matters not a jot whether powers that rightfully belong with the Scottish Parliament are withheld for seven years or five years or one minute. What matters is that the British state is asserting the authority to arbitrarily and unilaterally alter the terms of the constitutional settlement, not only without the consent of Scotland’s democratically elected representatives, but against the will of Scotland’s people as expressed by the only Parliament which has democratic legitimacy in Scotland.

British Labour’s amendment is as much a denial of the sovereignty of Scotland’s people as the British Tories’ Clause 15. Will their MPs from constituencies in Scotland continue what British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) started? Or will they cravenly abandon Scotland to the onslaught of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism? Expectations must be low.

When ‘Scottish Labour’ MSPs voted with the Greens, SNP and Liberal Democrats to withhold legislative consent for the British state’s EU Withdrawal Bill, many of us suspected that this was no more than a meaningless gesture. They were able to pose as stout defenders of devolution safe in the knowledge that their British Labour colleagues and Tory allies at Westminster would ensure they were never required to take it any farther.

British Labour is a party of the British establishment. It is always going to betray Scotland in favour of the British state. It is one of the mysteries of Scottish politics that there are people who have yet to learn this lesson. There are those for whom the gesture is enough. They will always forgive BLiS’s failure to stand up for Scotland so long as they are tossed the bone of an occasional token effort.

This is Scotland’s tragedy.

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