Before we got distracted by a(nother) completely gratuitious and unprovoked personal attack from a pro-indy blogger yesterday, this is what we’d been going to write about.
So since the SNP haven’t even bothered themselves to issue some sort of half-hearted token response to Boris Johnson’s declaration yesterday that he wouldn’t contemplate a second indyref before 2055, we might as well while away a few moments analysing the current state of Scottish Labour thinking just to cheer ourselves up.
It’s very revealing that Russell – last seen offering up a “New Act Of Union”, in the name of the Scottish Fabians, which would effectively forbid there from ever being another referendum on independence – admits openly that his real objective is to “cut Holyrood down to size”, or in other words to bypass the democratically and fairly-elected Scottish Parliament in which Labour are a pitiful rump of irrelevance, in order to hand power to councils, where they still have some influence.
It’s a straightforward whine of “we can’t win fairly, so let’s change the rules”, and the only surprising thing about it is that it’s so overt. Labour doesn’t actually CONTROL any Scottish councils – in fact no party is in overall control of any of the country’s 32 local authorities – but there are several (notably Aberdeen and West Lothian) where it’s allied itself with the Tories to shut out the SNP, who actually got the most seats.
So what Russell is actually advocating by way of his “solution” to the constitutional question is Labour allying itself officially with the Conservatives in order to frustrate the democratic choices of the Scottish people, both at Holyrood and the local level. We’re sure that’ll be a big winner with all the voters who’ve deserted Labour for the SNP.
But while we’re here let’s also quickly assess his other alternatives, which he claims are “closer to reality than indy”.
(1) ELECTORAL REFORM
It’s intriguing to consider by what metric Russell considers this to be in any way “close to reality”. Neither of the two main UK parties support any substantial electoral reform, nor are they likely to in the forseeable future, because First Past The Post is for both of them the only viable route to what they consider “power”, ie a majority.
The Lib Dems, traditionally the UK party advocating proportional representation, barely mentioned it in their 2019 manifesto, and the single line that referred to it specifically excluded Scotland.
But the Lib Dems are a joke anyway. They currently hold just 11 seats out of 650 at Westminster, and a major poll at the weekend suggested that they’d drop to just two in any new election. They had a chance to force the issue of proportional representation when they held the balance of power in 2010’s hung parliament and bottled it, settling for a referendum on what their own leader called the “miserable little compromise” of Alternative Vote, which was duly thrashed out of sight.
The biggest party notionally supporting PR in the Commons is actually the SNP, but their 2019 manifesto didn’t mention electoral reform at all – hardly surprisingly, as it would cut their current MP tally in half (for all the actual difference that would make).
The chances of there being even 100 votes for PR in the Commons any time in the next decade are essentially nil. So electoral reform in the UK is about as “close to reality” as an asteroid strike or a Dalek attack. What’s next?
(2) A NEW REFORMING UK GOVERNMENT
Ah, the classic – “just elect Labour and everything will be fine”. But we’ve heard that one before, haven’t we, readers? We heard it when they promised devolution in 1979 and then ignored the Yes vote and shoved it down the road for 20 years. We heard it when Gordon Brown promised Scots “the closest thing possible to federalism” if they rejected independence in 2014, backed up by the reliably clueless metropolitan talking heads of the left-wing English press.
(Jump cut to 2021, where the Sewel Convention lies dead in a ditch and Boris Johnson thinks devolution was the UK’s biggest mistake and has already basically abolished it with the Internal Market Bill.)
As the old saying goes: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; fool me a third, fourth, fifth and sixth time and I must be a complete bloody moron.
But even if we were to bend over backwards for the sake of argument and assume that (a) Labour genuinely had the best of intentions, and (b) they had any real prospect of winning the next election from 80 seats behind – something which last happened half a century ago, when Ted Heath overturned a Labour majority of 98 – then we’d still have to remember that Labour UK governments are the exception, not the rule.
The UK, and by that we mean England, elects Tory governments roughly 65% of the time. So at most “a new reforming UK government” is only ever a short-lived sticking plaster over the fundamental fracture.
And the reforms rarely amount to much anyway. Labour has been promising to abolish the House Of Lords and introduce the still-undefined “Home Rule” in Scotland for well over 100 years now, and despite several decades in office has never managed to actually deliver either, let alone anything really difficult like, y’know, socialism. Under its current leadership all it really offers is market-economy Tory liberalism with a slightly friendlier face (and paedophile rapists in women’s prisons).
(3) “DOUBLE DEVO”
Tony Blair recently squeezed a few headlines out of desperate newspapers with a plea for Scottish Labour to become a vaguely functional opposition. But he had no actual ideas as to how such a thing might be achieved.
And everyone knows that it never will be, because Scottish politics is defined by the constitution and Labour is a third wheel on the bicycle – the SNP are the nationalists and the Tories are the natural Unionists, while Scottish Labour is at odds with nearly half of its own remaining voters and has nothing to offer except ridiculous, endlessly-discredited hollow promises of “federalism”.
The fact that it DARED to drag Gordon Brown out of his crypt again last month and expect anyone to take him seriously after the “Vow” fiasco was a telling illustration of just how utterly, hopelessly bereft of ideas the party is.
But it was actually one of the responses to Peter Russell’s tired, feeble straw-clutch of a tweet that told the real story.
Because at the end of the day, whether they’re Labour or Tory or whatever, Scottish Unionists’ worldview always comes down to the same thing: “Scotland is rubbish and we can only exist by clinging to the charity of England”.
Every single one of Russell’s “solutions”, as well as being hopeless fantasies in their own right, relied on English voters to be poor wee Scotland’s heroic saviours. English voters would have to vote for electoral reform. English voters would have to elect a new UK government. English voters would have to vote for someone who’d grudgingly grant a few more crumbs of devolution to Scotland.
In the end, Scottish Labour’s position isn’t even the already-dismal “Labour will save you from the Tories”. It’s “England will save you from your stupid useless selves”. They, and (unless something suddenly lights a fire under the SNP’s useless idle fat pension-stuffed backside) we, are in for many grim years to come.