Sometimes it’s actually possible to feel very sorry for Scottish Labour Party leaders – tonight it was Johann Lamont’s turn to try and defend the indefensible. The position of the Labour party in Scotland has, since the mid-seventies, been reminiscent of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. A long bloody struggle to hold a line and eventually retreating in disarray, scattering baggage along the way. There are those who question the impartiality of the BBC in the independence debate, but Gordon Brewer’s forensic, detailed questioning of Lamont on Newsnight Scotland tonight exposed the fundamental contradictions at the heart of Scottish Labour.
With a few honourable exceptions, the Labour party in Scotland has regarded devolution and the granting of more powers to Scotland as a war of attrition – concessions reluctantly made in the face of nationalist advance, but designed to halt any progress towards full independence, rather than a positive choice to empower and let go of Westminster control.
Every advance towards self-determination for Scotland has been made reluctantly – yes, devolution was enacted by New Labour, but only after a second vote (as if the 1997 Labour manifesto wasn’t really serious) and explicitly promoted as a way to “kill nationalism stone dead”.
From the Hamilton by-election onwards, Scottish Labour has been profoundly disturbed by the notion that anyone other than themselves can represent the Scottish people. Their sense of outrage has only increased over the years, leading to the dismal tribal tenor of what passes for their debate in the run-up to the referendum.
What was exposed tonight was the total incoherence of the Scottish Labour position – do we really think that a further set of “a wee bit more “ devo proposals would have been forthcoming if it wasn’t for the re-election of the SNP government (with a majority) and a pending referendum on independence ? The inability of Lamont to answer whether Labour in Scotland could set higher tax rates without reference to a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer cruelly exposed the fundamental misunderstanding of what real powers for a purpose should look like. That’s if Labour win the 2015 election – that’s the X-Factor we all are being invited to take a gamble on. Trust us – we did such a great job of addressing inequality the last time around.
What was announced today was the proverbial mish mash of try and please everyone (within the Scottish Labour tribal tent) and end up pleasing no-one. Incoherent, full of inbuilt contradictions (employment law reserved but employment tribunals devolved) , with a vague attempt to present as socially progressive and fiscally redistributive but taking fright at actually stating that a future Scottish Labour administration would really be coming for the wealthy – and in many ways, that’s Johann’s tragedy. She probably does want to be more open about that, but can’t say so as theUK leadership dominated by the Blairite Progress group won’t let her.
Not so much wee things, just a wee bit more.