No More Numpties

Edward Pearce

How does it happen that Scottish Nationalism walks and talks as if it’s able to call terms over an independence referendum which opinion polls suggest it would lose? A major reason for the SNP’s sweep to absolute majority last May was the inadequacy of the Scottish Labour Party. At Devolution, such was Westminster complacency, only one first-rank Labour politician went to Holyrood: Donald Dewar. Since his death in 2000, the party has been led by what Scots call numpties, five of them over eleven years, remembered for the impact they didn't have.

Against them, Alex Salmond, dry, bright, good-humoured, lacking the usual blood rancour, has been like an Old Firm team matched against Stranraer. In consequence, even when put on the spot by David Cameron over referendum dates, his assurance made many commentators ask if the prime minister, in getting a climbdown, wasn't taking risks.

If Labour is serious about preserving the Union, a strong Labour voice has to be heard, asking difficult questions: on status, currency, taxation, debt, membership of the EU, all the economic responsibilities in fearsome detail. Alistair Darling stands there looking obvious, the man to lead Scottish Labour and speak for Union. He spoke up sharply on the Today programme on Wednesday. ‘The last thing I think Scotland needs,’ he said, ‘is for this to be posed as somehow an SNP government in Edinburgh up against a Tory government in London.’ He will, it is said, be one of the ‘main faces’ of the pro-Union campaign. That campaign can only be fought in Scotland: time, then, for Darling to give up his seat in Westminster and head for Holyrood?


  • 13 January 2012 at 10:47pm
    AllanLRB says:
    Labour only have themselves to blame for being blind-sided by the SNP. For a start, key labour figures, with a couple of honourable exceptions, have always treated Holyrood as inferior to Westminster. Surprise! A Scotland-focussed party, turning all its talents to looking after the Scottish electorate, becomes more popular than a party that clearly thinks Westminster is far more important, with holyrood merely a staging post on the way to bigger things. The SNP scraped in in 2007. Did labour change their approach? No, they took a monumental huff. The result? Landslide for the Nats last year. So the question is, will wheeling out a Westminster grandee to front the pro-union campaign cut much ice in Scotland? It's debatable, but the odds are a non-partisan civic figure would have more success.

    • 16 January 2012 at 12:23am
      AllanLRB says: @ AllanLRB
      A minor point in addition to this. Alastair Darling has today ruled himself out of leading the pro-union case. Ed Milliband has said that labour's no campaign will be fronted by Johann Lamont, Scottish labour leader. Ms Lamont already has her hands full trying to restore credibility to her party in Scotland, as well as trying to mount some sort of effective opposition to the SNP government on 'normal' matters. Asking her to front the no campaign as well means she really will have her hands full.

    • 16 January 2012 at 1:13pm
      JBruce says: @ AllanLRB
      Alastair Darling indeed is the one remaining Scottish Labour big gun whose reputation might have enabled him to persuade Scots to back the unionist cause. However, he was not above referring to Holyrood as an "assembly". Scottish Labour's continuing visceral hatred of the SNP remains its biggest problem. As Jack Straw reminded Westminster in the debate last week, what is desperately needed is an honest and objective depiction by Whitehall of the current financial flows both ways across the border to allow a judgement about the viability of an independent Scotland

  • 16 January 2012 at 9:57am
    RolftheGanger says:
    "Without vision, the people perish"

    In order to chang votes, two elements must occur:
    Disllusion with the party formerly supported.
    Positive responses to the new party oc choice.

    Both parameters of change apply in Scotland.

    Many areas, especially in the West of Scotland, have experienced 70 years of Labour unchallenged domination. This has bred icomplaceny, entitlement, a lazy assumption that voters can be taken for granted, failure to generate new ides, policies and mitivation. It has also, to be yet determined, bred tammany hall type nepotism, shady deals, jobs for the boys, expenses scandals and the like. Labour has just axed 20 plus councilors in Glasgow and are, as 'unfit for purpose' to face up to the coming SNP challenge in May municipal elctions. That tells you the degree of alarm in their ranks.

    Labour was founded in Scotland and remained a more socialist, traditional party in Scotland, not having any enthusiasm for 'New Labour'
    The end of the Blair/Brown era and the accompanying financial disaster, economic problems and expenditure cuts has left it in existential crisis. Whither now? for example:
    Back to Old Labour - traditional socialist?
    Reform New Labour - Milliband style?
    Back to Old Labour - new style, but Unionist?
    Back to Old Labour - new style, pro devolution, or pro independence?
    Analysis paralysis has set in with a chorus of 'we must change, we need to change, we are planning change, we need a leader to change' etc. The Werrafukawee tribe jumpimg up and down and chorusing 'Werrafukawee'

    The Westminster expenses scandal disgusts Scots of all kinds, but is a betrayal to the former Labour loyalist voters.

    Th sight of police backing away from rioters in English cities appals Scots. They may be deprived, alienated, etc but they do not riot and trash their communities.

    Eton Tories and cuts revive deep, deep hatred of what Thatcher did to Scottish industries, viable and not. And how Labour, offered to notable resistance, now echo that they too would make cuts.

    Finally, Scots know the realities. Salmond put it that" Labour's devolution bus, runs on SNP petrol'Others would also recognise European pressure played a part.

    In contrast, negative scaremongering made many cautious and suspicious of the SNP. Rgar is why the scraped into minority government. Voters, generally, were surprised and increasingly pleased to find them competent, honest, energetic and effective. after the previous Labour Scottish government whose proclaid aim was the uinspiring "Do less, better" rhe SNP were and are a breath of fresh air. In May 2012, the SNP recived more votes than all the other parties combined.

    The more the SNP get to demonstrate competent administration, integrity, initiative and results; the more the old myths are being killed off and they gain support.

    Two thirds of the electorate would opt first for DevoMax or FFA, near identical. SNP willlingness to include the choice in a referendum sits well with Scots.

    Bossy Tory bulllying attempts from London and poor calibre of local Labour leadership of a shell shocked an fragmented part mean little leadership for a No campaign.

    The whole trend is heading straight for Independence, faster than is currently being anticipated.

    Sober heads and strategic thinking by all parties, to manage the wind up with dignity and minimum rancour, to preserve joint cooperation on topics such as defence, longer term trade and good relations.

  • 16 January 2012 at 8:36pm
    spout says:
    "How does it happen that Scottish Nationalism walks and talks as if it’s able to call terms over an independence referendum which opinion polls suggest it would lose?"!?

    Another blog post in the LRB which is an insult to Scotland.
    Hang your heads in shame.

    So as not to waste my time (or yours):
    The SNP government in Scotland has been democratically elected on an unprecedented scale to govern and to pursue the issue of self-determination for Scotland.

    "Call terms"?

    It is Westminster that is trying to call terms on a non-existent mandate.

    Wind your neck in and try to read a lot more on this issue before holding forth in a manner that would not be out of place in the Daily Mail.

    Poor poor thought and dramatically below par for the LRB.

    • 17 January 2012 at 8:02pm
      AllanLRB says: @ spout
      Check out if you haven't already for probably the most objective look at all this.

  • 17 January 2012 at 11:17pm
    Ally says:
    It is not really the matter in hand here but I'm struck by the utter inappropriateness of Edward Pearce's footballing comparison: "Against them, Alex Salmond, dry, bright, good-humoured, lacking the usual blood rancour, has been like an Old Firm team matched against Stranraer." Throughout my years of watching the team I support in its trips and travails up and down all three Scottish Football Leagues, I've been struck by the almost uniform decency of the fans of these teams, who deploy a dry, bright, good-humour, united by a knowledge that for everyone a good year will be matched by the bad. By contrast, when on occasion we have had to play the big teams, especially the Old Firm, what has struck has been that they cannot set aside their poisonous blood rancour even for these games.

  • 19 January 2012 at 3:07pm
    Robin Durie says:
    A seriously disappointing blog...and one which is entirely in keeping with the metropolitan guff that has been poured out on this issue.

    Coverage of Scotland in the London media has become steadily more ill-informed and trivial since devolution - the vast majority of London journos just don't know what is happening in Scotland.

    The one-dimensional coverage of the independence referendum has been an egregious case in point - dominated entirely by the Westminster perspective, & reducing the SNP and the issues to the figure of Salmond.

    People like Pearce might do well to spend some time finding out how and what the SNP is doing in government, and why its approval ratings are so high not just among the general populace, but also amongst those whose work entails more or less direct collaboration with the SNP administration.

    Here's a clue - these approval ratings have next to nothing to do with the Labour Party in Scotland (and this is certainly a very serious problem for Labour).

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