|The few remaining Scottish Labour voters.|
The thing is, you would expect the SNP to get a rough ride from the tories. By their very nature the SNP are going to vote against everything the tories try to do. But the attitude of Labour to the SNP is so perverse it's hard to fathom. So I find myself wondering, what has happened to the Labour Party to get to this position?
When I was young and first became aware of politics Labour were the main party in Scotland. Living in a working class area, there was always a Labour MP. I don't remember politics featuring in our lives apart from the run up to elections. Then it was a no-brainer. There were two alternatives: Labour/Tory and and tories were certainly not for us.
For some forty years or more Labour held Scotland as their domain. My dad used to say you could put a red rosette on a monkey and it would get elected in Scotland. (As we have come to see, this isn't too far from the truth, but that's another issue). The number of MPs might fluctuate according to what was going on in the UK - Thatcher did more for the Labour vote in Scotland than any of their own politicians - but nothing threatened Labour hegemony north of the border.
But then things started to change. Tony Blair won his landslide 1997 Labour victory on the back of promising a lot of things to a lot of people, one of them being a referendum on Scottish devolution. Having won so decisively he had to deliver, and the referendum result was a resounding Yes.
Around this time I was doing a law course in Edinburgh, and another mature student on the course, a very bright and highly qualified man who ended up taking a job at the Scottish Office, casually noted one day that it was clear to him Tony Blair hated the idea of devolution. At the time I didn't understand. This was only a year on from Teflon Tony's brilliant election victory, long before his reputation had started to tarnish. Here he was, giving the people of Scotland their own parliament. How could anyone think he hated the idea?
But in the years since, I've always remembered those words because everything that's happened since has reinforced it. Despite appearances, Labour never wanted devolution. Forced to deliver it, they tried to make it as toothless as possible. Of course, at that time they ruled Scotland anyway, so it didn't matter to them so long as it did nothing to threaten their power base at Westminster. They were content to fill Holyrood with complacent also-rans, more concerned with pleasing No. 10 than delivering a real political force in Scotland.
The events of Blair's premiership, most notably the Iraq invasion in 2003, did a lot to undermine Scotland's faith in Labour. This wasn't helped by a mediocre performance at Holyrood, fraught with leadership changes and scandals. When the SNP scraped enough MSPs to form a minority administration in 2007 Scots began to see that Labour had just been coasting all those years. By contrast the SNP administration looked like a proper government of serious, competent politicians making changes for the better.
Back in the 70s the SNP were little more than a one-trick fringe party. Dubbed the 'Tartan Tories' (because they generally came from that sort of background) few people saw them as a viable alternative to Labour. But once in office they showed what they were made of, and it paid off. Far from being a one-issue party of grievance, here they were doing grown-up government, and doing it well. The next Holyrood election gave them an outright majority.
For Labour, still smarting from the humiliating defeat at Westminster the year before, this must have been galling. Hadn't they arranged the Holyrood constitution specifically to avoid any one party getting overall control? And the Nationalists! The horror!
To hear the Labour MPs speaking yesterday one would be forgiven for thinking the SNP's success has been down to some kind of mass hypnosis from which we'll all wake any day now. But nothing could be further from the truth. The SNP worked hard to earn the trust of Scottish voters. Coupled to that, Labour have reaped the reward of treating their former heartland with complacent disregard. Under Blair, up and coming talent was squashed or expelled, so afraid they were of dissent within the ranks. Some of that talent went to the SNP, shifting the party's centre leftward. Blair at times looked more tory than the tories. After all, wasn't it the tories who gave him a standing ovation when he resigned? And didn't Thatcher call him her greatest achievement?
|Labour's sole remaining Scottish MP practises his sneer in the mirror.|
But the most catastrophic blow to Labour in Scotland came at the independence referendum. Labour showed just how politically illiterate they had become when they gleefully stood shoulder to shoulder with the tories to tell Scots they were too wee, too poor, too stupid to stand on their own. Insulting your constituents is never a good way to get their vote, as Labour discovered in May's General Election.
Which brings us to last night's debate. Evidently Labour have still not learned the lessons of May's election. Otherwise they'd see that attacking the Holyrood administration and the 56 SNP MPs will only alienate what little support they have left in Scotland. And with Holyrood elections looming next year, where a decent number of MSP seats are at stake, you'd think they would be conscious of that.
It seems the Party of the People doesn't have a clue how to appeal to the People any more. Scotland likes its devolved government. The independence referendum was narrowly won with a dodgy bribe of greater powers, the 'near-Federalism' of the Vow. But Labour have other ideas.
You'd think, with so much ground to make up, they would be keen to show prospective voters that they can be trusted to deliver on their promises. But no, there was no sign of that in last night's debate, which from the get-go was a shabby display of Labour filibustering, lying and insulting the SNP.
Which seems odd, until you remember they never wanted devolution in the first place. While they ruled the roost they were prepared to tolerate Holyrood as a pointless talking shop. Now it's only a hindrance to their return to power. They will undermine it at every turn, and that's why they can't ever be trusted with Scottish votes again. At least, not until they have learned their lessons.