We’re quite cynical folks, especially when it comes to Scottish Labour. We expect little from them, although even then we’re still sometimes surprised. But a couple of pieces today from two of the Scottish party’s most prominent – well, let’s use the word “thinkers” and keep things civil – raised our eyebrows good and proper.
Right-winger Tom Harris, on his suddenly-reanimated zombie blog LabourHame, and the increasingly-barking Ian Smart on his blog, have both come out with pieces essentially advocating Conservative governments. Smart’s apologism for his supposed blood enemies is particularly overt:
“Of course a Tory Government is not ideal but it pays your wages if you’re in the public sector. Maintains law and order. Guarantees your pension or state benefit. And even when it is making a mess of the economy, it can still afford to do so. Anyway, we’ve had Tory Governments before, even Mrs Thatcher, and we’re not actually starving.”
So there you go – as far as Labour are concerned, a Tory government is merely “not ideal”. It’s no major issue to have the country run by their supposed deadly ideological opposites, because as Smart points out in the next line, at some point it’ll always be Labour’s turn (to implement Tory policies) again. But it’s the bit following that sentence that takes the breath away.
“And, finally, Tory Governments can always be voted out. Once freed from the restraints of ‘British’ civilised norms who can be sure Eck would be prepared to take that risk? And who’d be there to stop him? The Queen?”
No, you didn’t misread that. Mr Smart just suggested that in an independent Scotland, Alex Salmond might abandon democratic elections and run the country as a dictatorship. You’d assume he was joking, but there isn’t a shred of evidence anywhere in the post to indicate humour, and earlier passages suggest he’s deadly serious (if utterly insane) about the prospect of a Nazi-esque fascist Scottish state:
“And then there’s the cultural and demographic effects. A National Broadcaster where you only see what Alex Salmond wants, and even then only if he can afford it. A National Cultural policy that in its promotion of Scottish literature and music makes De Valera’s Ireland look like Renaissance Florence. A massive brain drain as any young person of ambition, having escaped compulsory Gaelic in every school, will still have the portable skill of speaking English, at least for the moment, and will, if they’ve any sense, leave the Country at the earliest opportunity.”
(We take no responsibility for the repeated inappropriate capitalisation of words that aren’t proper nouns, like “national”, “broadcaster”, “cultural”, “country”, “referendum” and “independence”. It would be petty to note that such behaviour is a noted characteristic of several debilitating mental conditions, as anyone aware of Charles Linskaill’s contributions to the Scotsman’s comment section will know.)
It should be noted, of course, that these comments come in the context of Smart’s revelation that we ought to expect the Unionists to fight a dirty, negative and dishonest campaign. But if you’re going to fight a campaign on dirty, negative lying, is it wise to put the lies on the same page as the bit where it points out you’re lying?
Perhaps, as an experienced lawyer, Mr Smart is operating on an advanced level of complex meta-lying that simple hacks like us just aren’t equipped to understand when he says things like this immediately after telling us he’s prepared to fight ugly even at the expense of the truth:
“Worried about benefit cuts? At least your still getting benefits. It’s difficult to see how anything other than subsistence benefits could be paid against the background of the mass unemployment Independence would create.”
That said, we’re still a bit confused as to his suggestion that such scorched-earth campaigning is deployed because it works. (“Never forget, the reason that negative advertising is so prevalent in American politics is because…”) After all, Labour’s last attempt at that strategy didn’t work out too well for the party, and Mr Smart himself decried the tactic as a failure:
“The only consolation is that since we clearly intend to fight the 2011 campaign again in 2016 we might be able to save some money on literature. So, don’t throw out these inspiring ‘Vote Labour if you don’t want to be stabbed’ leaflets. They may be needed again.”
But anyway. The core of Smart’s argument, if we might generously depict it in such elevated terms, is an earlier passage:
“It is taken as a given that the worst possible form of government for Scotland is a Tory Westminster Government. And nobody is to make any attempt to suggest otherwise.”
The implication is that such a claim is somehow untrue. Yet, as a member of Scottish Labour, which plausible election outcome could ostensibly be worse for Smart than a Tory Westminster government without a Scottish mandate? The only conclusion than can be drawn is that – despite constant angry denials whenever such a proposition is put to them – as far as Labour are concerned, a Tory Westminster government is better than a social-democratic independent Scottish Government under the SNP. In short, they hate the (relatively left-wing) SNP more than they hate the Tories.
Nationalists have known this for years, of course, but it’s intriguing to see it finally start to come out into the open, and Harris’ piece for LabourHame scuppers any thought of Mr Smart merely being dismissed as a lone lunatic.
One long sneer, it represents perhaps the first time that we’ve seen an elected representative of the Labour Party use the term “leftie” as an insult. Harris pours scorn on the idea that an independent Scotland would elect left-wing governments as a matter of course, asserting – quite correctly – that a strong opposition is vital to a healthy democracy. However, the post then takes a dramatic swerve away from sanity.
“None of this is envisioned by our nationalist compatriots. Their utopian vision of Scotland’s future is one where the right is frozen out in perpetuity, where left-leaning governments are re-elected with the certainty of day following night.”
All parties, by their fundamental nature, envisage a future where they win elections. But that’s not the same thing as having weak or no opposition. It’s called democracy. You win by appealing to the electorate, and there’s no barrier – either in existence now or proposed, to our knowledge, by the SNP as a facet of independence – to the Conservatives winning elections in Scotland, should the people of Scotland suddenly decide that that’s their wish.
Harris’s argument is that an independent Scotland would by definition be an unhealthy place because it never had Tory governments. Or put another way, that the people of Scotland are idiots for continually voting for left-leaning (or in Labour’s case, notionally left-leaning) parties for the last 50 years.
It’s a radical departure from the orthodox Labour argument that we need to stay in the Union to help our English brethren get Labour governments – Harris is actually saying that we need not just strong opposition, but specifically strong Tory opposition. And by definition, a strong opposition is one that wins sometimes. Scotland, according to Tom Harris, needs not only to risk having Tory governments by staying in the Union, but also to actually have them at least some of the time.
Since there’s no sign of an upsurge in Tory support in Scotland and hasn’t been for over quarter of a century, and with the Lib Dems now dead men walking, there’s only one logical extrapolation of Harris’ position – the Unionist parties in Scotland need to merge into a single anti-SNP opposition. They already function as a coalition in the No campaign, so the doors are already open and the fledgling alliances in place. The final step is not only possible, but rational.
Harris, of course, resides on the far right of the Labour spectrum, and his ideas don’t yet represent the party’s mainstream view. But these are more than tentative soundings, as demonstrated by Smart’s echoing of the same line. (We very much doubt that the timing is coincidental, given that the previous post on LabourHame was one of Smart’s.) We can expect the lines dividing the three Unionist parties, already largely cosmetic, to become even more blurred over the coming months and years.
Much of Labour’s anti-independence campaigning so far has been openly premised on the curiously-defeatist assumption that an independent Scotland would be governed in perpetuity by the SNP. But these latest positionings point even more directly at a party thinking about a post-independence future, which many believe will see a massive realignment of Scottish politics, with the SNP splintering into factions only currently united over independence, Labour utterly discredited and shattered by serial defeat and the Tories rendered meaningless by the destruction of their core reason for existing. The 2020 Holyrood election could be contested by an entirely new set of parties.
We’re making no predictions about the outcome of the referendum. It’s going to be a hard fight, and two years is an eternity in politics. But make no mistake: even if only as a contingency plan, the Unionists are preparing to lose.