By Terry Houston

THERE is a high chance that many of the Scottish Labour and Lib Dem Westminster MPs who recently got their jotters will stand in the Holyrood election next year – a lot of them as list candidates.

It is a moot point as to how successful they will be. In particular, Labour’s lost boys and girls in Never, never land appear to have the tougher task in fighting extinction; though I would proffer a fiver to the bookie who sends a taxi for me if he hears I’m in gambling mood, that the Liberal Democrats are in Queer Street, too.

The first rule of any organisation – be it a business, quango or political party – is to perpetuate its existence. Perforce, Scottish Labour must try to staunch the bleeding of their close to fatal wounds. It is a straight-forward case of survival: if they do not hang together, they shall surely hang separately.
Watching them fight like ferrets in a sack for control of the soul of the Labour movement, we see a party in deep denial. The vicious civil war continues, unabated but more subterranean, on both sides of the border.

While the Punch & Judy show is vastly entertaining to the serried ranks of SNP supporters who, despite our anti-hunting laws, seem to have re-introduced in the country a new type of blood sport, ie, Labour-baiting, (and in due course I am going to indulge in it, too; I simply can’t help myself), it is time to consider deeper truths.

The first is this: the Scottish Parliament, not Westminster, represents the true route to Scottish independence.

For a long time now Scotland’s voters have recognised instinctively the worth of Holyrood; it is to Edinburgh they turn first, not London, irrespective of the true realities of power. Not so our shell-shocked Labour brethren at the party’s Scottish branch office (and it will always be the branch office, no matter if they call themselves the Self Governing, Sovereign, Autonomous, Self  Determining Scottish Labour Party). They look always southwards.

Nor have their (slightly pinkish) political betters in England, to whom Scotland has always been a puzzlement, truly cottoned on to the fact that the pipsqueak parliament that was to look after the drains and the sewers and drinks laws and all that important, but minor stuff, has actually come of age. By and large, Labour’s English MPs have been remarkably slow on the uptake.


So let us raise a loud Hurrah for Holyrood. It will soon be the cradle of democracy and a free Scotland and we can forget all that piffle foisted on us about Donald Dewar being the Father of the Nation (he it was, remember, who said that an independent Scotland would be like Albania, or it may have been Bangladesh, while hiding up his sleeve the 1974 McCrone Report which stated that, as an independent country, we would be as rich as King Midas, or at least Switzerland, because of the oil boom). Father of the Nation? In a pig’s eye, matey.

Which brings us to the second deep truth: it has always been Scottish Labour which has betrayed Scotland and seldom the Tories.

Draconian and uncaring though they may be, the Conservatives are like the old black and white B movie director who said of his film audiences: “I tell them what I’m going to do. I do it. Then I tell them that I’ve done it.”

The Tories are pretty upfront about their agenda. But Labour? some – perhaps many – may say they are downright sleekit.

I cite as an example the referendum on a Scottish Assembly. You haven’t heard of it? Gather round, dears, let me adjust this tartan shawl around my withers, and Grandpa will tell you a story about the perfidious Labour Scots.

CookIn 1979, James Callaghan’s Labour government held a Scottish referendum to see if we wanted devolution, in the form of a Scottish Assembly. His government was in favour of it. But a revolt led by Scottish Labour backbenchers forced through an amendment on the iniquitous 40 per cent rule, which massively stacked the deck in favour of a No vote.

The threshold requirement meant that a straight majority wasn’t good enough – 40 per cent of the total electorate had to vote Yes.
This meant that dead people on the electoral roll and those who didn’t bother to vote were counted as Nos. Even that rather splendid old buffer, the patrician Sir Alex Douglas-Home, the former Tory stopgap Prime Minister, stomped around the country, getting up on No platforms with his Labour political chums (yes, it happened then, too), and proclaimed: “A non-vote is a No vote.”

Behind that chicanery and out and out political fraud was one, George Cunningham, an ex-Dundonian “blow in” who represented a London seat as a Labour MP before later becoming an Independent MP and even later a convert to the SDP. The word carpetbagger springs to mind. He it was who put forward the 40 per cent amendment.

But its real architect was the late Robin Cook, MP for Livingston. He was, in years to come, the “ethical” Foreign Secretary who,  at Heathrow Airport, was to carelessly mislay his wife by announcing to the press on the very tarmac, airside, that he was leaving and divorcing her for his mistress. He did so when Downing Street, home of the Messianic and thoroughly discredited Tony Blair, ordered him to choose between the twain, which he did in jig time after the affair was publicly exposed. So. Press and Prime Minister first … wife last to know; all life is cliché. Maybe her phone line was engaged.

Mr Cook was too cowardly, himself (or perhaps too politically astute because he knew it would not play well in Scotland), to murder the referendum. But he was “art and part” of the killing; he recruited our George to do the foul deed; he helped fashion the bullets and he nudged the sniper’s rifle in the right direction. Oh, yes he did, M’lud.

It was a dastardly act perpetrated against the Scottish people. Because of it we lost 20 years of devolved government. Serious referenda that affect the very core of a nation are not like buses; there will not be another one coming around the corner in a minute. The waste of those lost years in thrall to Westminster is beyond computation.

Thus, when someone asks folk of my generation why they don’t vote Scottish Labour (as I was asked before the recent general election by a socialist canvasser, the first to knock my door in Paisley in 35 years), like the Rev. Ian Paisley, they – and I – thunder: “Never… never… never.”

SmithWhen the second – and successful – devolution referendum finally arrived, Labour leader John Smith, sadly passim, of the rotten burgh of Monklands, declared it to be “the settled will of the people,” and everyone nodded gravely.

It was, of course, utter tosh; it was the settled will of the people the first time around; we WON that referendum by 51.6 per cent to 48.5 per cent. Despite shackling the populace hand and foot in a foully unjust, squalid, political stitch-up, Scotland still voted to establish its own Assembly and it didn’t get it.

The third deep political truth is also about Holyrood. Should pigs fly and a discovery is made that the moon is, indeed, made of green cheese, and the above posses of MPs surplus to requirements at Westminster are reborn as MSPs in creditable numbers by the proportional voting system, it can only strengthen that institution.

BeggWho among us could begrudge Holyrood witnessing the arrival of the likes of Labour’s Dame Anne Begg (formerly of Aberdeen South) or Michael Moore, the former Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary within the last coalition government? The hill-walking, jazz loving, film buff has held a plethora of portfolios, many with a financial flavour; he is a one-time CA.

The paradox for Scottish Labour, or whatever they will call themselves when the party rebranding exercise winds to a close, is that, in the Gadarene Swine-like rush to get their snouts in a new trough, they will be making the Scottish Parliament even more powerful by placing in its environs some politicians of genuine stature, which will make the SNP raise its game.

Forget, for a moment, the bells and whistles currently being applied to Holyrood, it is the calibre of the people inside the place that matters.

Shamefully, when the Scottish Parliament came into existence, Labour sent along not its first, not even its second, but its third eleven, save Donald Dewar (whom I once accused of being a little man who dreamed little dreams, and still stand by it).

MooreThere was no “clunking fist” of Gordon Brown, no Alistair Darling, not one top drawer socialist politician. This in a parliament supposed to be an amalgam of the political talents of Scotland and a beacon of hope throughout the land.

Labour filled its seats with placemen drawn from councils and quango-land. To be frank, in its first term, Holyrood was, as they say in Govan, “rid rotten.”

Stuttering speeches, orders handed straight from London to the Labour administration and overbearing civil servants bailing out their supposed political masters by reaching into the desk drawer to unveil, and blow the cobwebs from, a “here’s one I baked earlier” policy. Under Labour, Sir Humphrey ruled the country.

But Holyrood learned. It developed a strong committee system, drew from what worked well in other countries far from the Westminster bubble, and now it is genuinely fit for purpose as a modern, progressive entity. Those improvements, it must be said, are down to the SNP administrations, not Scottish Labour.


Eagle-eyed readers among you will have noticed that, so far, no mention has been made of Messrs Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy and any ambitions either may harbour towards Holyrood. After calm and reasoned reflection, one can summarise the view of the man on the mythical Clapham omnibus as follows: Douglas Alexander is, without fear of contradiction, the most unctuous, irritating, little smout on God’s green earth. As my sainted granny (a teacher) once said of a smug pupil: he has a face you would never tire of slapping.

His penchant for hitching his wagon to falling stars as a backroom strategist and errand boy for Gordon Brown is legendary. In the real world, away from his stratagems and political war gaming, he also bollixed the new 2007 Holyrood electoral system, which he created and oversaw, by being too clever by half.

Overriding all objections, he combined the municipal and Scottish parliamentary elections, holding them on the same day, believing he had neatly found an electoral advantage for Scottish Labour. The party has long had huge difficulties in motivating its supporters to turn out for council elections, whose returns are always dire.

With one bold stroke, he decided the electorate should only have to go the polls once and vote twice – once for Holyrood and once for the councils. Moreover, his masterful plan, on paper, had the added virtue of massively pushing up Labour’s municipal vote.

Oh, what a fall was there, my countrymen!
Then I, and you, and all of us fell down,
Whilst bloody treason flourished over us.
Oh, now you weep, and, I perceive, you feel
The dint of pity.

As a direct result of the Meerkat’s endeavours, an astonishing 150,000 bewildered and confused voters had their ballots rejected. The rejection rate was 4 per cent of the electorate (in the 2003

Scottish election only 0.6 per cent of ballots were spoiled.) An independent investigation into the debacle duly found that a series of partisan decisions made by Mr Alexander resulted in widespread voter confusion, an understatement of some magnitude.

Will the Meerkat stand for Holyrood?  Perhaps, but it is more likely he will return to his natural habitat, the Labour strategy unit, and with a bit of luck for the electorate, he will complete the job of sending his party to perdition.

As for Mr Murphy, he should seek cover, perhaps with a big, bushy beard, dark glasses and an alias, rather than risk exposure to further travails, there being a thin line between bravery and foolishness.

Had he adopted the name Dervishi, for example, he could head for Albania, with which, in days passim, Scottish Labour were so pre-occupied. There the surname is as common as mud; its English translation approximates to poor faqir. Mr M would have been in good company. There are many, many poor faqirs in Albania.

I am not at all sure of what, exactly, the term means, and Mr Dewar is no longer around to enlighten us, but I suspect I would know one when I saw one; Mr Murphy certainly would.

None of these poor faqirs, by the by, has ever heard of Donald Dewar, a quite startling state of affairs, given his past strong views on the subject of Albania.
This is all mild speculation; Sunny Jim remains in Scotland, a man of boundless political ambition; if he does get high enough up the Scottish Labour list, he’s in; if he stands as a contituency MSP he’s out.

I see my bookie’s taxi is waiting so I bid you Adieu; I am off to lay that very two-way bet.

From July 2015 Edition

© 2015 Terry Houston. All rights reserved.

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