Thursday, 4 February 2016

Three buts.

I'm very much in favour of Labour's proposal to raise Income Tax by 1% to help defend public services in Scotland. Others have set out why this is both a progressive and necessary initiative and I won't duplicate their efforts here.

The buts that follow are therefore offered in a spirit of constructive criticism.

They are all hugely informed by the vox pops offered by the Daily Record in its coverage of the issue to which, if I could find a link, I would direct you. For the public are our masters in these matters and rather than spending time on commentators interpreting their views it is altogether better simply to ask them directly, which is precisely what the Record did.

So my first but is this.

We will never sell this policy if we present it as aimed at preserving jobs in local government. People who work in local government, and their unions,  are understandably interested in preserving jobs in local government. The general public are not.

The general public are interested in preserving local government services and indeed public services more generally, and recognise that this service delivery creates or preserves employment, but they have no sympathy at all for the idea that local government's objective is to employ people as a virtue in itself.

So we should talk about preventing increased class sizes, protecting vulnerable children, keeping open libraries and other community facilities, maintaining roads, providing adequate care for the elderly, making sure we can use a taxi, or a public house, or a fast food outlet in relative safety. Employing only just as many people along the way as are required to do that. And not a single person more.

And, while we are at it, once the decencies of a living wage are dealt with, paying only enough to ensure that those adequate to these tasks can be recruited in sufficient numbers.

To return to the vox pops, while some of those maintaining that they'd happily pay more tax if they could be sure it will be "spent properly" are clearly making a self serving excuse for actually being unwilling to do so for any purpose, by no means all of them are. We have to recognise that. And acnowledge Labour's own culpability in reaching a situation where that Nats think they can knock lumps out of The "Cooncil"(s) with impunity.

And my second but is this.

There are no votes in gloating.

Our activists are having a great time pointing at the SNP and shouting "Tartan Tories". It's good fun. I've done it myself. And those few politically engaged who have pledged their allegiance to the SNP in the genuine, if deluded, belief that their social democratic veneer was something other than a tactic are certainly looking pretty silly. At best keeping a low profile and at worst writing pathetic pieces maintaining that while "of course" they are in favour of progressive taxation, they are just not in favour of this particular progressive taxation because............well because.....because Nicola is against it.

But the vast majority of people are not politically engaged. And few of those who have left Labour for the SNP have done so in a sincere belief that the SNP are suddenly to the significant left of Labour. Rather they believe that the SNP are, at the same time, something new and something familiar. Something new in that they are more patriotic (and who isn't patriotic) and yet something familiar in that, publicly at least, they are that sort of non-ideological, don't frighten the horses, force that characterised Scottish Labour before the rot of complacency set in.

So the idea that Labour being suddenly, once again, clearly to the left of the SNP will bring electoral reward in itself is an entirely illusory one. If it was otherwise we'd have seen a Corbyn bounce rather than, it appears, precisely the reverse.

And that leads to my final but.

For the moment, a significant section of the electorate are lost to us. A very significant section. For they have genuinely been sold on the idea that you can eat a flag. It's not a majority, we put that decisively to the test sixteen months past, but it is certainly a plurality.

More than one of the randomly chosen Record interviewees suggested that instead of raising Income Tax we should simply be given more money from "Westminster", apparently completely unaware of how well we currently do in that context. That being the reason the SNP (the SNP!) seem reluctant for the Scottish Parliament being more responsible for raising its own revenue in the current fiscal framework talks. One interviewee even suggested that the simple solution was for us to be allowed to keep "the oil money", apparently unaware that there is currently virtually no oil money. Nor will there be for the forseeeable future.

That problem will not be solved by a Scottish Labour leadership unwilling to say regularly and loudly that, with or without £500 Million from 1% on income tax,"Osborne" austerity would be a drop in the ocean compared to the £7 Billion black hole in our public finances that an independent Scotland, within three months, would be facing had things gone otherwise in September 2014.

And to realise that, until that argument is won, no amount of tactical positioning, in the context of devolved Scottish elections, will be enough, in itself, to restore our fortunes.

Come next May, Labour should not be ignoring this, we should be confronting it head on.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

What are schools for?

This is a much more complicated question than you think.

Schools are surely for the purpose of educating children.

Except in practice, in Scotland, they are not. Or at least for far too many of them they are not. Really.

The biggest single challenge facing Scotland is the gap. The gap in expectation between those from comfortable backgrounds and the rest. It isn't an exclusively educational gap for it also shows up, at the other end, in life expectancy. That's not a small thing but it's not my topic here.

For in relation to those at the end of the life cycle, while it might be possible to mitigate the gap, it will never be possible to eliminate it. You can't turn the clock back.

But at the start at least you can try to ensure that it doesn't run too far behind.

Before I go on, I want to say two things.

The first is observational.

On 29th December, Andi and I went to see Scottish Ballet perform Cinderella at the Festival Theatre. We got the train from Croy to Waverley. We wandered about the German Market for an hour or so, with its lights, its trivial but beautiful gifts, with its generally cosmopolitan air. And then we walked up the Bridges to our “night oot”. Followed by two hours of wonderful music, wonderful staging and, insofar as I am qualified to judge, wonderful dancing. It was a brilliant experience. But it wasn't a cheap one, albeit one that we personally were well able to afford.

And over the holiday we met up with kith, kin and friends and enjoyed the vicariously the years experience of their children; their parents being our contemporaries, the “children” now being teenagers and beyond.

So we learned of expeditions to see Basketball at Madison Square Gardens in New York; snowboarding “sabbaticals” in the Canadian Rockies; “working holidays” in Australia; not such working holidays spent on the beaches of the Croatian Islands.

But I come back to the ballet. For as we walked towards it and back from it, we were surrounded with lots of little boys and girls (alright, mainly girls) literally skipping with enthusiasm at what they were about to see or, later on, had actually seen.

No education system can fix the ability of parents to be able to afford, or more likely not to be able to afford, these sort of life experiences for their children and the subsequent life advantages that these experiences inevitably bring. But it can at least try.

Which leads me to my second, more personal and cautionary point. It is difficult for a legal aid lawyer to write about his or her cases in an attempt to draw wider conclusions without betraying client confidentiality.

You will therefore have to trust me that the essential elements of what I now say are based on a true case but appreciate I have had to very substantially change the detail to anonymise it.

For they involve a child from a particularly difficult background. His paternal uncle was in prison for murder and his father, now prevented by law from contacting him, had served a period of imprisonment for assaulting his mother even before the child went to school. Where he proved incapable of overcoming his nurture, even disregarding his nature.

So, from Primary one, he was violent to other pupils. He would hit them, kick them, when once having come off worse in a fight, then present a knife towards them. Until one day, at the age of eight or so, he went “too far” and put another eight year old wee boy in the hospital with a fractured skull.

When, after an admitted suspension, “the system” suggested he should be returned to class. Whereupon the other parents in the school had had enough and occupied the Head Teacher's office, vowing to leave only when they were assured their own children were safe. Which could only happen if this child went somewhere else. Anywhere else. I'd like to say their view was that he needed “appropriate help”, but it wasn't. They just wanted to know that they could go to their work in the reasonable expectation that their own child wouldn't be stabbed in their absence. Not to their work as Social Workers or Teachers or even Legal Aid Lawyers, for few of “us” would have had a child in that school in the first place, but (just) to their work as Social Carers or Labourers or Shop Assistants. Who hoped perhaps that their children might have a bit better opportunity in life than them. And who knew that this could only come through education.

Now, I read all of the Social Work and Education reports in this case. They repeatedly referred to the value to the child himself enjoying a mainstream education. Of the extent to which he was “bright”. Of the unfortunate circumstance of his upbringing. Of the extent of his personal “innocence”.


For where were the interests of the wee boy with the fractured skull? Or of the classmates reluctant to go to school, or even too scared to go to school altogether, for fear they'd be stabbed? At best for the kids who'd conduct every Arithmetic or English class lacking concentration as a result of always looking over their shoulder for fear of an unwanted kick or punch?

Where was the appreciation of a school as a place of education, not a place for the teachers to, hopelessly, try to address the injustices of the wider world,? Or of a school as a place for the pupils within it  to attempt to do something more than, simply, survive?

There is no better example of the hard choices of politics than this. Politics' objective is surely to secure the greatest good of the greatest number. But it can't progress on the basis that there will be never be any casualties on the way. “No child left behind” is a noble sentiment but not if it translates as “Every child kept behind in consequence”.

As they are inevitably if classes need to be disrupted by other children regularly turning up late. Or held up while teachers deal with discipline problems. Or, I'm sorry, simply with hygiene problems.

To return to my given example; maybe, if returned to mainstream schooling, that wee boy might have overcome all his disadvantages and gone on to make something of himself. Maybe.

But at some point, no matter how ruthless it may sound, somebody surely needed to balance that remote chance, for that's all it would ever be, with the damage that might be inflicted on so many other wee boys and girls while failing in the attempt. Even then hoping it would only be educational damage.

I'm a great defender of the comprehensive principle. All children willing to learn should be treated equally.

But teachers are not Social Workers. And schools are not miracle palaces. If we want to even start to challenge the advantages of Basketball trips to New York, or Canadian sabbaticals, or evenings at the ballet, then a starting point has to be this: That, for working class pupils, state schools are, as private schools have always been, start to finish, places of education. Not outreach departments of Social Work. And for those not able or willing to buy into that,even if they are, personally, “innocents”? Then schools cannot be the “cheap” solution. For that solution maybe cheap for some but it is not for those other children, from ordinary backgrounds, who truly find themselves paying the price.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Down and Out in Glasgow and......Glasgow

Today, it was announced that the middle class tossers at Creative Scotland have paid some lucky recipient a grant to live in Glasgow for a year and to report on “being poor”. That grant is £15,000. For a year. Tax free.

Here are a few facts. If you are under 25, unemployed, but physically fit, in Glasgow this is the maximum you can receive in benefits.

Job Seekers Allowance: £57.90 per week. £3010.80 per annum.

Housing Benefit: £92.08 per week. £4788.16 per annum.

Council Tax Benefit (per annum): £808.67
And that's it.

That is a total of £8,607.63 per annum.

That is £6,392.37 per annum less: £122.94 a week less; four meals downstairs at the Rogano less, than that which Creative Scotland regards as poverty. But imagine the trauma for a creative of not being able to eat a full three days a week at the Rogano? And never upstairs. Unless you are being treated by somebody (from Creative Scotland?) visiting you and enjoying an expense account. After all, it's not far from Queen Street.

Now, be clear, let us revisit that amount of £8,607.83 per annum; £165.53 a week, before housing costs. £57.90 afterwards. For heating, lighting and, with what is left, food. That is poor. Really poor. So poor that nobody needs to contract with you, as the middle class tossers did with their middle class recipient of their £15,000, that she would only leave Glasgow for family or medical emergency, not even for The Fringe. £165.63 per week rules out even the cinema in Coatbridge. Indeed £165.63 per week, £57.90 after housing costs, leaves you so poor that you probably couldn't even afford to leave Glasgow even if there was family or medical emergency. With or without the agreement of Creative Scotland.

The middle classes simply do not appreciate absolute poverty. That explains the £15,000. Just as it explains two other things. The Yessers belief (and I suspect most of those awarding this grant fell into that category) that the “adventure” of Independence might bring a little financial “hardship” to them but not one they couldn't bear. But it also explains those in my Party, in comfortable public sector employment, who think that “a Labour Government at any price” is also one too high for them to bear. For them perhaps. But not I suspect for those on £8607.53 per annum, £165.53 a week, before housing costs. £57.90 after housing costs. A week. And facing things getting consistently worse under another ten years of the Tories.

Now these same Tories say “Get a job!” (although not, I suspect, as a professional “poor person in Glasgow”) and I get that. But if you've been brought up in a workless household, and have, as a result of our dysfunctional education system, have no practical skills to employ in this increasingly post manual labour age, then “getting a job” is not as simple as that.

So £165.53 a week might be your lot. But let's not pretend that this is anything other than absolute poverty. And lets not pretend that £15,000 per annum ( tax free) is anything even approaching that. Not least because the National Living Wage (certainly no fortune) is £14,287 per annum for a 35 hour week. Before tax!

But that is the extent to which our Nationalist masters and their middle class luvvie pals simply do not understand the lot of the poor. And yet by waving a flag they get away with pretending that they do. While my own Party believes it can afford the indulgence of Jez and Kez.
I'm annoyed. You'll get that.

Friday, 1 January 2016

A One Party State

You may have noticed that I have more or less stopped blogging.
Mainly that's because there isn't really very much for me to blog about. I blog about politics, mostly, and my kind of politics is now essentially irrelevant.

The only important Party now is the Tories. And I don't know much about the Tories. So there isn't very much for me to say.

One of the things that you learn eventually about democratic politics, anywhere in the world, is that the only thing that really matters is elections. In their immediate aftermath the losers inevitably talk of “holding to account” the victors. They also fall back occasionally on complaining about the “unfairness” or the “misguidedness” or even the “illegitimacy” of their defeat. But it never comes to anything in a mature democracy. After a few months it sinks in that the only way to get revenge is to win the next time. “They won, we lost, get over it”

That's what the Tories are really good at. Other than during a very brief period under IDS, throughout the whole of my lifetime they have either been in power or planning how to get back into power. And, given they have been (mainly) running the Country for the last two hundred and fifty years, they are even, if required, prepared to play the long game in that process. Thus, the achievements of the Attlee government were recognised as too popular to be reversed, so they were embraced. Thus Wilson's successful assault on Tory toffs was met with the initial counter of “Grocer” Heath (although he was never a Grocer) and then the (genuine) Grocer's daughter Thatcher. Thus Blair was endured and then found the sincerest form of flattery in his imitation from Witney.

And now Cameron has set the limit to his own mortality? The first question the Conservative Party will ask, from top to bottom, and before a nomination is made or a vote cast, will be “Can she or he win?” It would be inconceivable for even the most right-wing Tory to endorse a candidate thinking “Well, clearly he can't get elected, but he'll certainly stick it to these socialist chappies in the course of being defeated.”
And that, in a nutshell,is the first reason the only important Party is the Tory Party.

For Labour simply does not think the same. Or at least does not unanimously think the same. It's not just Jez, it's Kez as well. Kez stood for the Scottish Leadership on an open platform of not being the solution to Scottish Labour's problems and has since gone on prove it. She gives the impression of having no idea why she is there, other than to acquire a momentary, very minor, celebrity. Having embraced, in theory, the argument that no-one knows what we stand for, far from clarifying that, she has instead cast doubt on two of the few things about which it was thought we were reasonably clear: that Scotland should remain within the United Kingdom and that the United Kingdom should remain within the European Union. And that's before you even start on her bizarre attempt to save Michelle Thomson (a distraction, apparently); her failure to go after Phil Boswell (another distraction, apparently) or the general vacuousness of her every public statement. Strangely I even feel some sympathy for the “#SNPbad” school of criticism. I know what we are against but I have absolutely no idea what we are for. We are against the Council Tax freeze but will we lift it? No idea. We are opposed to the SNP failing to use the Calman powers but would we have used them? No idea. We believe Forth Bridge maintenance was underfunded but would we re-introduce tolls? No idea. We think the NHS needs more resources but do we support Prescription Charges? No idea. We oppose cutting college places and maintenance grants to fund free university education but would we introduce fees, or even bring back the Graduate Endowment? No idea.

And then finally we have the utter shambles of the list selection procedure where, to avoid offending anybody, everybody has been left to stand. I have a choice of twenty (twenty!) candidates for seven places, only five of whom have any conceivable chance of being elected. Making the process, in its execution, both ludicrously time consuming and, worse still, a huge distraction from trying to actually hold some Constituency seats.
Just about the only thing I have agreed with Kez about is in the interview she decided (why?!!!) to give to the Guardian in which she confessed her own doubts about whether she was up to the job of being a credible candidate for First Minister. Only, along with most of Scotland, “doubts” would not express my scepticism sufficiently strongly.

But we're stuck with her 'til May.

Which is the second reason that the Tories are the only important Party. For until Labour is once again credible in Scotland, with or without the Jez factor, there is no route back to power at Westminster. And while Kez is there.........

“But surely, when talking about important Parties, we at least have the SNP?” I hear you protest. “They run the Scottish Government! They've got almost all our MPs! They are massively ahead in the polls! They must be important!”

Except they are not, really.

One of the things that passed off without nearly as much comment as it ought to have attracted was Nicola telling the SNP October Conference that there would not be an unconditional commitment to a second referendum in this (I nearly wrote next!) year's Manifesto.

Why? She didn't really say. Except that we all knew it was because they would just lose (again). And that that loss (One might be unfortunate but two might look like carelessness) could prove to be as much of an electoral gamechanger in conventional politics as had proved September 2014. Only this time, for the SNP, not in a good way.

So the SNP is now, still, for Scottish Independence, only not yet. And, to be honest, you do wonder if it's slowly dawning on them, not ever. They successfully avoided the internal excoriation they received from Alex Bell by ignoring it. But out of sight is not out of mind. A re-run referendum based on a promise of an immediate cut in living standards and the prospect of then negotiating the world with a currency of indeterminate value is unlikely to persuade many of the 55. While you suspect much of the 45 would find themselves thinking “Haud oan a minute!” As the cleverer Nats know.

But in the meantime? Well we know the answer from Swinney's budget in October. Tax and spend in SNP Scotland will mirror tax and spend in Tory “England”. That's life. If you want an end to austerity, or even a particular aspect of austerity, you'd be better lobbying George than John. George might not listen but he is at least the organ grinder. And that is the third reason the Tories are now the only important Party.

But the final reason is more peculiarly domestic.

Aside from the SNP there is at least one other Party in Scotland who is not in complete disarray. Who does have a credible alternative candidate for First Minister, a candidate who does know what her Party stands for (chiefly because she has told them) and who does have a clear programme for Government. Who has had a grip on their candidate selection, who hasn't effectively written off the constituency contests, and who will be laser focused on winning as many seats as possible rather than on who gets to win these seats.

That Party won't win the election. But if the SNP are to be denied a second overall majority it is much more likely to be as a result of a recovery in their fortunes than as a result of any other scenario.

And if the SNP fail to win an overall majority? Well then, once again, in deciding what happens next, there will be only one important Party.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Aux armes, citoyens!

Over the last two days there has been much singing of the Marseillaise.

It is a unique national anthem because, long before Friday's tragic events in Paris, it belonged to much more than its native country. It was composed as newly revolutionary France was menaced on all sides by the Armies of reaction and lost its original, rather literal, title, War song for the Army of the Rhine, in favour of its now much more famous appellation, when it was sung in the streets of Paris by volunteers (volunteers!) arriving there from the port of Marseille in 1792 to defend the revolution.

It was banned outright on the Bourbon restoration but whenever 19th century insurrection was in the air, initially in France, but later much widely across Europe, it became a rallying song of the forces of progress. It was even played at the Finland Station when Lenin arrived home there to herald the October Revolution.

But it also became something more. A musical shorthand for the aims of the (first) French Revolution; of liberty, egality and fraternity.

Its most famous cinematic rendition is in of course in the 1942 film, Casablanca. When Victor Laszlo instructs the band it be played to drown out the carousing Germans, it is both insignificant and very significant that Laszlo isn't himself French and it is not just the patrons of Rick's CafĂ© but cinemagoers the world over who find themselves metaphorically rising to their feet. Roy Hattersley once wrote of being strangely moved to tears by a National Anthem that is not one's own. Except that it is our own. It belongs to all of us. All of us who embrace the values of the enlightenment.

But the Marseillaise is something more as well. It is a war song.

It's final lines are these:

Aux armes, citoyens!
Formez vos bataillons!
Marchons! Marchons!
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!

For sometimes it is not just necessary to sing about your values. Sometimes you have to be prepared to fight for them.

And this I suspect may prove to be a matter of great significance for the internal politics of the Labour Party.

On the 12th of September 2001, in the NATO Council resolved that "if it is determined that the [Twin Towers] attack against the United States was directed from abroad, it shall be regarded as an action covered by Article 5 of the Washington [NATO] Treaty".

It was ultimately so determined and as a result NATO as a whole took action against Afghanistan.

That action might have been led by the United States but it was the treaty obligation of all NATO member states to assist the "member state" so attacked. As the United Kingdom did.

But there was another, very much minority, view at the time. That there was no reason or at least purpose to an attack on Afghanistan. That, in any event, to some degree or another, the United States had brought this assault on itself.

This body of opinion coalesced around the Stop the War coalition. It was that war,  not the later Iraq War which brought it to much greater prominence, that is referred to in the organisation's title.

And there was at least a logical conclusion to the organisation's position. A conclusion that the UK should abrogate its NATO treaty obligations and, by implication at least, leave its framework of collective security altogether.

Now, at the time, this organisation had as one of its immediate leading lights, indeed later as its Chairperson, one Jeremy Corbyn MP. Within nine days of September the 11th he had declared himself opposed to any retaliatory military action whatsoever. And he remained thereafter consistent. As recently as September 3rd 2015, asked at the final Labour leadership debate if he could see any circumstance in which he would support the deployment of British troops abroad he replied that, while he was sure there were some, he couldn't think of any for the moment.

Well, that might have been a hypothetical question but this is not.

One of our oldest allies has been attacked. The home of the enlightenment, with, although this should be no more than incidental, one of the few socialist governments in Europe.. Attacked by people whose motivation appears to have been in part disgust at liberated women and whose specific targets at the Bataclan Theatre appeared to be particularly the disabled patrons in attendance. Attacked without warning and in the minds of almost all people of liberal opinion, without reason. In any sense of the word reason.

It appears Article 5 of the NATO treaty is again to be invoked and that, further to that, France is likely to take direct retaliatory military action against the places from which this outrage was planned. Action which we are treaty bound to assist.

So, Jeremy, is this finally a circumstance in which you will support the deployment of British troops abroad?

I suspect on the answer to that question will depend either the future of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. Or, alternatively, the future of the Labour Party itself.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Blue Remembered Hills

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.

A.E. Houseman (from) A Shropshire Lad

I started off intending to write about the debacle last weekend's Labour Party Scottish Conference.

Except I really did begin to think what was the point.

There remain two questions about next year's Scottish Parliament Election. The first is whether the SNP will secure a second overall majority. That's more of an issue than some realise. I might come back to that on a future occasion.

But the second is increasingly the question of the day. Will Labour even be second?

And that begs the wider question. Can Labour ever win again, in the UK or in Scotland?

And while the events of the three days past, last weekend, lead to the conclusion that both of these latter questions have an increasingly worrying probable answer, that in turn suggests that it is perhaps time to take wider stock.

For maybe it is over.

Not just for 2016 and not just for Scotland.

Maybe the whole idea of a "Labour" Party has had its day.

I joined the Labour Party between the February and October General Elections.

Then,  elections were both more common and less common. More common because there was a burgh election (in rotation) every year but less common in that, notwithstanding the exceptional year in which  I joined, "big" elections came along only occasionally.

And big elections, in Paisley at least, were always won by the Labour Party.

For Paisley read Falkirk. Or Dunfermline. Or Kilmarnock. Or Barnsley. Or Tredegar. Or Bethnal Green.

Labour places.

The "campaign" at these big elections was not really a campaign. It was more a general reminder to everybody that there was an election on. So they'd better get out and vote. Vote Labour didn't even really require to be expressly stated.

Public meetings were even then regarded as a waste of time: a magnet only for Trots, or Nats, or cranks, more or less the same thing to our mind, but factory gate meetings were a different thing. At Babcocks, and Rolls Royce and at whatever the great Linwood car factory was being called that year. The "stewards" would be asked to suggest a date and as thousands of men (an intentional use of gender here) rushed either in to their work or out to their tea, or to the pub, or to wherever, leaflets would be pushed into their hands, stickers pressed to their clothing and in a brief stump speech listened to, at least, by the stewards themselves, the working men were reminded that a week on Thursday was polling day. "Don't forget to vote! And don't forget to get your wives to vote as well!"

And on polling day you stood outside polling stations to thank people for their support. Alright, some of them hadn't voted for you, but you thanked them as well. It reassured you that you were living in a democracy and that your victory was genuinely merited.

At close of poll, those then not going to the count, retired to a safe zone. In Paisley, at that first election, to the Labour Club on the Renfrew Road; in future years to the AEU Halls in Incle Street. Elsewhere in the country to a Miners' Welfare or a factory social club or a Co-op Hall. To await the result. Delivered on a portable television with a dubiously functioning inside aerial. Not your own result, for that would be inevitably a Labour hold, but the result from around the Country in the places where the election was actually decided. Then not just in the commuter belt around London or in the sprawling West Midlands but in Glasgow Cathcart, or Edinburgh Central, or Aberdeen South.

But win or lose the big election you woke up the next morning knowing that there would always be a Labour Party. For there would always be places like Paisley and Dunfermline and Kilmarnock and Barnsley and Tredegar and Bethnal Green. That was as certain as that there would always be factory gates, and Miners' Welfares, and Co-op Halls. And indeed that there would always be portable televisions and the AEU.

It is all gone, or going.

Only the Labour Party remains.

Except maybe it has also gone. Like the pensioners struggling with ever decreasing bar takings in a "works" social club, attached no more to a "work" itself long departed, perhaps we are deluding ourselves that, one day, the good times will return. That the factory will reopen, that young people will work there again, and that on a Saturday night no-one will have anything better to do than turn up for a few pints while being entertained by Lena Martell or the Alexander Brothers.

I watched the Party Conference from afar. Kez made a good speech. Although you can't help feeling that to have someone who, at a stage in their career, should be getting marked down as "one to watch for the future", instead being sacrificed to a future likely to end at five past ten on the first Thursday in May next year, is merely indicative of how desperate things have become.

But beyond that the whole event was just so ridiculously anachronistic. If you had brought back smoking in the hall and black and white telly you might well have been watching archive footage from the nineteen sixties. Except that, at least, in the nineteen sixties the generals on screen spoke for an industrial army offstage. Now they speak only for a phantom army and, more importantly, speak in a language long since fallen into misuse among the general population.

Party conferences get on the telly. So sensible Parties, Parties interested in power, see them as an opportunity to persuade people who might vote for them to actually vote for them. That calculation, Kez's speech aside, played no part in the Labour Party's deliberations in Perth.

It wasn't just the ludicrous Trident debate. Where, as I observed on twitter, we chose (chose!) to debate something over which we had no control so that we could adopt an unpopular policy while demonstrating how divided we were. It was even more the tone of both the TTIP debate that preceded it and the TU Bill debate that followed.

These might be worthy matters but, frankly, they are of no interest at all to more than 95% of the population. And the remaining 5% either vote Labour already or are irredeemably lost to the ultra left or the flag eaters.

There is no point in protesting that "They ought to be of wider interest!" They are not. And, equally frankly, worthy speeches, delivered with whatever amount of indignation, to a hungover Labour Party Conference are unlikely to persuade anybody otherwise.

I have watched all the conferences now. I am no Nat and no Tory. But each of these Parties reached out to speak to, albeit different, nations. Labour didn't even content itself with speaking to itself. It spoke to itself of forty years ago. Prior to the compromises that gave it any chance of being elected in a modern age. Indeed, in active denial of them.

There is no going back. Co-op Halls and Miners Welfares are not going to re-open, any more than are the pits or these huge industrial factories. The AEU is not going to re-form, designating time served men as always slightly superior to their brethern.

And, overall, that is a good thing. For it means no more industrial deafness, or pneumoconiosis, or contact dermatitis or, possibly worst of all, mesothelioma.

It is a good thing that working conditions today are much better. That housing conditions are as well. That the consumer now outranks the producer. But increasingly the Labour Party behaves as if it regrets its own achievements. That we would like to turn the clock back to a golden age of clearer hardship but also clearer class struggle.

That is not how it should be. The great socialist philosopher R.H. Tawney famously observed that, for the left, if there is a golden age it lies not in the past but in the future.

We seem to have completely lost sight of that. Bizarrely, the Party most in tune with the modern age is now the Tories, who have adopted a different maxim, this time from Lampedusa.: "Things will have to change if we want them to stay the same", while the most conservative Party is now, even more bizarrely, Labour. Fearful of change, fearful of modernisation. Positively wishing it could turn the clock back.

Maybe it is just all over.

Except that only the Labour Party itself fails to realise that it has gone.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Hatred and Fear

So, the SNP have had their biggest Conference ever to round off their most successful year ever.

Congratulations to them

But the really big thing that happened was what happened at the Conference's start. Nicola ruled out having a commitment to a second referendum in next year's SNP manifesto. That means, for the avoidance of doubt, before 2023 at the earliest.

The last referendum took so long that you forget how it started. With a lengthy negotiation between the Scottish and British Government over the terms on which Holyrood would be given the legal competence to hold a referendum. That power was ultimately ceded only for a time limited period, now expired, so this process would require to be repeated even if the SNP won in 2021 with a clear commitment to re-run the vote. And, for the avoidance of any doubt, that legal competence is critical. Anybody who thinks otherwise should ask the Catalans. And even if consent was given, there would then need to be another Referendum Bill passed.

So, eight years at the least. Which is a lot of conference time to occupy in some way.

For some it appears they think they'll be able to pass it with an annual hate fest. The hatred of all things English is never far from the surface within much of the SNP but other hates don't even need to be concealed. Hatred of the press in general and the BBC in particular. Hatred of the Tories, which might at least have some logic, were it not that it is accompanied by hatred for the Labour Party as well, just because. At some points during the debate over fracking it even appeared to extend to hatred of the entire modern world.

Who knows, maybe it's possible this will do for the next eight years but somehow I doubt it. However in attempting to find something else to talk about the Nats would have to actually do something about their increasingly obvious failure  to use the powers of the existing Scottish Parliament to address the developing crises in our public services.

Yet reform requires change and change always makes enemies. And in maintaining their fragile coalition which delivers them their electoral successes the SNP can't afford to make enemies. So the easy solution is to avoid reform.

Which kind of gets you back to where I started. With not having much to talk about. For eight years.

And to the second emotion which wasn't far away in Aberdeen.


What have the SNP got to fear, I hear you ask? They are commonly believed to have more or less already won next year's Scottish General Election. The Labour Party is currently in disarray and while the Scottish Tories may be experiencing a modest revival the adjective modest remains well justified.

Well here's what they have to fear. If now, with a uniquely popular leader, with no effective opposition, with virtually every Westminster MP and a more or less nailed on return to Government at Holyrood. With the army of the 45 defeated but still far from demobilised and with a UK Government virtually closed to Scottish influence. If with all these advantages they still can't risk a second referendum then when are they ever going to be in a position to do so?

Maybe 2023? Who knows.

Which kind of brings me back to hatred. The hatred the Nats are only slowly realising that even they possess. Hatred for the people of Scotland for failing to rise to the historic challenge fate had offered them last year

I suspect this won't end well. Hatred and fear together rarely do.