Death of The Labour I Knew

Like many Independence suppporters of my vintage, I had a lot of friends in the Labour Party- though I was never a member; I hold to the belief that journalism and party memberships don't mix. The late Donald Dewar was a close pal and I was proud to give one of the eulogies at his funeral.  We disagreed about much - not least Trident and PFI -  but he was a decent, caring man who took genuine joy in the moment he stood up in the Commons to read the first line of the Devolution legislation "There Shall be A Scottish Parliament"  - I like that, he added!) In the years, and elections, since then I've given my vote to the party supporting indpendence - though, again, not as a member.  There was sometimes a small residual sense of betraying those Labour friends - especially when many of them took time to explain to me where I was going wrong!

Today, the party of Dewar and Smith and Cook is unrecognisable. Not just because so many of its recent leaders have been profoudly unimpressive.  (If Murphy and Leonard were the answer, heaven knows what the question must have been.) But because it is still in hock to a London based party which seems ever more comphensively to have lost the plot, any sane direction of travel, and the trust of many of its young adherents who persuaded themselves that Jeremy Corbyn was a leader who would follow socialist principles. (How they managed to persuade themselves that he was a credible Prime Minister in waiting is a condundrum for historians to address.)

As Labour ducked, dived and dithered over their Brexit position I felt the whosesale frustations of their members as they watched a Tory government implode in spectacular fashion but waited in vain for an opposition likely to dispatch it to the oblivion it had earned. Waiting in vain for an opposition to get round to doing what it said on its tin. I hold no particular brief for Yvette Cooper, but to watch her tear into the PM from the back benches or as a select committe chair, you wondered why Corbyn lacked the basic verbal dexterity to do anything resembling the same. It wasn't just the suspiction that he had never jettisoned his Euro scepticism, but his serial inability to stick the ball in a series of gaping nets which made his troops despair.

It was painful to watch the competent Keir Starmer tie himself in verbal knots, unable to do and say what he knew should be said and done, but hamstrung by the composite mantra finally wrung out of the last Labour conference; first go for an election, then keep the options on the table, but heaven forfend you should actually plump for any of them before the country goes down the tubes. Its indecision became final. Corbyn, the man who preached that the membership was in the driving seat, continued to ignore the pleas of his young supporters to fly the flag for a people's vote,  saving their future prospects and offering leadership for a country longing for some.

The First Minister of Scotland lacks neither leadership qualities, nor lucidity. She speaks human fluently. She has championed causes her Labour opponents might once have considered socialist in mitigating the worst of welfare reforms where possible, using new, limited social security levers to have her ministers strike a notably different tone from the shambolic department of work and pensions. Refusing to lower the tax burden for the better off.  Pleading for the devolution of immigration policy, and telling Scotland's EU citizens that the government - banned from paying their settlement application fees - would re-imburse any cost incurred.  What she does lack is real power. The power to, as the PM keeps intoning, "respect the will of the people" and deliver for the almost two thirds of Scots who voted to Remain. (Probably rather more would plight their troth to that cause now, after the chaos in the south.)

But what finally persuaded me that the Labour Party as I once knew it had been obliterated were the two statements by the men at the top.  Corbyn, the man who pledged the party would decide its future, not the leader, came out in the last few days with a statement that if Labour were elected it would deliver Brexit.  That he was still warbling on about a better deal which exists only in the more febrile Westminster imaginations, merely added guanteed injury to full throttled insult. His party do not want Brexit. The polls tell him that even those constituences which voted leave have a large measure of buyers' regret. Moreover they are overwhelmingly the poorer electors he once vowed to protect.  He is a busted flush.

Meanwhile John McDonnell, the deputy who keeps assuring the electorate that the Labour party would never work with the SNP, has just been explaining how he could see circumstances where they could get along perfectly well with the DUP!  The DUP!!! About the only thing they have in common, I guess, is that both parties refuse to recognise that a majority of  their members are desperate to remain in Europe. The fact that he has expressed a preference for Arlene Foster over Nicola Sturgeon is a piece of particular political lunacy for which there is no rational explanation. Just like the Tories, he seems to think ignoring the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government and the Scottish electorate is some new fangled form of democracy. He should be ashamed.

It is said that the duopoly at the top of the UK Labour Party are in thrawl to men like Seumas Milne and Len McCluskey whose Marxist world view shapes their policy preferences.  I don't know the truth of that.  I do know that leaders, proper leaders, aren't puppets on somebody else's string.

We now have a crisis of unimaginable proportions facing us. Given the constitutional niceties it will not be easy to find the means to set up and run a second independence referendum.  But it has never been a more urgent necessity.  All Scots, of all persuasions, need to reflect on the untold damage of allowing our country to go down with the leaky rudderless ship Westminister has become.