One of the most withering, articulate takedowns of the hapless Theresa May as Prime Minister came from Labour’s back benches. Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Select committee, was not short of practice. She had shadowed May when the latter was home secretary.
She did not miss the former PM and hit the wall.
In fact over the years she has been Labour’s cabinet secretary for work and pensions, and shadowed all the top jobs including the foreign office. Cooper is, then, a woman of no little substance and experience. Not so you’d have noticed at the weekend when she posted a fairly anodyne tweet welcoming the coronation of Keir Starmer to the top job.
Like Starmer, she sought to welcome a period of unity for her party following nigh on 5 years where two factions of the Labour Party conducted an all too public internecine war. Like many of those in her party who had sought unsuccessfully to defenestrate Jeremy Corbyn, she was not in the crocodile tears market over the departure of the man who lost four elections on the trot.
But if she thought the Corbynistas would go quietly into that good night, or help to welcome the new dawn she was sadly mistaken. The thread under her tweet was full of the most venomous attacks from members of her own party who self evidently value “purity” above power.
Now you may think that the formation of a new shadow Labour team need be of little moment to the independence movement in Scotland. Not so. Had there be a decently functioning Labour opposition at Westminster these last five years, one with whom the Scottish government could have done serious business, much in our world would have been changed. Starmer was among the senior Labourites – Emily Thornberry was another – who openly endorsed a second People’s Vote on Brexit – and loudly proclaimed he would be campaigning for a Remain vote in it.
As Brexit spokesman he took a lot of flack for Labour’s Janus like stance on the 2016 referendum, but I’m guessing he had to broadcast his master’s voice, even if the master in question was a man whose indecision was final.
It also matters to Scotland that there is a strong opposition to what is a pretty shambolic Tory government – it didn’t take a new virus to shine a light on the shallow skill levels and deep incompetence of the Johnson cronies occupying offices of state for which they aren’t remotely qualified. Even if Scotland had a full house of independence supporting MP’s at Westminster, it simply wouldn’t have the necessary numbers to hold the government’s feet to the fire. Most obviously not one with an 80 seat majority.
There are of course reasons to be less than cheerful. Mr Starmer is still wedded to notions of beefed up devolution and federalism. These are auld sangs which have long since lost their melodic resonance north of the border. But there is one powerful lesson Scotland can learn from Labour, one which the Cooper experience underlines. It’s a truism that divided parties lose votes. And the sight of Labour punching itself in the face, whilst being led by a man whom only a small electoral minority could envisage as a statesman, should remind various people in Scottish politics just how unattractive infighting looks from the outside.
Since the end of the Salmond trial, various camps in the SNP, with too much time on their hands, have sought to start a fight in their assorted empty rooms. It seems neither those who believe Alex Salmond was grievously wronged, nor those who think his accusers were, can bear to draw a line under the verdict. Certainly not at the reportage of it, as witness the attacks on the journalist Dani Gavarelli who went into print with a lengthy article having sat through all of the high court proceedings.
Now I can see why the former First Minister cannot bring himself to let sleeping allegations lie. And ditto those women who brought themselves to go through a court process. It is, after all, very much his and their business; very much his and their lives and their reputations.
That cannot and should not provide an excuse for every armchair warrior to breath fresh life into old prejudices; sitting at their laptops nursing their wrath to keep it warm, all the while giving comfort to those who don’t care who wins the war of Sturgeon’s ear as long as the SNP can be seen to be in public disarray at the time of the next Scottish election.
At present there is only one battle which need be joined which concerns the nation’s health and wellbeing. And when that is won, everyone who cares about the long haul to independence should focus on what makes that the most likely. Remember too what is most likely to jeopardise that long sought goal.
Few of us are in possession of sufficient facts to make an accurate call over the recent trial. All of us have been in receipt of a flurry of conspiracy theories, some more lurid than others. Doubtless more detail will come out in a future wash (not to mention a memoir!)
In the meantime, prolonging personal feuds, badmouthing people on the same side of the indy fence, launching vicious attacks on anyone with the temerity to take a different view is a recipe for electoral disaster. Just ask the Labour Party.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE NATIONAL 6.4.20
Please support and protect the only Scottish Newspaper published to back Independence for Scotland. You can get your subsciption by logging on to www.thenational.scot/subscribe.