The seeds of last Thursday’s decimation at the Polls of Scottish Labour were germinating long before the 2014 Referendum.  Worried by the rise of the Nationalists in the Seventies, the late John Smith, one of Labour’s sharpest thinkers, saw critically limited devolution as the solution. His prodigy, Gordon Brown and university friend, Donald Dewar, ensured that his thinking was part of Labour’s successful manifesto in 1997 when Blair swept into Downing Street. The new Prime Minister did not share their enthusiasm  but he owed it to Brown and the Scottish Parliament was legislated for in 1998, following the overwhelming support of the Scottish people in the previous year’s referendum.

From the start, it was made clear that the devolved parliament would tow the Westminster line on policy. The inaugural First Minister, Donald Dewar, accommodated that philosophy without demur.  Almost immediately, a schism grew between the Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster and, in their view, lesser  counterparts  at Holyrood. The machine is intensely hierarchical in structure and so uninspiring, journeymen councillors such as Glasgow’s dour Ian Davidson, who had made it  to London, unremittingly pointed out their place in the pecking order, a political bourgeoisie. For the young Scottish electorate, this apparent enmity, coupled with their intense hatred of Nationalism,   presented a disturbing view of a governing party.  Proportional representation ensured that there was a sizeable group of Nationalist MSPs in Holyrood and they were quick to point out devolution’s limitations to the Scottish people and exploit the strife in the Labour monolith. We learned in the Press that First Minister, Henry McLeish,  had been publicly reprimanded by Gordon Brown for referring to the Scottish ‘Government’, rather than the lesser term, ‘Executive’. His successor, Jack Mc Connell, received similarly humiliating treatment when the administration published  some financial background for a planned bill; it had not first been cleared with the Treasury.  As President of the EIS (Educational Institute of Scotland – the majority teachers’ union), during pay and conditions negotiations, following the publication of the McCrone Report,  I met with Martin O’Neill, MP, a friend of Gordon Brown and fellow Fifer. We both recognised that this was an unofficial conduit between the trade union side and the eventual paymaster, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. London held the purse strings and the deal had to be acceptable to Brown.

Blair’s intervention in Iraq and his old pals’ act with Bush appalled Scottish voters of all political persuasions. Thousands  shredded their Labour membership cards. The SNP emerged as the largest party in the 2007 elections and  successfully governed without an overall majority for the next four years. A blinkered  Labour Party felt that it was a mere aberration  and sulked pathetically throughout the whole term; their behaviour further alienated swathes of the electorate who should have been their natural supporters. The SNP was widely viewed as a very competent administration and it was no surprise when Salmond was returned with an overall majority and a mandate for an Independence Referendum in 2011.  Some Labour ‘beasts’ departed the scene for Westminster at the first opportunity. Yet another Labour leader was appointed, the fifth in seven years. Johann is a friend, an EIS colleague, whose finest moment was, undoubtedly, her resignation letter, accusing London of treating  Scottish Labour as a branch office. She was unfortunate too that the Government was led by Alex Salmond, one of the most accomplished politicians in these islands and  who has now been succeeded by an even more formidable one in Nicola Sturgeon.

There are still a few brain dead Labour people, including Jim Murphy, who believe that the Referendum and the YES campaign  was the sole cause of last week’s disaster. It certainly contributed. One and a half million people supported Independence but, in the aftermath, their desires were largely ignored by Labour who tried to dilute further the already inadequate Smith proposals on powers which Cameron is pledged to deliver. Murphy is just five months in post but in the view of many Scots, including Labour supporters, his baggage is too big a burden to attract votes. Under Blair, he redefined the nature of sycophancy; was a regular media apologist for the legitimacy of Iraq and a devotee of retaining a nuclear deterrent.  The extent and nature of defeat do not seem to have limited his ambition which is dismissed as extraordinary fantasy when he havers about becoming First Minister in Holyrood. It is also clear to the Scottish people that the party is seriously divided over his retention of the post.

It will be  a long , daunting  and probably impossible road back.


  1. ben madigan May 11, 2015 at 6:59 pm #

    excellent analysis – particularly as far as regards the last few sentences.

    reminds me of Ozymandias

    “Nothing beside remains: round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare”,

  2. Francis May 12, 2015 at 12:11 am #

    The battle between “Old Labour”, and vanguard of the “New Labour” project, have perhaps never been starker than in Scotland. The cosmetics of choreography in the media contest between Milliband and Cameron, betrayed little ideological difference. The centre ground has moved so far to the right, that Thatcher would be glowing at the bright vacuousness of the bleached wasteland she envisaged. Manufacturing decimated in the north of England and Scotland with a fire sale over the scraps, in favour of “Service Industries”, a precarious switch with constant outsourcing east, a potent blackmail to the emasculated Unions…why would the Scots, with North Sea Oil and robust Social Consciences, wish to remain laden to the whims of the new cross party Tory consensus directed by Westminster? They don’t. Can this level of Political Maturity and courage embolden other regions under the auspices and governance of the good ship austerity? When the little Englander wakes up to the increasing impoverishments’ of the too heavy pyramid scheme endorsed, it will only ne to the tectonic cracks of the Unions’ fracture elsewhere.

    In Ireland we have no Parnell. Salmond is without doubt as said, a most able and astute political being, and respect to Nicola Sturgeon. Here we send Stoops to Westminster as frogs to the wrong insipid pond to croak “hear, hear”. The Unionists from here also sent have Gregory Campbell…(his half hour talk on the price of razor blades a few months ago was Not allegorical), “a boorish lot those Irish Unionists are…” Menzies Campbell his name sake taking the prize two years ago for understatement of the year in any Hansard quotations to then. Even the Tories are bored by them, but nobody seems willing to inform them of their antiquated status, if indeed it has had any lustre this last century. Political irrelevance and Toadyism, and we are shackled to the Good Ship Titanic II Abstentionism as a political principle may see us supping with royalty, but refusing to undermine that institution which holds such in place….

    Time perhaps now, we drop the brittle shackles of “principled Abstentionism”, and take on the Tory regime on, on its own turf in Westminster. What would the Great Parnell do…? If we watch Salmond in action, and take note of the lesson in Real Politik and pragmatism, we might find our answer…

  3. BaldyBapTheBarber May 12, 2015 at 9:05 am #

    You’ve a nice style of writing John, there is a rhythem that carries you, I really enjoyed that.

    With Scottish Labour now defunct; what impact do you think the rise of the SNP will have on these islands, if any? Do you think the Tory government will fuel the SNP’s rise in popularity, with the possibility of them pushing for another referendum at the next GE?

  4. BaldyBapTheBarber May 12, 2015 at 9:09 am #

    *That should be rhythm, not rhythem. Sorry.

  5. John Patton May 13, 2015 at 9:32 am #

    Thanks for the comments in some detail with searching questions. Had there been a Labour-led coalition returned to Westminster, then the SNP would have wielded significantly more influence. However, with 56 MPs they are still in a position of considerable strength. They already have received hours of media exposure and that will continue; they will have more prominence at PMQ; they will have considerable influence in committees and should chair some of them; legislative change for Scotland will have to be steered through the Scottish Select Committee by a weak Secretary of State and SNP will quite clearly dominate there; the Tory brand is reviled in Scotland, even in plush areas which should be their natural hinterland. All of this will be in the SNP’s favour as an attempt at an answer to Bap’s question. There is an inevitability about independence now and that has clear implications for the remainder of the UK, particularly so in the Six Counties.