You can imagine the conversation in the Members' Tearoom in the Palace of Westminster. Deep in Labour territory, in parliament's musty, flyblown, careworn tea den, two Scottish members sit, in cahoots.
Their grogblossomed faces glow with that self regarding malevolence which comes only from putting the boot into your friends and allies. The first shakes his head, apparently more in sorrow than in anger, as he smacks his lips and pushes a spent newspaper across the green baize table. "2011: SNP re-elected with majority, Labour crushed." His colleague's brows furrow in a pantomime performance of irritation, flipping over the offending front page in exaggerated disgust, but the corners of his mouth twitch with barely concealed glee.
"What's wrong with these people? Just a few months ago, they had a fucking massive lead in the polls, a fucking massive lead. And they still blew it."
"The B team."
"The C team. They managed to lose in Glasgow, for fuck's sake. In fucking Glasgow. They're just useless, they really are."
He pauses his diagnosis to pick a stray, burnt currant from his scone, giving it a second slurp of the butter knife.
"I did tell them. We all told them. I mean, less than a year ago, I took -- we took -- nearly half of the votes in our seats. Nearly half. But this bunch of chancers are about as much use as a fart in a colander."
""Un-fucking-believeable. I've always said, devolution was a mistake. Half of our lot shouldn't even be fucking councillors. Councillors. MS-fucking-Ps? Fuck me."
"Amen, comrade. Another scone, Brian?"
Since 2007, the Labour Party has resembled the repeat victim of pyramid selling, whose eyes still quiver with the mad conviction that this get rich quick scheme is legit and sure to come off. Like Shelley Levine, Glengarry Glen Ross's faded, desperate hustler, the party has been lead by the nose to regard every setback as a blip, and every encouraging sign as sure proof that normal service will resume tomorrow. All we need do is watch the clock and wait for the electorate to rediscover their senses.
Sure, its spokesmen and women will utter a few appropriate remarks about listening, change, and reconnecting with alienated communities -- but words are wind, and these windy words never seem to come to much. Behind the mask of contrition, and promises of introspection and renewal, in the eyes, you see that same old Bourbon gleam. Learned nothing, forgiven nothing: entitlement, hubris, lack of self reflection.
As one wag recently observed, the party has become like the touchy and confused party guest, marching blimpishly around the room, barking at indifferent strangers, "don't you know who I am?" In 2011, they urged the electorate to "come home to Labour". For many voters, it's the idea that the party now represents any kind of spiritual home which befuddles.
Instead of seeing any connection between the defeats of their colleagues in 2007 and 2011 and their own political fortunes, the party's Westminster contingent has shown every sign of lazy contempt for their comrades labouring north of the wall. And you don't hear the half of it in the media. Johann Lamont's parting shot, in resigning, expressed ideas you hear muttered in private, time and again.
But you can see how the Scottish Labour MPs acquired this misplaced hubris. Marginalised in political decision making, vexed to see colleagues they don't rate doing the talking on telly, it is hardly surprising that a compensating psychological devilment has made work for their idle hands and mouths. After all, they might ask their Holyrood colleagues, what happened in the last general election? Unlike you lot, we got the goods. We delivered the same old crashing majorities. Why can't you? We may be marginalised, powerless, and uninteresting, but at least we're not as crap as you lot. We, at least, can enjoy a guid conceit of ourselves at your expense. And a disloyal trauchle to the tearoom quietly to savour your disasters.
The problem with this attitude, of course, is that it is bereft of any self criticism or self awareness. Rather than seeing, in these defeats, lessons and implications for MPs' own conduct and political futures, the rise of the Nats was all down to a clownish band of third rate Labour MSPs. Problem solved. Westminster forever. That was, undoubtedly, part of the calamity which engulfed the party in 2007 and 2011, but it was not the whole story.
And as has so often seemed the case in recent years, this convenient, psychologically compensating story left problematic assumptions unchallenged and awkward questions unexplored. Since politics north of the border ceased to be easy for them, Labour have become addicted to easy explanations for their troubles. It would be quite wrong, I think, to see the party's current polling only as an expression of recent events or individual incompetencies.
It is the culmination of years, of decades, of alienating compromises, weakening ties, and ever more provisional political loyalties. The independence referendum perhaps clarified a number of these themes, and intensified feelings, but the process was set, and understood, in a wider political context and structure which can't be overlooked. Ian Smart is dead right about that. Blaming Ed, or Murphy, or Lamont, or Gray -- represents just another tempting evasion for the People's Party about the scale, yes, but also the depth of their challenge in the 2015 campaign. The language of the "implosion" suggests a sudden, unforeseen catastrophe. But this prostate has been rumbling for years.
Ironically perhaps, a crushing defeat for the party in Westminster may be an essential condition for normalising the relationship between Labour in Holyrood and in Westminster, encouraging the party to put their shoulders to the same wheel, without the atmosphere of snark, recrimination and condescension. Scottish Labour MPs have, for many years, seemed to have adopted Nelson's motto about the implications of the party's long crisis for their own careers and ambitions. "I see no ships."
With Ashcroft's startling polling this morning, many of the party's slighted Holyrood members may think, quietly, in their own tearooms: Well, ye see noo.