21 February 2009

The Labour of change...

Given that the news desks of Britain are distinctly drowsy this weekend, I thought it might behove us to take a small discursive and reflective tour across the prospects and prognosis of Scottish Labour.

Are the political worms turning, or even adopting some sort of arc which, when stretched across time - might - conceivably - at some point - plug the Labour Party back into the ministerial grid? Certainly, coverage of the SNP government has been notably reflective in the light of their "brainchild left behind" initiative, leaving local income tax sobbing and lonesome. What will they do now? Much of the chatter about momentum is fairly brainless, but it is not unreasonable to ask whence now? Even leaving that tart question unanswered, or pulling pinched-faces at an insufficient and uninspired governmental response - we can't avoid the fact that all of these questions must be seen in the round, in particular, in relation to the plausibility of the Labour alternative.

So where are our ruddy horny-handed toilers in the grand politic scheme of things? The fragrant Wendy Alexander, untimely garrotted and closetted. Hardly edifying. Enter Gray, stage right, to univocal acclaim. Hardly a charmer, whatever the kindly cigarettes have done to erode him a throatsome pur. Cruelly, his east coasterie lockjawed voice, saltily adenoidal though it is, hardly favours him. Does that matter? Although "a dull candidate for a dull job" framed sloganising may treat Mr Gray favourably, I think nobody would favour a return to the bureaucratic deskboy feel which Jack McConnell brought so remorselessly and tediously to the office of First Minister.

Which brings us to Labour's essential problem, I think. Personnel. Unfortunately, the structure of Labour's electoral success in Scotland is focussed on first past the post seats. While I can sympathise with the view that this is not without its benefits - in particular in cementing support, and giving it a longevity which more ephemeral "list" MSPs seem unable predictably to command - from the perspective of introducing new characters with education, vigour and crucially - plausibility - constituency representation is a much harder demographic to nudge, cajole and shift.

Considering Labour's position, infested as their benches are with lumpen harridans, bland yet simultaneously offensive cretins, unlettered goons, inarticulate shriekers - a reforming agenda in the party would seriously benefit from a capacity to exercise a razor on their representatives centrally. It is difficult to see, however, where membership shifts could be effected in the short-medium term. Thirty seven out of their 46 MSPs are constituency members, and no doubt, most of them would be unwilling to stand down. After all, how many of them are terribly plausible candidates for merit-predicated employ at the rates they'll be used to? To my eye, there are too many junket merchants like Andy Kerr infesting the red seats in Holyrood, and too few visible and trend-dodging alternatives.

One might question, I think legitimately, how far the quality of one's MSPs actually damage sor enhances one's fortunes. Certainly, it is gaucherie to imagine that that influence would be the same to all people, in all places across the country. A number of points, however, which I think it is difficult for Labour to avoid. Even in the context of the recent reshuffle - the SNP cabinet looks strong, substantial - though naturally, not without its exceptions. Moreover, I'm sure I'm not alone in the sense of relief that no longer must I listen to a minister with a mandatory, vaguely unintelligible accent - probably from Possil. One of the dullest dimensions of Scots culture is the enforced ordinariness that sometimes engulfs it - from the mandatory, and largely fraudulent, pretence in the arts that everything really Scottish is working class - and secondly, that all our ministers must be persons of no philosophy, reflection or education - steeped in social work and the petty politicking of City Chambers on the western side of this country (or worse, some sort of teacher).

From all of that, people like Mike Russell are something of a relief. In particular, again LIT questions aside - I think we shouldn't underestimate, because it is difficult to calculate - how effective and surprisingly so the SNP have been among business figures and even among the civil service. I don't think that this is simply "new show in town", childish gigglishness. Something far more substantive is indicated by it - and the challenge developing such clusters of confidence poses to Labour should not be underestimated. It is painfully clear that Gray is stuck with same buzzing hive of sweaty, quasi-socialistic numpties until 2011. Even if he gathers under his nicotine-starched sleeves a cohort of the snappiest, most charming, savvy and generously brained characters which the Labour Party could assemble (in the interests of nonpartisanship, I shall neglect to project how well staffed this redoubtable crew might be) to strategise behind the scenes - he is still stuck with the under performing, uninteresting lot he's lumped with now. The focus of negative energy around them is absolutely intense. And worse, unless Gray can prompt a few helpful early coronaries among his MSPs' sticky fish-suppered ranks or pry their Greggs-doughnutted fingers from their respective constituencies - real shifts in personnel must wait until 2015 at the earliest, and trickle by - like the desparately sad squirt of chubby lipid blood through an ever narrowing coronary artery.

Even in the context of the water hotting up for the Maximum Eck and friends, I don't see, yet, that it gives the Labour Party much to cheer about. Not, of course, that having decent folk on board necessarily creates electoral success. For evidence of such, simply consult the long, unsuccessful tenure in the parliament boasted on the records of many of the SNP ministers now in office. My point, essentially, is that the ostensible competence of these people in office has immeasurably upped the stakes for Labour, and that they can no longer rest easy represented by the vapid Cathy Peatties, face-sharpening Currans and the gormless Marilyn Livingstones of Scotland.

Time for a polite bayonetting, Mr Gray. As quickly as you can manage it, please.

1 comment :

  1. Come, come Sirrah, surely Mr Grey has a superb deputy in the form of Ms Johann Lamont...