3 October 2009

Labour's Pushmipullyu: Gloating at my prescience

It was bound to happen. The contradictions were inherent in the position. The iron law of Labour’s political expediency expressly required it. At least insofar as the tackety boot of the economy didn’t tend crotchward and flatten all of their hopes. Like a sour germ, nestled in the unfertile earth of Labour policy, it was determined to hatch into a savage plant sooner or later. And like Saturn, is disposed to eat its children.

The particular political thorn (in its own side) which I have in view here is Labour’s fresh-minted case against a referendum on independence in the context of economic drear. Polling undertaken, the idea that we ought not to indulge in constitutional speculations during this time of material uncertainty emerged with an apparently seductive shiny populism. The authority of the poll was gravely cited, the position sonorously pushed, and to the nodding heads who conceived the position, it seemed as if the Maximum Eck’s bucking constitutional broncho had been decidedly headed off at the pass. Its hard to kick against the pricks, they consoled themselves.

Splendid. Tea and crumpets anyone?

Er … but wait. Somewhere in the churning gut of Labour strategy, someone clearly failed to factor in the obvious, yammering point. Labour needs an economic narrative which confirms their success at a United Kingdom wide level. They actively require an account of the public accounts which says ‘matters improve’; the tides of your wealth are not continuing to recede under our governance. Gordon has turned the proverbial eddies towards a richer tomorrow – etcetera, etcetera. This was all crushingly obvious. I pointed out the incongruity between the economic arguments against referendum and Labour’s general political interests on the economy at the beginning and the end of June this year, arguing that these niggling contradictions in Labour’s position were sure to squirm their way to the surface of political comment, sooner or later.

The whole vitality of Scottish Labour’s position on the referendum, lashed to this particular argument, required the economy to be in a shabby old way. Their general UK Labour interest required metaphors of rejuvenation. Scottish Labour, in short, screwed up again. By aligning themselves with excuses to oppose a plebiscite rooted in contingent economic circumstances – as opposed to foregrounding other, viable reasons to oppose the referendum – they enslave themselves to changes in the economic circumstances. And in this case – most paradoxically – they enslave themselves to Darling et al.’s interest in representing a positive economic case and pouring cold custard down Iain Gray’s pantaloons.

It’s a political pushmipullyu from which Scottish Labour couldn't but emerge as the weaker tugger – and is a par excellence expression of the dearth of perspicuous strategic thinking in John Smith House. Watching the BBC’s Newsnight Scotland this week – footage below courtesy of Moridura - its clear that the moment is now. All of these ambivalences and contradictions which have always padded alongside an expedient, economic case against the referendum begin to growl, show fangs, and from Gray’s witless display before Gordon Brewer, draw blood. Expect a hasty scrabble to emphasise other justifying reasons for opposition - wrong wording, unconstitutional once-and-for-allisms - too late, alas. Too late.


  1. I suspect Labour will just emphasise that although the recession has ended it'll still be a long haul back to a bouyant economy. After all, even when the economy is growing again it'll be a while until output returns to pre-recession levels. And as per usual unemployment will continue rising even when economic growth has resumed.

    Of course, that will to an extent undermine Labour's feelgood narrative, but it allows them a get out clause vis-a-vis the referendum.

  2. I believe that there needs to be three straight quarters of nil or negative GDP "growth" to equal a recession; so presumably Gray will argue that we will need to see three straight quarters of positive growth before it is "safe" for a Referendum. Otherwise the electorate's heads might explode.

    According to the UK Labour Party (Scottish Branch) the Scottish people can apparently cope with thinking about health, crime, employment, fisheries, agriculture, education, crofting, all at the same time; but not about the future of the country as an independent state.


    But hang on, three quarters' growth would take us to Summer/Autumn 2010, which is when the Scottish Government plans to hold the Referendum. Hmmmm.