28 September 2015

"Straight talking, honest politics..."

A crib sheet can be a dangerous thing. Like the actor's prompt, they allow the harried speaker to cut corners and to maintain a superficial veneer of plausibility on an unfamiliar topic.

If you trust the person who has pulled them together for you, in their judgement and in their diligence, they can be gold -- just so long as nobody asks you too many searching or well-informed questions. But as everyone who has ever been obliged to mug up for an unfamiliar tutorial at short notice well understands, danger as well as security lurks behind these primers' superficially reassuring and well-honed lines and cues. 

Is this right? Up to date? Am I missing something important here? Like a rat in a pantry, such doubts can gnaw away at you, preying on your confidence, distracting you. And they ought to. You may well be peddling bullshit. Bullshit of the ripeness and heft we heard the sainted Jeremy Corbyn peddling on the Andrew Marr show this weekend. Against the charming backdrop of Brighton's cyan sea, Corbyn launched the first of what is likely to be a salvo of rhetorical exocets against the Scottish National Party. And Corbyn's comments were classic crib sheet work. Calmac, privatised. Scottish railways, privatised. Colleges, gutted. Local government funding, put to the sword. Much of this was straightforward fiction -- presumably pressed into the new leader's BBC briefing pack by Labour's Scottish operation. 

As any fule kno, the Calmac ferry routes are currently out to tender. No decision has been taken. To suggest otherwise is either an out-and-out lie, or a blunder born of cluelessness, indifference and slap-dash preparation. In Mr Corbyn's case, I'm still inclined to suspect a muddle rather than a fiddle. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Islington North MP has never contemplated UK constitutional politics in his puff. He couldn't give a ha’penny jizz about politics north of the Tweed. They've never troubled him before.

And now, Jezza is reduced to parroting attack lines written for him by someone else. It is pretty tawdry. He seems signally indifferent to Scotland. The concept of a united Ireland may stir his passions, but Corbyn seems listless and intellectually semi-detached on the question of our own united or disunited Kingdom. I don't hold this indifference against him. From his London borough, local politics and world affairs will have, understandably, seemed more pressing. But more is expected of the head that wears the crown. 

Today, his new shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, took to the conference stage in Brighton full of the same patter. In that gruesome, zombie phrase, McDonnell argued that Scots should "come home to Labour", which he suggested "is now the only anti-austerity party". All of which, to coin another phrase, seems pretty chuffing rich. Get back to us, John, when you can coax a few more of your colleagues into the Westminster lobbies actually to oppose the Welfare Reform Bill. You talk of a grassroots anti-austerity movement. Wouldn't it be spiffy if your green benches actually showed any enthusiasm for that cause? Are you seriously contending that only the views of your isolated, embattled and increasingly compromised Labour party leadership matters here? Forget the glum Commons faces, and the missing dissents? Spare me. But back to the boats. 

The Scottish Government is obliged to tender ferry routes under European Union law. To fail to do so would be to expose the Government to enforcement action from the European Commission. If Derek Mackay took to his pins in the Scottish Parliament, and gave a categorical pledge that the tendering process was a sham, and Calmac were guaranteed to win the contract providing link shipping to many of Scotland's islands, Calmac's competitors would drag Mackay off to an expensive and impossible to defend judicial review, almost certainly dooming Calmac's commercial bid for the contract. That may sit uncomfortably alongside the "save Calmac" agitpop, the hashtagging and the twibboning, but it is the law. Such is the price of the single market and European competition. 

Corbyn's case for the prosecution on railways is even more tenuous. He told Andrew Marr that the perfidious Nationalists "were behind privatisation of Scot Rail." Which is also straightforwardly untrue. As trainspotters everywhere know, the Railways Act of 1993 was the key instrument which enabled the UK government to distribute rail assets back into the private sector. At worst, Corbyn might indict the SNP government for failing to foster a public sector bid for the rail franchise, ultimately won by the Dutch company, Abellio. This is a long-standing charge which has been launched by Scottish Labour at Nicola Sturgeon's government for some months now. But there is crucial missing context here which dynamites the glib, schoolboy indictment the new leader guilelessly read out on Marr on Sunday.

A cursory inspection of the Scotland Act reveals - shock horror - that the "provision and regulation of railway services" is a reserved matter under Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998. If you burrow down into the new Scotland Bill, you'll find a new clause 49, which makes it clear that the general reservation "does not prevent a public sector operator from being a franchisee in relation to a Scottish franchise agreement." Significantly, the topic was altogether missing from Scottish Labour's Smith Commission submission back in 2014, despite their noises-off grousing. But these changes aren't yet on the statute book. Legally, Holyrood cannot pass legislation which "relates to reserved matters". The courts could and would reduce any such legislation to ashes. 

The Scottish Parliament's powers are trussed up and limited by the devolution legislation. We may wish it were otherwise. We may wish that the Scottish Government had more autonomy over transport policy, and much else. But to indict the Nats for failing to do something which the law - passed by Westminster - says they cannot do? That's the politics of the playground. It is not, in today's Labour Conference's all too worthy slogan, "straight talking" or "honest politics". 

I have considerable sympathy with some of Mr Corbyn's views, and very little with some others. Nevertheless, I feel a twinge of instinctive - if paradoxical - protectiveness towards the party, watching the likes of John McTernan on BBC Daily Politics today, being granted a bully pulpit, almost entirely unchallenged, to crucify, flay and savage the leadership of his own party. It is grim.

By all means, challenge the Scottish Government. Question its performance. Advance different priorities. Name hypocrisy and backsliding and caution when you see it. Show me the soul who believes that any government leaves behind it a perfect record, and I'll show you a fool. But for crivven's sake, Jeremy, my rumpled companion, my bearded, tieless fellow traveller - take a little time to cast a critical eye over the gormless cribs elbowed your way by your comrades in arms. The snark is rising. 


  1. Back to pre-referendum levels of disdain.

    All right you Jocks, we've got a left wing leader now FFS, get back on board pronto.

  2. They think we left. We didn't; the refrain is Labour left us. Their cry ought to be "Labour's coming home!".

    That the idea of Labour using that slogan seems risible shews just how far from us they are.

  3. Maybe just using the SNP to get some leeway with the press. Definately poorly informed, probably a bit of both. Either way won't win him many votes north of the Tweed. Hope he is still in place by next years conference, but not overly concerned.

  4. Thanks for the clarity you bring to this topic - and it is so good to find a fellow Molesworth fan in such an unlikely place.

  5. Sorry. For me the "muddle rather than a fiddle" bullshit has gone way past "ripeness" into "rancidness". Heard it too many times before to go on believing this wasn't exactly what it looked like: deliberate, carefully-worded lying, peddled with the full confidence that it will go unchallenged by our spineless, complicit media. There is a limit to how much bullshit people can swallow.

  6. Has Corbyn even been on a CalMac ferry? Has he been on any ferries to the Northern Isles? He knows nothing about Scotland, He took no interest in the referendum. It is far too easy to blame his script writers. If he was the sharp intellect they say he is then why is he reading off lines written by Scottish Labour eejits who have only got 1 MP left. I'm so not impressed.

  7. Neil Findlay MSP is the writer of said crib apparently. But you are right, Corbyn should have checked them, but who with? The Rev Stu? The SNP? There we have Labour's problem, they have no honest information sources on Scottish politics available to them, only bitter, twisted, SNP BAAAAAD tribalists.

    We can perhaps hope Corbyn and now McDonnell get angry at being made to mouth falsehoods, except in McDonnell's case they are quarter truths and come from defeated SNP BAAAD amendments SLAB put up as hostages to fortune in the House. The supposed bits were tacked onto screeds of SNP BAAAD stuff the SNP could not support.

    It is tawdry politics but in the New Scotland where the truth is a facebook post away for many folk who have learnt to check all political statements. The grassroots online network SLAB railed against in the GE, folk daring to look their lies up and disbelieve them. How very dare we.

    Unless and until London Labour realise this is the case and that they can no longer operate like this they will continue to decline here in the New Scotland.

    There is a danger here for the SNP too as the weight of government bears down on them and the temptation to cut the corners, blur the lines, take the easy way out will be taken. He who lives by the sword. Their problem is they do not wield this sword, the sovereign online people of Scotland do.

    1. Surprising that the crib sheet was Rowley's work. I'd have thought this was McTernan meddling - he has sworn to oust Corbyn, after all.

  8. The first draft of Corbyn's remarks on Scotland in his big speech today ...


  9. "The Scottish Government is obliged to tender ferry routes under European Union law. To fail to do so would be to expose the Government to enforcement action from the European Commission."

    Unfortunately for them, the Scottish govt is also totally infatuated with the European Union. If only, instead of being hemmed into this Unionist privatising agenda, the people of our country had the power to take their own decisions, to forge their own destiny, to... I don't know what such a thing might possibly be called...

  10. Andrew - you wrote: "He couldn't give a ha’penny jizz about politics north of the Tweed". I would say, north of the M25 was more accurate.

  11. Hahaha, rattled much Andrew? :) It is clear that the SNP just do not understand how to deal with Corbyn, or with a mainstream party which is moving to their left. The arguments being levelled by SNP spinners such as Hosie are bordering on the ridiculous. I am especially enjoying the SNP's criticism of the genuine democratic debate taking place within Labour - any such difference of opinion would never be accepted within the hive mind of the modern day SNP.