Sunday, 19 November 2017

Congratulations Comrade Leonard

And so this years Scottish Labour leadership contest is at an end. I said at the start that I would vote for Anas, which I did, but I also said at the start that I would be content with either candidate, which I am.

I thought Richard ran much the better campaign because he actually promised so little and that was the clever thing to do.

Anas's campaign was policy, often innovative policy, rich, whereas you would struggle to find much in Richard's platform that is not current Scottish Labour Party policy. That is as it should be.

There will be no Scottish Parliament election for three and a half years and by that time the Scottish political environment will be very different.

I see no reason that the stasis in the SNP's approach to our public services will have moved on, so scared are they of offending any section of their fragile "Yes coalition", so inevitably by 2021 the condition of our public services will be much worse. Whether, however, the electorate will have concluded that this is due to their being insufficient money, and thus be willing to thole tax rises to address this or whether, instead, they will conclude that existing money is being unwisely deployed.....we'll know that in three years time. Richard's cautious approach on this is surely better than Anas's comprehensive and specific proposals. Richard even cleverly threw some red meat to his supporters with his proposal for a wealth tax which he quietly acknowledged in the small print was beyond the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament. This, dare I say it, is one straight out of the SNP playbook. No less clever for that.

Anyway, in three and a half years time we will be but a year out from a UK election. It would be lunatic for Scottish Labour to fight a Holyrood election promising that no matter what taxes were levied and public spending sanctioned by a supposedly imminent radical, left-wing Westminster Government, taxes and spending would be higher in Scotland still. So lunatic that it is not going to happen. Instead we will fight the Hoyrood election promising to fund certain things and implying we will raise taxes if required to do so. And that's as far as we'll go. Richard got that. Anas didn't.

And in three and a half years time UK Labour politics will also have moved on. Corbynism at the moment floats along on the illusion that a UK General election, and a Labour Government, is somehow imminent. In reality neither is. Because of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act the only way the Tories will not stumble on until 2022 is if they want an early election. Which, unless the polls have moved very decisively in their favour, is not going to happen. Indeed, standing their near death experience earlier this year, even if they were twenty points ahead in the polls, such an opportunistic early contest would be a hard sell internally.

So Corbyn's age will become an issue. He is currently 68. By June 2022 he will be 73. Some Countries have a tradition of political gerontocracy but ours does not. Sure, Churchill won aged 76 in 1951 but he was something of a special case and that administration generally accepted not to be exactly his finest hour. Other than that, every 20th or 21st Century Prime Minister has been significantly younger and elected in the reasonable certainty that they'd be capable of being in office for a full term. Once the idea of an imminent further contest has been eroded by the passage of time, attention will inevitably turn to this. And if we're going to change leader then we'll want that done before the Summer of 2021.

Now that might be just to someone of similar politics but I wouldn't bet on it. What Corbyn won in 2015 was essentially a personality contest. So will the next contest be. I credit Corbyn with having moved the Party's policy agenda to the left but not with establishing forever a messianic cult of ultra left leadership. So his departure will be the opportunity for a changed climate of internal debate which I suspect will also lead to a return to the Party's Westminster talent being more fully deployed. And that rapprochement will also spill over to Scotland. Short term, it has suited Richard to be Corbyn's candidate but long term, if he wants to be FM, he will want to lead a united Party. And also, as I pointed out when I wrote at the start of the contest, Richard has no personal history of Party sectarianism. Here's however another thing. He traded,over the last three months, on having opposed the challenge to Corbyn in 2016 but he's never to my knowledge said who he voted for in 2015. Someone should ask him.

And that leads me to my final point. We have no idea what the Scottish political landscape will look like in 2021 but almost inevitably it will remain utterly dominated by the National question.  All the attention has been on whether Nicola will attempt to call another referendum before May 2021 but, like the question of whether there will be an early UK election, this is simply something which is not going to happen. She would need a section 30 and Mrs May is not for her having one. As indeed would be any other conceivable Tory leader. But come 2021 the internal politics of the SNP will make a manifesto pledge to hold another vote almost certainly unavoidable. Yet all external evidence indicates that such a pledge is electorally toxic to sufficient of the electorate to deny the Nats, even with their Green allies, a Holyrood majority for that proposition.  Indeed, that's the very reason they are so desperate, however forlornly, to have a pre 2021 poll.

What happens then? Suppose the 2021 Scottish election gives none of the three "big" Parties a workable governing coalition without one of the others?  Well, here's the clever thing. Richard has emerged from a contest in which this was surely the most obvious question to ask without ever having answered it at all.

So Comrade Leonard doesn't have his immediate troubles to seek but he has emerged from victory with two substantial assets. The first is the absence of any hostages to fortune but the second is far more valuable still. Time.

Peter Mandelson would be proud of him.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Lessons from Catalonia.

I could write at length about the differences between Scotland and Catalonia. Particularly about how one is a historic nation forming a voluntary part of the world's oldest democracy, The other, on the other hand has never, ever, been an internationally recognised independent country and belongs to a modern state which has within living memory been a fascist dictatorship. Most particularly of all however, that  the former, without a written Constitution, has to make the rules up as we go along while the latter has an overwhelmingly popularly adopted written constitution that sets these rules.

But that's not the point I want to make. The point I want to make is about nationalists here not being bothered about the effect of their actions on people's everyday lives.

You see, what exactly was/is the "strategy" of the Catalonian Nationalists? Suppose on Friday afternoon the democratically elected Government of Spain had thrown their hand in and said "OK, you are independent." How would then even supporters of Catalonian Independence been able to pay their taxes to the "Government of Catalonia"?

Well actually they wouldn't have been, for only the Spanish Government has the administrative machinery to receive and process all major taxes duly paid, through the Agencia Estatal de Administración Tributaria. (The Spanish HMRC).

And how would pensioners or benefit claimants of the most enthusiastic nationalist bent have been able to receive their pensions or benefits? Well, actually, only the Spanish Government has the ability to make these payments. Indeed I suspect only the Spanish Government even knows who is entitled to receive them.  And even if the Spanish Government did a data dump to their Catalonian successors, the latter wouldn't have any money or technical machinery to pay the pensions or benefits. Or indeed public sector wages. As, as I repeat, they don't have any money or the technical ability to receive taxes to raise that money. Indeed, initially. logically, an independent Catalonia won't even have any legally levied taxes to collect! Spain had levied taxes and the regional government of Catalonia (as part of Spain) had levied taxes but on the declaration of independence both of these bodies ceased to have any legal jurisdiction in "free" Catalonia.. All of which would take, at best, months to sort out. Which kind of puts the legitimate disquiet over a UK six week delay in Universal Credit payments commencing in to some perspective.

Instant Catalonian Independence is a nonsensical proposition. That's even before you start on the flight of Corporate Capital that was the inevitable consequence of there being an uncertain (I put that kindly) regulatory framework in an independent Catalonia. Or indeed the impact, in an area hugely dependent on tourism, of the reluctance of anybody to take their holidays where the local administration was in a state of chaos and the medical services going unpaid.

Instant Catalonian Independence is a nonsense even judged against the proposition the SNP put before the Scottish people on 18th September 2014. For that was not for Independence on 19th September 2014. It was for independence fully nineteen months later once precisely the issues I refer to above, in a Catalonian context, had had the chance to be addressed. And, don't forget, many, even on the Yes side, thought that nineteen month period to be unrealistically short.

Just as even the most enthusiastic Brexiteer didn't think we could leave the EU on the day after the referendum and is slowly accepting that even the article 50 timetable might be an unduly optimistic goal.

So why is Catalan Independence being taken seriously? I'll let you into a secret. It is not. Not by Spain, not by the EU, not by any Country in the world. Not even, really, by Catalonia. In Catalonia it is really aimed at getting Spain to negotiate about something more sensible. Although that now has clearly been a miscalculation.

The only place it is being taken seriously is by the governing party in Scotland, even their Green allies having adopted a low profile.

And why is that? Because, for many in the SNP, possibly even a majority, having a viable plan for "independence" isn't actually necessary. It is a decision to be taken based on emotion, not reason. Whether taxes could be levied, or pensions, benefits and wages paid is unimportant. What is important is, literally, a flag and a song. Which is pretty much all Catalonia proposed to start off with.

And that puts our own notorious White Paper into context. It wasn't just over optimistic. it was actively deceitful. But to the true believers that didn't matter.

Don't take my word for it, listen to the words of Mhari Black at the SNP Conference earlier this month.

"We might not know where we are going, but we sure as hell know what we are walking away from".

"We might not know where we are going".......for which she received a standing ovation.

Personally, before I set off on any journey, I want to know my intended destination. But mibbee that's just me. Who knows, next year I might go to Catalonia.





Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Dark days.

I recent times I have written my blog from my desk at the window of  my rather over grandly titled library. I say rather over grandly titled because while the room is undoubtedly lined by my books it is also the repository for various other junk for which a place cannot be readily found elsewhere in the house.

Nonetheless, it does have a desk and a window beyond that desk which looks out to the garden.

So, for six or so months past I've been able to look out as Spring came, the trees grew slowly greener and fuller and colour slowly emerged among the flower beds.

Tonight however I am looking out in to darkness, knowing only that for nearly three months things will only get darker still.

And that kind of marks my mood about the state of our nation.

Brexit is an utter disaster. It is a policy regarded as such not just by the current Prime Minister but by every living Prime Minister. And not just by the Prime Minister but by the de facto deputy Prime Minister; by the Chancellor and by the Home Secretary. By the leader of the Scottish Tories and the Tory Secretary of State for Wales. By the vast majority of opposition Members of Parliament of all political stripe. By the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Parliament. By the Treasury. By the EU certainly but also by every one of this Country's other major allies. By almost all independent economic forecasters in this country and in the wider world. Indeed by almost anyone with an informed opinion.

And yet we are told it must be persisted with. Because we had a referendum and, to lift the nihilistic words of a different sort of nationalist, Mhari Black, in a different context this week, on one single day, by a narrow majority, the electorate were prepared to sign up to the proposition:



I've never got the outrage at the Nats wanting another Referendum. I've certainly mocked their demand that such events should happen daily until they got the right result but it would surely have been unrealistic, indeed undemocratic, to have suggested that on 19th September 2014 the SNP should have wound itself up as a political Party and accepted that their cause was done. In that same vein, I never accepted, even had we lost on that September day, that my side would have had to have given up and join "Team Scotland" (copyright A. Salmond) to make the best of (or more likely share the blame for) the economic calamity that would have followed. I argued back then for "Unionists" legitimate right to insist that we'd been right and they'd been wrong, on through as many elections as followed, at least until the deed was actually done. Somewhat ironically, having located that very blog, I recall the nationalist outrage which followed.

So I don't accept that we, the electorate, are somehow mandated in the legitimacy of the options available to our elected representatives by a vote on 23rd June 2016, any more than those victorious on that day were obliged to accept such a vote from 6th June 1975.

But, to be clear, you cannot deny the electorate forever. You have to have the courage to confront them with their own folly. That you can't have prosperity without immigration. Or, for a Country of our size, economic influence without allies. Or allies without a means of shared decision making. Or shared decision making without an arbiter over what these decisions mean. That it is a deal or it is no deal, and a deal cannot simply be dictated by only one side.

So we need politicians with bravery.  Politicians on the Tory and Labour side to stand up together to declare "THIS IS MADNESS!" even in the knowledge that, under our first past the post system, they take a risk with their own long term careers.

But I get, as much as anybody gets, the draw of what is unfairly dismissed as Party tribalism but more accurately categorised as Party loyalty.

My mother died on the 13th of April 1979 during the General Election campaign of that year. I was but a boy of twenty but my folks had both been big Labour people locally (my father had died three years before) and the Party, at that time, looked after me, literally, as family. As it has, through personal and political ups and downs ever since. I'd find it exceptionally difficult to leave the Labour Party.

And I had a similar exchange with a pro European Tory post 23rd June 2016. "Let's try and persuade Ruth to lead a new Party" I proposed, by no means entirely frivolously. "I hate this, but I'm still a Tory. And so is she." was the response. On both sides we know this. Other people, comrades on my team, colleagues on theirs, matter to us across the divide. For they are family. And blood is thicker than water. People we might hope would only feel disappointed by such a development but we fear would actually think betrayed.

But perhaps there is an alternative. We now have a fixed term Parliament and a Brexit process to be concluded within it. Would it be beyond the device of woman and man to declare, in numbers and on both sides, for free votes on that process? Impossible? Except you see that's essentially what happened in 1971 when we first decided to join the EU. John Smith ended up voting with Reginald Maudling and Tony Benn with Enoch Powell. As, today, Diane Abbott might vote with Jeremy Hunt while Jeremy Corbyn joins Jacob Rees-Mogg. On this one issue alone. And somehow, a very British way, we might yet muddle through.

For Brexit, or at least a hard Brexit, would be a disaster.  And yet unless something happens that is precisely our destination. Through personal weakness on both sides of our two major Parties, those who perceive that coming disaster only too well are currently trapped, by tribalism or loyalty, in a way proving it impossible to prevent.

Something has to give or those judged most harshly by history will not be the true believing Boris Johnsons or John McDonnells but the Commons majority who saw it all coming but, for reasons of the moment, chose to look away.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Written Constitutions

Think back to your Higher History.

The whole of Hobsbawn's "long 19th Century" (1789-1914) was about insurrections against absolute monarchies. In 1789, 1830, 1848 (in spades), 1870 and at various other points in between "the people" rose up in "revolution". But, while their protest was invariably about particular urgent grievance, their demands invariably included "A WRITTEN CONSTITUTION!" Not so much to prevent these grievances from recurring but rather, if they did,  to provide a non revolutionary means for their resolution.

For revolutions might be glorious things, even on occasion necessary things. But they involve violence. Violence in which people get hurt. Even, if they succeed, people "hurt" on the winning side who do not live to celebrate the victory.

How much better if matters can be resolved at the ballot box within a commonly based agreed set of rules (for that is all a constitution ultimately is) and with an ultimate independent arbiter in the form of a Supreme Court?  A Court constituted in accordance with...... the Constitution.

Nobody gets hurt (except perhaps reputationally) and certainly nobody gets killed. And that surely has to be progress.

So that is why the Nineteenth Century's long march towards progress involved the steady adoption of constitutions. It is also why, within my lifetime, as they emerged from fascist totalitarianism in southern Europe, or communist authoritarianism in central and eastern Europe, that almost the first step of every Country was to adopt a constitution. For, today, every democracy in the world, (except four, a point I refer to in my footnote) has a written constitution. And it is also why the first act of any right wing coup, in any previous or temporary democracy, is to "suspend the constitution".

It is against that background that events in Catalonia have to be judged.

After the death of Franco, Spain became a democracy. And it adopted a constitution. Which was put to a national referendum in 1978. At which referendum it was approved overwhelmingly, including by 91.4% of voters in Catalonia.

And that constitution  included the declaration that Spain was indivisible.

There are, as there almost inevitably are, provisions for that constitution to be amended. But in respect of this provision it hasn't been.

And it is against that fact that events in Catalonia need to be judged. For as much as the establishment of a constitution is an aspiration (over more than 200 years) of the left and ultimately an achievement of the left, then the ability of any person or interest or faction to defy a democratically approved constitution can only be a defeat for the left. For while that defiance might on one occasion be about unilateral secession, it might on another be about freedom of speech, or religious observance or sexual equality.

And yet that is precisely what is being attempted in Catalonia. Even if some of the partisans of a unilateral repudiation of the Spanish Constitution don't appreciate that. I say some, because as with the dark underbelly of Scottish Nationalism, I'm sure many realise exactly what their politics truly are but just prefer to keep that quiet for the moment.

But I want to finish by talking about the first written constitution, which inspired so many others, that of the United States of America.

What was the American Civil War about? Today it is thought about being to free the slaves, Except it wasn't. Initially it was simply about the "right" of the southern states to unilaterally secede from the union, contrary to the Constitution. Emancipation followed only after nearly two years of actual fighting.

So let us be clear. That's the parallel. Anybody who supports the unconstitutional events in Catalonia have but one exemplar, Jefferson Davis. And let's be equally clear, any true democrat, Scottish or otherwise, should be standing with Lincoln. Not so much for the Union but for the Constitution. For all of us, but particularly those of us on the side of progress, benefit from there being a constitution. Don't ask me, ask those who died before me for that very principle.

Footnote. The four Countries are the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Israel. The second and third follow "our" example, The final one? These people are Israelis, They've presumably concluded they'd spend so much time arguing over what should be in their constitution that it was easier just to not have one at all. 







Monday, 11 September 2017

Tax (again)

I've written about tax before and you'll gather from that that I am not antipathetical to targeted tax increases BUT

We are twenty years on from the Devolution Referendum when 63% of the Scottish people voted for a devolved parliament with tax raising powers and yet we have never used these powers.

There are two reasons for this. The Labour reason and the SNP reason.

The Labour reason was initially quite simple. While Labour was in power at Holyrood, we were also in power at Westminster. The political reality always was that a Scottish Labour Government could not imply, by raising taxes here, that a UK Labour Government was itself not raising sufficient tax to fund public services properly. Not just not raising it, to be clear, to fund public services properly in Scotland but logically also failing in that task UK wide. And that political reality was particularly the case when, during, the whole of that period, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was Scottish Labour's easily most favourite son.

The SNP reason is also straightforward. Raising the basic rate of Income Tax is electorally toxic. They know that from experience.

At the first ever Holyrood election, in 1999, the SNP stood on a slogan of "A Penny for Scotland." This envisaged the basic rate of Income Tax being 1% (a penny) higher than that in the rest of the UK. This didn't even involve a tax rise. The UK Labour Government was that very same year proposing a 1% cut in the basic rate and all the Nats suggested was Scotland foregoing that cut, using the additional revenue raised on increased public spending.

The problem was that, put to the test, "Scotland" proved a good deal less keen to "properly fund" public services than past rhetoric (not just by nationalists) had suggested. The Nats got a significant rebuff and by the 2003 election, John Swinney, the then leader, had ensured that the policy did not reappear.

Which it hasn't since.

And indeed, by the 2011 election, the SNP reason had become also the Labour reason. Neither Party stood on a manifesto suggesting raising the basic rate. Nor indeed did any other major Party.

But since then there have been two significant developments.

Firstly, in 2016, Labour did stand on a platform of raising the basic rate by I%.

And, secondly, last week in her Programme for Government, Nicola said

Ahead of publishing our draft budget for 2018‑19, we will publish a discussion paper on Income Tax to open up the debate about the best use of our tax powers. It will:
  • set out the current distribution of Income Tax liabilities in Scotland
  • analyse the implications of different options around Income Tax, including the proposals of other parties represented in the Scottish Parliament
  • set out the importance of the interaction of Income Tax policy with the fiscal framework
  • provide international comparisons of Scotland's Income Tax policy
  • better inform the Parliament and people in Scotland about the choices open to us to invest in our public services and support the economy in the context of austerity and Brexit
The briefing which accompanied this was clear. The Nats would consider the blunt weapon of raising basic rate tax but only if the other Parties were prepared to also dip their hands in the blood. And, by implication, if they weren't, then the SNP wouldn't act unilaterally. Despite being the Government.

Now all of this leaves Labour in an awkward position.

You see, we didn't win the 2016 election. Indeed we didn't even come second. Now, at the time, this was attributed to "circumstances" in general. And, to be honest, that's probably what was the main cause. But we also benefited in 2016 from nobody thinking we were ever likely to win and so being bothered to much to pay attention to our tax policy. 2021 is likely to be a very different election.

And in 2016 nobody thought there would be a UK General Election for five years, so the tax policy of the Scottish Labour Party wasn't of any interest as any sort of exemplar for our likely UK tax policy. In 2021 we will be within a year of such an UK event and, you see, even John McDonnell didn't risk a basic rate increase in our "left-wing" UK manifesto earlier this year. And so that question would then be asked. Including if we'd still maintain higher taxes in Scotland if there was a Labour Government at Westminster.

And you see, the reason Mr McDonnell was not proposing to increase the basic rate (or indeed the income tax of anybody earning less than £80,000) was that he got that this would have been incredibly electorally unpopular. Which indeed is why no Chancellor of any Party has done this since Denis Healey in....................1975.*

But, and it's a big but, the idea of raising income tax is not unpopular within the Scottish Labour Party. Indeed its popularity internally is probably in inverse proportion to its unpopularity with the electorate. Because extra revenue means extra spending. Particularly potentially spending on public sector wages and local government jobs. Which, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a desired outcome of the public sector trade unions, who are our principal funders, and of the many local councillors who co-ordinate much of our activist base.

Now, because they are against "austerity" and would pay more tax to end it, they assume that this view is shared more widely. Regrettably however all the evidence suggests that it isn't. Which is what is got in spades by Nicola. For she also now has a significant cohort of Party members who would equally like higher taxes and more public spending but she has been careful not to commit to actually doing this, just to consulting about considering doing so. Which ultimately she won't. No matter what you think of her she is not stupid.

But of course Labour is currently in a leadership contest where the selectorate is not the general public but rather these same "anti-austerity" forces. So the temptation will be to play to the gallery. Particularly as neither candidate will want to be characterised as "to the right of Kezia Dugdale".

However, this would be a strategic error. Because we are now in a three cornered fight here. And winning the 2021 contest is frankly unlikely to be delivered by simply being to the left of the SNP. And who is to say they would by then be our main rivals anyway? Ruth Davidson has to date been characterised as a one trick ("save the union") pony. A criticism to her credit that she takes on board and is trying to remedy. But the danger is that Labour gratuitously provides her with another string to her bow. "Vote Tory and not only will you remain in the UK, you'll also pay no more tax than anybody else in the UK". And Ruth Davidson isn't stupid either.

Now, Labour might be prepared to take that on, to make the case for higher taxes and higher spending. For Scottish public sector workers to be (even) more relatively numerous than English public sector workers and better paid into the bargain**. And for that to be paid for, significantly, by higher taxes on Scottish private sector workers. But we shouldn't labour under the misapprehension that this will be universally popular (sic) with the Scottish electorate. No matter how well it might play within the Scottish Labour Party.

* That's not the same as raising the total income tax take.  George Osborne (!) did this between 2011-15 by significantly reducing the threshold at which higher rate (40%) tax fell to be paid.

** In writing this blog I have tried to get a figure for what percentage of Scottish Government revenue expenditure ultimately goes on wages. I have been unable to find this. But 65% of UK Government expenditure is spent in this way despite the UK Government also having current responsibility for the big ticket item of almost all  Welfare and Pension payments. So it is not unreasonable to assume the Scottish figure to be significantly higher. 








Sunday, 3 September 2017

Kexit

So, in keeping with the dubious allegiance she showed towards the Labour Party throughout her short lived career, Kez has departed the scene at a time of maximum disadvantage to us. As it was described to me, not so much "Forced out" as "F****d off".

Having risen like a rocket she has come down like a stick. Although a stick that will no doubt float about among the flotsam and jetsam of the Scottish quangocracy for some time to come.

Unlike some of the press speculation, I'm not sure she will (re-?)join the SNP. She's far more use to them as a poundshop Henry McLeish and I suspect that's the role they'll want her to play at least until she can announce a Damascene conversion to Nationalism in the event of a second referendum. She's still quite young, so she might indeed live to see such an event.

Anyway, good bye and good.......no, just goodbye.

So, to the future.

I admitted long since that I abstained in the last Scottish Labour leadership contest as unfortunately I simply didn't think that "being a nice guy" was sufficient for Ken McIntosh to garner my support. I genuinely wanted neither candidate to win. This time however, although I will be supporting Anas, I would be genuinely content for either candidate to win.

There is an old joke that the Scottish Labour Party has more factions than members and there is some truth to that but left/right is only one divide and actually by no means the deepest of these. There is, for example, the West against the rest divide. Then, within the West, the Glasgow against the rest divide. Then, in Glasgow, the South West against the North East divide. Then, in North East Glasgow, the North against the East divide. Detailed political followers of the City will know that to be true. Then there's the divide between those who have "chosen" to support the Labour Party and those who were born into it. Between the thinkers and the doers. Between the secularists and those of a religious persuasion. (This latter group used to be code for Catholics but now includes Muslims and even practising adherents of The Church of Scotland). Between those who think prioritised gender politics are an essential element of Socialism and those who......don't. Probably most importantly, between those who hate the Nats more than the Tories and vice versa.

And that's before you even get started on the Green/Grey divide. Never mind the relative newcomer of Brexit.

But these divides have always been there. Even the apparent new European kid on the block for those of us old enough to remember Alex Mosson's "Europhile" challenge to Janey Buchan's "Eurosceptical" (I put that kindly) position as Glasgow's Labour MEP.  (Asked exactly what his platform was, the future Lord Provost famously replied "I'm standing, that's my platform").

The point is that we've always generally all got along well enough so long as we respected the equal commitment of our comrades to "The Labour Cause".  And I am in no doubt of Richard Leonard's commitment to that cause. He might not be widely known to the general public but he is well known inside the Labour Party (he was the Chair of the Scottish Labour Party!) as a serious thinker and, when required, actor. It would be fair to say that within the "Labour and Trade Union movement", his own activity has been more focused on the latter part. But that's not unimportant. For the unions to remain willing to sign the cheques it is important for them not to think they are writing blank cheques and "Richard Leonard of the G&M" will undoubtedly provide that reassurance. He is more than capable of doing the job of leading the Scottish Labour Party and an entirely credible candidate for the position of First Minister. Indeed his current relative obscurity might even be an advantage in allowing himself to be portrayed as a genuine "new start".

And, for the avoidance of any doubt, he is no sectarian. He was Anne McGuire's election agent! He worked for the GMB, hardly a hotbed of Trotskyism, and he has been at pains at the very start of his campaign to emphasise that he is a member of no internal organised faction.

So he'd be fine as Leader and, win or lose, will be an important player at Holyrood for years to come.

But I'm voting for Anas.

Partly, and this is also a factor in many of Labour's internal squabbles, simply out of personal affection. And indeed that his dad and I were and are great comrades. I also like the idea that within a generation we could go from it being controversial for Glasgow to elect Britain's first Muslim MP to no-one batting an eyelid about a potential Muslim First Minister.

But it's also because of Anas's character and record. Sure, he became an MP at an early age because of family connections, but these things happen. Danielle Rowley is Alex Rowley's daughter. Katy Clarke is Agnes Davies's niece. Karen Whitefield, Peggy Herbison's great niece. That's not a point against any of them but one very much in their favour. Nobody suspects that any of them might one day go off in the huff and join the SNP.

But Anas has never been someone to sit back and rely on patronage or birthright. He is a hard, hard worker. Always on the doorstep whenever a by-election requires it. Always willing to pitch up to speak at Party events or even just to swell the attendance by his promised presence. And he's a political strategist. Co-proprietor, with James Kelly and Frank McAveety, of Labour's survival in Glasgow in May 2017 and further revival in June. A revival which, had the former leader given them the resources, would have been more robust still.  A guy who has worked hard at his shadow health brief backed by meticulous research and helped by his being acknowledged as one of the best debaters at Holyrood. A man with, genuinely, few internal enemies. And in the Scottish Labour Party that in itself is some achievement.

But I want to just issue one word of caution to him. It will be a mistake for him to run as the "unity candidate" for it would imply that Richard Leonard is not. Anas is merely the more experienced candidate, the better prepared candidate and, when it comes to the bigger battle in 2020 or 2021 simply, at this time, the stronger candidate. Because, actually, as I say, the left/right divide inside the Scottish Labour Party is not nearly as significant as some would make out. I'm genuinely struggling to see what differences the two candidates will have within the devolved policy competencies or, indeed, on the constitutional question. And also a word of caution to Richard Leonard. Avoid at all costs becoming Jeremy Corbyn's candidate. That's not a comment on this specific leader but on any potential UK Leader. This must be a contest fought in Scotland and only about what's best for Scottish Labour. Simples.

One final point and that is about the deputy leadership. If it does indeed transpire that the contest for the top job is between two men there will inevitably be pressure on Alex Rowley to stand aside in favour of a (gender) balanced ticket. That would be a mistake. If credit for our revival in the west lies where I've suggested, then our revival in Fife is undoubtedly significantly Alex' achievement. Why should he go when he's done nothing wrong? There must be however an argument for adopting what it appears might be the UK solution to this same issue and having two deputy leaders. We have many well qualified potential candidates for that second role.

Anyway, I've quite enjoyed returning to the blogging so I suppose I ought to thank Kez for that.
Oh, and for one other thing. I am in no doubt that her conversation with Nicola on 24th June when she indicated that Labour might support a second Independence Referendum was a significant factor in Nicola deciding to call for one. With all the fatal consequences for the SNP which followed. So, I suppose, accidentally, perhaps Kezia's tenure did ultimately serve the interests of the Labour Party. I'm sure she'd be happy to know that.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Britain: An alternative history.

Twenty five years ago a new force emerged in British politics. Its central thesis was that giving up the Empire had been a terrible mistake. What today we know as neo-imperialism.

Once, these people argued, we had presided over the greatest Empire the world had ever known. Upon which indeed the sun had never set. An Empire which had  defeated Louis XIV, Napoleon, the Kaiser and then most meretriciously of all, Hitler. An Empire that had brought, in-between all this fighting, the Pax Britannica, providing unparalleled opportunity for worldwide trade, employment and fortune making. At least for those with the immense good luck to have been born in these small islands. Thanks however to defeatist thinking in the forties, fifties and sixties this had all been gratuitously been given away and, lets be honest, argued the neo-imperialists, everything had gone downhill since then.

So, they had a simple solution. Let's get the Empire back.

Obviously this couldn't all be done at once. The thirteen colonies might prove particularly difficult. But most of these colonials realised the Empire had brought mutual benefits (so the neo-imperialists claimed) and  you had to start somewhere. So the neo-imperialists, having looked around, settled upon the former Jewel in the Crown, India, as a useful starting point. It had immense popular and natural resources and if successfully re-annexed would set a precedent for other former colonies to follow. Indeed enthusiastically (so they claimed).

Now, initially received establishment opinion was that these people were lunatics. The Empire was past and, never mind that, India would hardly consent to its re-colonisation. Anyway, the loss of the Empire was not actually the cause of any current British malaise, indeed standards of living here had never been higher. The whole idea was misconceived in its diagnosis and deluded in its supposed solution. And that was the end of the matter.

Only it wasn't, for the neo-imperialists set up their own political Party, the British Empire Party, quickly shortened to the BEP, and, strangely, began to have some electoral success. This support came largely from people brought up on too many war movies but also included those who, lingering on the dole in post industrial England, quite fancied the chance to become the Maharajah of somewhere. A position the BEP suggested would be just the sort of opportunity open to the likes of them. More worryingly still, for the Tories, much of this electoral support was coming at their expense, so much so that an increasing number of Tory backwoodsmen began to suggest that the neo-imperialists might have a point. Indeed a few Tories even defected to the BEP, hinting darkly that they were but the tip of the iceberg.

"This is madness!" informed opinion continued to protest. But to no avail. The BEP simply wouldn't go away and the Tories internal Party management problems were going from bad to worse.

So, eventually, the Tory Prime Minister decided that the only solution was a Referendum at which, with more or less the entire establishment on his side, he presumed he would easily crush those he had once described as "Fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists".

Only things didn't quite work out to plan. The anti-imperialists were divided from the start, not least as the Labour leader refused a joint campaign, protesting that he'd always been an anti-imperialist and would not share a platform with Johnny come latelies to that cause. The anti-imperialists also couldn't agree whether there had ever been anything good to say about the Empire and spent much of their time arguing amongst themselves about that.

Meanwhile, the neo-imperialists had a number of simple messages. Firstly, that there were 1.4 Billion people in India. If they were all taxed at just one Pound a month that would bring an extra £350 million to the NHS every week. And who would miss a Pound a month? Secondly, that although the Indians were protesting they had no intention of being re-colonised, that was only bluff. Their tone would change after the British people had shown their resolve. Thirdly, although they were careful in their framing, if we annexed India, all the "Indians" currently living here would have to go home and no more would come here. Ever.  Albeit for reasons never entirely satisfactorily explained.

And so, on 24th June 2016, the British people woke up to discover that, against the advice of every living Prime Minister, against the advice of Business, large and small, against the advice of the entire organised left, against the advice (and worse) of the rest of the world, never mind India itself,  we had voted by 52/48, to re-colonise India.

But what was interesting was what happened next, The Prime Minister resigned and his successor, previously an anti-imperialist, returned from the Palace to announce that "Empire means Empire" and that her responsibility was to get on with it. She would be calling in the Indian High-Commissioner the very next morning to tell him that and meanwhile had appointed three leading neo-imperialists to her Cabinet in the posts of Foreign Secretary, Governor-General Designate and, slightly worryingly, Chief of the Imperial General Staff. A latter position the necessity of which had been strangely unmentioned during the referendum campaign.

Anyway, that was all a year ago. What has happened since? India has remained un-annexed. Although the High Commissioner, having stopped only briefly to tell the Prime Minister to fuck off (in Hindi) has taken himself off back home. Together with every other High Commisioner. The Daily Mail thinks this is a panic move on their part.

The Labour Party has decided that after all it might not be an anti-imperialist Party. Or at least its leader has. It turns out we were not against all imperialism, just right wing imperialism. It might yet, apparently, be possible for there to be a left wing imperialism. Or at least a jobs focused imperialism.

Meanwhile, many point to the advantages of imperialism. We are building dreadnoughts again. Who would have predicted that? And there is also, ........well that's at least a start.

Obviously the return of conscription thing is a bit of an issue but as Regimental Sergeant Majors remind each new intake "That'll teach you not to vote". As it undoubtedly has.

Everything otherwise points to failure ahead. The inevitable sinking of our fleet somewhere near Madagascar, the alternative route of the Suez Canal having already been ruled out by....experience. The possible Indian invasion of England to follow.

But for the moment the neo-imperialists hold the ace card.   "This is what the British people voted for in a democratic referendum and anybody otherwise minded is........... no better than Hitler". So it must be attempted. No matter how lunatic. No matter how doomed to disaster. That's democracy, apparently.

Meanwhile the Government is getting on with the job. The Great Repeal Bill having been denied them as a title they have introduced the India (Re-annexation) Bill instead. They are particularly pleased with section 1. "The Indian Independence Act 1947 is hereby repealed". For with that they have honoured the referendum result. Apparently.

Everything is going just fine. Defeatists will not be tolerated. Their stance is an insult to the British people. Who have spoken. In a referendum. And the British people are never wrong. Apparently.

Meanwhile, a new movement has started to emerge, calling for a referendum on leaving the European Union. At least we, neo-imperialist and ant-imperialist alike, can unite in dismissing that as a completely mad idea.