Monday, 15 June 2015

Hobson's choice

As Scottish Labour lurches from crisis to catastrophe to laughing-stock to - hopefully, soon - extinction, the hilarity just grows. 

Their last-ditch effort at survival, Jim Murphy, has been forced out of the door following a humiliating Pyrrhic victory in a vote of confidence half a year after taking charge of the dying Unionist party.

They're tried everything. In 8 years, they've had five "leaders": from both surviving wings of the party (the extreme right and the centre-right). They've tried Jack McConnell, Wendy Alexander, Iain Gray, Johann Lamont, and Jim Murphy - some of them making so little impact that one forgets they even really existed. For instance, Wendy Alexander is someone who briefly brought amusement through incompetence, but petered out quickly, a sort of Doink The Clown of Scottish politics. They've tried to be "led" from Holyrood (McConnell, Alexander), they've tried to be "led" from Westminster (Murphy), and they've tried not to be "led" at all but rather have the remaining MSPs mimble around doing their own thing while the MPs* pretend not to listen (Gray, Lamont). They've tried men, they've tried women. They've tried Cabinet experience (Murphy) and they've tried cleanskins (Gray). They've tried the globetrotting, "glamorous" famous choice, and they've tried the Ordinary Maw. And everything's failed, to the extent that this is now literally the last choice.

And who have they got?

They have one MP, who doesn't want the job. 

Of their 38 MSPs, two have tried it before with varying degrees of catastrophic hilarity. 

Of the remaining 36, three have tried to become "leader" before and been laughed out of town. Others have tried to try to become "leader" and haven't made it onto the ballot paper. 

With so few people eligible to hold office in Scottish Labour - and those who are being drawn very much from the Fourth Division of Scottish political talent - there are barrels being scraped and gerries being mandered.

The announcement that they had overturned the results of their previous internal elections - to select the Regional rankings for an election now less than 11 months away - was met with guffaws. If it was intended to give the impression that Scottish Labour is now a top-down clique whose "stars" are to be protected at all costs, it was gloriously successful. While some expected that senior Scottish Labour leaders who were thrown out by the electorate last month would have to fight tricky constituency elections in order to rekindle their shattered careers, the Clique Coup in Bath Street over the last four weeks has ensured that they will be given coveted top spots on the List, where even the current state of Scottish Labour shouldn't preclude at least 20, and possibly 30 MSPs (assuming a complete collapse in the Constituency returns) returned from the second vote. 

Obviously, this will be shattering for the current crop of Labour MSPs off the list whose political careers are now over: the motley crew of former Tory candidates (Maggie McCulloch), offspring of Tory peers (Claudia Beamish), beneficiaries of local nepotism (Siobhan McMahon), and loyal party members put on the List as a nod to their hard work, but from whom the party would have recoiled in horror had they thought would become MSPs (pretty much the rest of them). But the Clique don't care. They are entitled to a life at the public expense, dammit, and they're not letting a wee setback like the(ir) destruction of their party stop them. 

So this is how their regional lists will look:

Western Scotland

So stand by to see Douglas Alexander, Gemma Doyle and Jim Sheridan occupying the top three spots here

Central Scotland

Michael Connarty, Gregg McClymont and Frank Roy are likely to be the Unionist triptych at the top of the Central Scotland list. McClymont is, and Christ alone knows why, somehow "highly regarded at HQ", whilst Frank Roy was a loyal Blairite MP whose son has huge influence down in the Slab dungeons.


It would be a shock of John Mason winning Glasgow East proportions if we don't have the pleasure of witnessing the Blairite ex-MP Anas Sarwar slithering in to join Margaret Curran and Tom Greatrex on the Glasgow list.

Despite what you might expect, do not expect to see Ian Davidson, unloved, and not at all part of the leadership clique, anywhere near a list. Davidson, for all his fanatical loyalism and loyalty, is far too outspoken and - ironically - independent for him to be rewarded in this entrenchment. 

But do expect to see an Ann McKechin and/or Willie Bain further down the list, hoping-not-hoping they lose every constituency).

Bonus ball: Labour's deputy "leader" is guaranteed top spot on their home list (which raises the question of some sort of infinite error loop if both the "leader" and her deputy are in the same province. Perhaps the world will end.), which means that if Gordon Matheson was to win the deputy leadership (I'm actually sitting chuckling even as I write that line), he'll jump straight to the top of the list, which will leave an absolutely hilarious bloodbath between some of their biggest hitters flapping desperately to try and get back. One big name, at least, is banjaxed. I canny wait. 


Assuming Kezia Dugdale wins the leadership - and the Blairite clique wishes it, and thus shall it be so -  a protected spot at the top of the Lothians list shall be the prize for the Daily Mail columnist and former internet troll. But who shall join the thin-skinned Unionist fanatic? Sarah Boyack and Neil Findlay have both blotted their copybook by failing to express sufficient adoration for the Leader. Mark Lazarowicz hardly fits into New Labour either, so I'd expect to see Graeme Morrice - once Maggie Curran's familiar - and Fiona O'Donnell to complete the top three. 

Mid-Scotland and Fife

We can safely assume that Claire Baker is safe, and will probably be top of the list (the previous incumbent, John Park, quit midway through this parliament, and his replacement, Jayne Baxter, has made zero impact). I should imagine she will be joined by Thomas Docherty, who epitomises the modern Scottish Labour party with his twin obsessions of soldiers and Unionism, and Alex Rowley, the MSP for Cowdenbeath who is popular amongst the membershi...actually, Rowley's got zero chance. He criticised The Leader. He is now a non-person. They're actually ridiculously weak in this province with only one constituency MSP (Rowley) and no constituency MP (and only one even before the May Wipeout). I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Johanna Boyd, who is considered a "rising star", take a spot on the list. She is a very posh lawyer who liked nothing better than cutting the wages of low-paid employees when she led Stirling council, so she's basically Scottish Labour in microcosm.

North-East Scotland

There's a decent chance of Labour getting four MSPs from the List here. The SNP already hold every constituency in both Holyrood and Westminster, with Labour really only having any sort of activist presence in the two major population centres of Aberdeen and Dundee. Richard Baker has managed, somehow, to ingratiate himself with the "leadership", so will be safe in first place, while Jenny Marra has done the same. National Front fan Anne Begg might consider this her best chance of getting back to a life at our expense(s). 

South of Scotland

Labour struggle here, with only two list MSPs. Acting "Leader" Iain Gray might want a place on the list. Claudia Beamish, heir apparent and heir presumptive of The Honourable Tufton Victor Hamilton Beamish, First Baron Chelwood of Lewes in the County of Sussex and Conservative MP for three decades, hasn't done too much wrong and will probably hang on, as will the ultra-authoritarian polis, Graeme Pearson. Russell Brown, kicked out of his seat in Dumfries and Galloway, might fancy a shot. If Fiona O'Donnell doesn't make it onto the Lothians list, she might see this part of the world as a suitable fallback too. 

Highlands and Islands

Labour have not a single MP or MSP for any constituency in this province. Of the areas which make up the region, they have zero councillors in Shetland, zero councillors on Orkney, three councillors of the 31 in na h-Éileanan an Íar, and 8 of the 80 Highland councillors. 

it is not fertile ground for Labour. 

The current two list MSPs are Rhoda Grant and David Stewart. They'll probably keep two MSPs on the list. I can't see them getting up to three. Depending on the timing of the internal election (and sure, if the "leadership" doesn't like other results, they can just overturn and reopen it anyway), you might see a bit of carpetbagging from a couple of desperate ex-MPs who haven't been able to get a place elsewhere: but in a region where the voting membership is in the tens rather than the hundreds, it's unlikely to work.

So, imagine the scenario. You're a loyal, possibly long-serving "senior leadership" ex-MP that a grateful party has gerrymandered back into the politics, earning you the undying enmity of the poor soul you've trodden all over in the process. You've got your second change (not you, Maggie), and you're not going to waste it. You're going to seize the day - Salmond Delenda Est! - and you're going to show all those bastards who wrote you off just because you got thrown out of parliament. 

What's your logical next step: it must be the "leadership". 

Now, the new "leader" will tell the whole country that Scottish Labour has changed. It's a straight choice between Ken MacIntosh, who like a drunk trying to get into the same nightclub he's already been knocked back from, has already been told too fuck off but just doesn't understand the rejection. And Kezia Dugdale. Sorry, "Kez". 

"Kez" is Scottish Labour's answer to Nicola Sturgeon, we're told, more in a desperate hope that if you wish hard enough something was true then true it shall be than in any sort of dispassionate analysis grounded in anything approaching reality. 

"Kez" is going to fix it (I saw one Unionist journalist recently actually writing, as though he believed it for a moment that "just as when you said 'Margo', everyone knew you were talking about Margo MacDonald, so it is with Kez"). The ancient triumph of hope over reality. Dugdale said herself six months ago that she "doesn't have what it takes" to be "leader" of Scottish Labour. 

Yet she's favourite. And she's favourite for one reason. She knows - and so does every other senior Scottish Labour leadership figure, that she doesn't have what it takes. She wasn't being overly-humble, nor was she misquoted - she was telling the unvarnished truth (for a nice change) in an unguarded moment.

Kezia, sorry, "Kez" Dugdale, sorry, "Kez", will "lead" Scottish Labour into May's general election. And it'll be a disaster. They'll lose between seven and ten seats. If she has the courage to fight a constituency - and based on her character, I don't think she will - and loses, as she inevitably will, she'll instantly be a laughing-stock, lame duck leader. 

So with your leader discredited and your deputy leader a bit of a joke figure known more for organising Orange marches and getting caught by the police giving blowies in the back of cars parked on busy roads, there's not really much option, is there? 

Wonder what the odds are on the main evening news headline on Monday, 9th May, being that familiar but forgotten voice rasping out "we've suffered a bad defeat. But we're ready to listen, and ready to change, and ready to serve Scotland", as Margaret Curran rises from the political grave like some sort of mad zombie?

* For younger readers, there was a time in Scottish politics, mainly in the last century, in which Scottish Labour not only had more than one MP, but often had a majority of them!

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