There’s no sign of Scottish Labour’s great voyage to the bottom of the polls hitting the sea-bed yet. Currently sitting at around 15% – a startling 10 points down on the abysmal performance that saw the party lose 40 of 41 Westminster MPs in 2015 – the North Britain Branch Office is now haemorrhaging voters to the Tories almost as fast as it previously lost them to the SNP.
With the constitution looking set to dominate Scottish politics for the forseeable future (and certainly until the Brexit process is concluded, if and when that ever happens), Labour in Scotland finds itself unenviably located in the middle of a grisly medieval execution, being torn apart as its limbs are wrenched from their sockets by the horses of the SNP on one side and the Ruth Davidson No Surrender Party on the other.
Even after Kezia Dugdale abandoned her previously-equivocal position in a panic and threw her lot in once and for all with the UK, however much it protests Labour will simply never be seen as a party of such staunch Unionism as the Tories.
No matter how many times the regional sub-department of UK Labour tries to rehash and reheat the worn-out promise of “more powers”, “Home Rule”, “federalism”, “devo super ultra megamax extreme” or whatever meaningless undefined term it’s using this week, it’ll be seen as a cowardly betrayal by one side and a hollow lie by the other, and as views polarise Labour’s hopeless middle-of-the-roading will see it steamrollered like the Lib Dems were at the last UK election.
And the prospect seems to have driven Scottish Labour quite mad.
Earlier this week, the left-wing Fabian Society thinktank issued a paper concluding that Labour had no hope of forming a UK government again unless it accepted the prospect of a “progressive alliance” with the likes of the SNP and Lib Dems.
Former Labour MP (and former Fabians executive chair) Eric Joyce has analysed the paper expertly and insightfully already, alongside former Scottish Fabians convenor Martin Brown, so we won’t dwell on the report itself here. But the reaction of Scottish Labour has been a strange mixture of flat-out denial and complete derangement.
Kezia Dugdale and her assassin-in-waiting Anas Sarwar both unsurprisingly put out some standard boilerplate about how such a thing could never happen because the SNP were bad, etc etc.
But more revealing were comments from some prominent party activists. First up was Scottish Executive Committee candidate and BBC phone-in regular Scott Arthur from Edinburgh, writing in the Herald (click to enlarge):
The high point of the fantastical ramble was probably this paragraph:
Given that polls consistently show little appetite for a second referendum at this point in time (including from this site), it’s rather curious that such an event wouldn’t have INCREASED support for Labour.
But Arthur concludes that the party’s problem is the stupid electorate not paying enough attention, that “the 2016 manifesto was a huge step in the right direction” – referring to the policy proposals which saw Labour finish third in a Scottish election for the first time in history – and that the way forward is “convincing everyone that social justice is in their interest”, as if other parties campaign AGAINST social justice.
(Arthur’s rosy assessment of the last manifesto, incidentally, isn’t shared by Scottish Labour’s current communications director, former Daily Mail hack Alan Roden.)
Arthur’s article didn’t actually mention the Fabians report or the concept of allying with the SNP, but was responding to it anyway by projecting a Labour UK majority (at some unspecified point in the distant future) as the only solution, rejecting the Nats as being determined to “destroy public services and hold back a generation to reach their hollow ideological goal”.
(Intriguingly, the rage against any sort of alliance with “nationalists” takes place, as it has long done, against a backdrop of Labour already having an electoral pact with the Northern Irish SDLP, which pursues the removal of the province from the UK and the reunification of an independent Ireland under the banner of “progressive nationalism”, which Scottish Labour hotly insist is an oxymoron.)
But better still was to follow in the form of a letter to the same newspaper today from Arthur’s fellow Scottish Labour activist Peter Russell. You can read it in its entirety here, but the jaw-dropping paragraphs below are the key section.
In case you’re not quite sure that you read that properly, we’ll summarise it for you:
“Scottish Labour will magnanimously allow the SNP to put Labour into government, so long as it abandons all policies of its own, stands on a Labour manifesto and gives up on its commitment to independence, because otherwise it’s not fair for MPs from Scotland to play any part in a UK government because English voters can’t throw them out.”
Let’s just remind ourselves of the context of that generous offer: Labour is currently a catastrophically distant second in England, in third place (and rapidly heading towards fourth) in Scotland, and completely non-existent in Northern Ireland.
The only part of Britain where it wields any power at all at government level is Wales, which regularly records the worst statistics in education, health and policing anywhere in the UK. For example, even after improvements last year only 82% of Welsh A&E patients were seen within four hours, compared to almost 96% in Scotland.
(Labour only clings to power in Wales due to a divided opposition – in 2016 it got less than 35% of the vote in the Assembly election, with Plaid Cymru on 21%. Labour’s total vote was only 7,433 higher than the combined vote of the Tories and UKIP, who split the right wing by contesting constituency seats for the first time. Only a single Lib Dem abstention prevented Plaid’s Leanne Wood from becoming the First Minister in place of Labour’s Carwyn Jones.)
Yet despite Labour’s parlous and embarrassing state UK-wide, Scottish Labour still sees fit to issue extraordinary public demands as a price for the other parties being allowed to help it limp into 10 Downing Street. (Indeed, what Russell is essentially calling for is the SNP to simply become Scottish Labour, replacing the useless current incumbents wholesale and merging itself into the Labour brand.)
It’s difficult to imagine how disastrous an electoral apocalypse Scottish Labour would have to suffer in order to disabuse itself of its incredible sense of entitlement. The 2011 Holyrood SNP landslide didn’t do it. The total Westminster annihilation of 2015 didn’t do it. Being reduced to third place in Scotland behind the Tories in 2016 didn’t do it, and polling 10 points behind them (and 30 behind the SNP, with whom they more or less tied in 2012) for this year’s council elections doesn’t seem to be doing it.
Still the battered remnants strut around issuing orders to voters and other parties alike, commanding vast imaginary divisions like Hitler in the Berlin bunker in 1945 and making Joey Barton’s brief spell at “Rangers” look like an exhibition of humility.
Or perhaps there’s a more accurate analogy to be found in the shape of a famous (if mythical) figure from British culture who also rejected an alliance from a position of spectacular weakness then wailed in impotent fury at some “yellow bastards”.
On one level we can only salute their indefatigability. But (King) Arthur’s bewildered sigh of “You’re a loony” is the view increasingly held by the people of Scotland, and a merciful coup de grace would at this point surely be the only humane deliverance.