It’s important to note, firstly, that the version of Sadiq Khan’s speech to the Scottish Labour conference he tweeted on Saturday morning simply flat-out said that Scottish nationalists were the same as racists and sectarian bigots. Its meaning was as clear as crystal to the Daily Record, a newspaper which is hardly hostile to Khan’s party.
“No difference” is a stark and unambiguous phrase. The speech did not contain the hastily-added qualifiers about “in this respect” and “of course I’m not saying the SNP are racist” which suddenly appeared when he read it out onstage that afternoon.
But which version did he really mean?
That question was answered fairly comprehensively when he gave an interview to the BBC’s Brian Taylor shortly before delivering the speech.
Taylor gave Khan numerous opportunities to expressly state that he did not count the SNP among the list of racist and “narrow nationalist” parties to whom he repeatedly referred and likened to the politics of Brexit and Donald Trump. He declined every one.
And the message he was sending out was picked up loud and clear in the hall. When Taylor also interviewed a pair of smirking young conference delegates – including Billy McCauley, the party’s Communications Manager in the Scottish Parliament – they denied Khan had made any allegation of racism, yet in the very next breath McCauley said that the SNP “do come from the same strain” as what Taylor had called “racism and religious bigotry”.
Meanwhile regional branch manager Kezia Dugdale, in the latest of a series of train-wreck interviews this week (at one point halfway through her encounter with Colin Mackay of STV he looked so angry we feared he was going to get up and punch her to the floor), insisted at length to an incredulous Andrew Neil on Sunday Politics Scotland that Khan simply hadn’t said any of it at all.
Labour have tried to handle the allegation and the justifiably outraged reaction it caused by mumbling that they don’t officially think the SNP and half the population of Scotland are racist, but doing so with a giant stage wink to their own supporters that says “Of course, we all know they are really”.
And just in case there was still a tiny sliver of doubt about that, Anas Sarwar made an audaciously cynical attempt to play the race card this afternoon by suggesting that anyone upset about being called a racist (a group that included a lot of brown-skinned people of both sexes) was in themselves racist.
It’s the worst sort of weasel-worded, cowardly politics from a party that doesn’t even have the courage to stand behind its cheap and nasty smears. We suspect Scottish Labour’s poll ratings will hit single figures sooner than even we were expecting.