Tuesday, May 06, 2008


Wendy Alexander: The Tories Will Win Westminster

Opinion has been divided on Wendy Alexander’s performance as Scottish Labour Leader – is it worse that her funding scandals brought politics into disrepute, or that her hopelessly ineffective leadership of the opposition (regularly outshone at First Minister’s Questions by Nicol Stephen) means she’s just terrible at her job? Struggling today to claw back the initiative for the first time in a year, she’s adopted the tone of a bellicose pub drunk to say ‘Referendum? Go on then! Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.’ But there’s more to this than mere desperation for a headline.

I’ve just been listening to her on PM, and like other interviewers Eddie Mair decided that the main issue of interest to listeners concerning whether their country was about to be split apart was… Getting the gossip on whether and when she’d talked to Gordon Brown. Sigh. Of course Mr Brown doesn’t like the idea of holding a referendum on Scottish independence, and of course that’s why his spin doctors have been giving ‘hostile briefings’ about Ms Alexander all day. And, yes, there’s some interest in any Labour figure breaking free at last from Mr Brown’s sulky centralisation, even if in theory devolution means they make their own decisions (not while the big clunking fist’s Leader, they don’t). But if an interviewer can’t be bothered to talk about the issue of whether Scotland splitting off from the rest of the UK, they could at least think a bit more intelligently than ‘Ooh! You’re going to cop it from the boss!’

Surely the timing of this and Mr Brown’s multi-leaked fury has a simple explanation. When the Conservatives – the blue Conservatives, oh, you must remember, they centralised power and took away civil liberties and cosied up to absurdly right-wing warmongering US Republican Presidents and taxed the poor more to fund income tax cuts… No, it is difficult to remember the difference, isn’t it – when the other Conservatives were in power, they punished Scotland for not voting for Mrs Thatcher by turning it into a giant lab for the most barking mad Thatcherite policies, most famously the poll tax. And the political results of this included near-annihilation for the (blue) Conservatives north of the border and growing support for the SNP, which Labour thought until last year they’d defused through devolution.

The legacy of the ’80s and ’90s, coupled with last year’s election putting the SNP ahead, is that Scottish Labour are petrified that if the Tories ever get back in at Westminster, the Scottish public will be so disgusted that the SNP will have all their Christmases come at once.

So what could cause Wendy Alexander – who’s spent a year being a glove puppet that would be a ventriloquist’s dummy for Mr Brown if she ever actually said anything – to finally discover her own voice? It’s simple. The Leader of the Scottish Labour Party has taken one look at the London elections and the local elections across England and Wales and thought what Labour Members of the Westminster Parliament daren’t say: the Tories are going to win the next General Election. And she’s petrified herself into a U-turn.

The Scottish Labour Party are scared stiff of a referendum on independence at any time – just as Labour are always petrified of letting go the tiniest sniff of power – but they’ve discovered something that they’re even more scared of than a referendum in theory. They’ve discovered that they think the Tories are going to get back in at the next UK General Election, and that as the SNP are bound to try and fix any referendum date for their maximum political advantage, the one thing that would be worse for them than an independence referendum under an unpopular Labour Government that’s virtually indistinguishable from the Tories would be an independence referendum under the actual Tories.

Wendy Alexander wants the referendum now, because scared as she is she knows that most Scots are sick of the Labour Party but have no fervour for cutting the rest of the country off to spite Gordon’s face. But a referendum in 2010, after several years of getting used to the SNP not frightening the horses – even though that’s mainly because they don’t have the power to – and with the Labour Party at Westminster and Holyrood almost certainly still looking tired, fractious and unpleasant, and most of all on the back of another Conservative Government at Westminster that Alex Salmond can say ‘Look, you didn’t vote for them and Labour failed to protect you from them…’ That’s the nightmare going through Ms Alexander’s head, with the thought that under those circumstances the Scottish public might just decide to tell the rest of Britain to sod off.

And that’s why Ms Alexander’s declared finally independence of her own, and why Mr Brown’s so shocked: after last week, she thinks he’s a loser, and she’s cut him adrift.

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There's a lot of sense in that. But if Wendy really has declared UDI from Gordon, then the sound of sharpening knives will be heard in the wings shortly.
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