Tuesday, May 11, 2010

“We Will Not Soil Our Hands”

The more observant amongst you may have noticed by now that I’m not a Labour voter. There’s a number of reasons why this is the case, only some of which relate to a tendency since childhood to be suspicious of anything purporting to represent a majority view.

In common with most Labour members, I’m no socialist and never have been, although I’m certainly happy to be described in most respects as a social democrat. There are many individuals in the Labour party whom I admire. In fact, despite my suspicion for him as an individual, I found much to support in what Tony Blair’s Labour government did in its early years.

I was also firmly on the gradualist wing of my party when such distinctions still mattered. All things being equal, then, I could probably have found myself sitting fairly comfortably in the Labour Party, making steady progress on home rule, if only I’d been prepared to ignore that troublesome itch for independence. But then, all things aren’t equal here, and never have been.

From my perspective, there’s a deeply unattractive insularity about the party, which comes from being entrenched in swathes of governance over many years and being able to distribute patronage, thanks to an unrepresentative voting system. With binary simplicity, there are 2 core electoral messages and two only – Vote Labour to get the Tories out, or vote Labour to keep the Tories out. Sophisticated or inspiring it most certainly is not.

This tribalism reached a particularly low point in the late 1970’s, when a young rising Labour star by the name of Helen Liddell, in her capacity as Scottish General Secretary, declared that Labour ‘would not soil our hands’ by working with the nationalists in trying to deliver a ‘Yes’ vote in the 1979 devolution referendum. While Liddell is long departed from the shores of Scottish politics and not much missed, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in hearing more than a faint echo of her words in the statement made this morning by Douglas Alexander, putting paid to the notion of a ‘progressive’ alliance involving the SNP at Westminster.

"I can assure you”, yipped Alexander to the BBC, “I have had no contact with the SNP, nor has the chancellor, the Scottish Secretary or the Prime Minister because there are fundamental differences between the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party. Personally, I can't envisage circumstances in which we would enter into agreement with the Scottish National Party."

Alexander aside, the writing looks to be on the wall for a progressive alliance anyway, not least because of the reluctance of Labour MPs to sit down with the Lib Dems or concede any more than the Tories on electoral reform. However, for a party which still bangs on about the manner of their losing power in 1979, the hypocrisy is astounding. Everyone else can be criticised for working with the hated Tories, but now Labour itself refuses to work with anyone else, ensuring a Tory government by default.

In consequence, the Lib Dems seem set to roll out the welcome carpet in Downing Street for David Cameron, which will be reddened in ample time for his arrival by the blood from the PLPs bout of mass hari-kari. While the Lib Dems will have a rough time explaining that pact to their Scottish members, should it transpire, Labour should reflect whether it really dislikes the SNP so much that it is prepared to surrender Scotland and power to the Tories without so much as a whimper.

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