Thursday, 25 September 2014

Miliband's Scottish Secretary should be an MSP

My Daily Record column for this week

Little details on a large canvas can be the most revealing. A small scene on the vast referendum campaign trail stuck with me as a lesson for Scottish Labour.  

It was Gordon Brown storming out the doors of the Royal Concert hall in Glasgow, witnessed by a few loitering journalists.

Having finished one barnstorming speech he was late for another in Edinburgh. As he ripped off his lapel microphone he fumed, at no one in particular: "Why did no one come for me earlier?"

His frustrated growl would be the perfect title for a Labour's campaign memoir.

The party won by recalling to service its most able leader. The only direct blow against Alex Salmond was struck by Alistair Darling; the street campaign was a solo Jim Murphy effort and the flashbulb moments belonged to Anas Sarwar. All of them are Westminster MPs.    

But in that televised debate, when a woman asked Darling if he actually had a referendum vote, she revealed what many think of Westminster politicians -  that they are remote from Scotland.  

Caught between two seismic events, the referendum and the roar of missiles on ISIS, there was no mood in Manchester for Labour post-mortems.  

Margaret Curran is right, to survive the party has to get stuck into heartland constituencies again. She's done it before, she can do it again, though anyone knocking on the doors of weary voters over the next few weeks won't be thanked for their efforts. 

There is the usual sniping around Johann Lamont's leadership, though she has no intention of stepping down.

But there are more positive fixes than a descent into internal warfare.

First of all Labour's Westminster talent has to join its Holyrood team where the political game is.  

From now on Westminster is just West Point, a political training academy where Labour recruits are drilled for Scottish service.

The Cameron double-cross to exclude Scots from English votes will inevitably involve some compromise of a Scottish MP's Westminster role. 

But here's another symbolic step Labour can take to cement itself to Scotland. 

When Miliband appoints his first Secretary of State for Scotland he should not give the job to a Labour MP.

Instead, a Labour MSP should sit in cabinet as Scotland's representative in Westminster.

Forget the niceties that mean nothing outside the political bubble. The move, combined with Labour MPs seeking Holyrood seats, would signal a party that takes Scotland seriously.  

The Scottish Secretary need not be Labour's Holyrood leader, because surely there is space to have more than one talented and ambitious Labour politician reaching the top on the canvas of Scottish politics. 

Resignation, what resignation? 

While I was on the notorious NFI list for the First Minister's Bute House swan-song what I heard didn't convince me Alex Salmond is  going anywhere soon.

Had I been there I'd have joined the rest of Scotland in thanking him for an outstanding contribution to public life.

Critics and admirers can agree Scotland owes the First Minster a huge debt. He has sacrificed his personal life to politics, a field in which the reward is often to be stung from the sidelines by the likes of me.

On that note, Salmond does go down as the most divisive politician in Scottish history.  

His accusation that the elderly are bed-blocking freedom and his sinister suggestion about ignoring the referendum result show the dream of division has far from died for him.  

Politics, he said, is now bigger than Westminster, cannot be contained by Holyrood, and is entrusted with the people.

Recognising public cynicism, the anti-politics politician is moving onto the next phase. 

He will cast himself as a figure beyond politics, above the grubby fray but with the common people, binding together the wider independence movement.

Prepare for Mandela Salmond, in open-necked shirt mode as father of the selfie nation.

By turning the page on a "political generation", as he said, he leaves a blank sheet for Nicola Sturgeon to pursue another referendum.

That leaves him to legitimise ideas like an illegal declaration of UDI or to give credence to other wilder claims of the thwarted 36 per cent.

I could be wrong, and like his biographer David Torrance I expect a letter from the First Minister telling me so.

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