Full credit to Steven Purcell for his efforts to get past the bitter, corrosive, intellect-crippling resentment of the SNP that has come to define British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) over the past few years every bit as much as their alliance with the Tories during the first independence referendum campaign. It is unfortunate, however, that he is unable to shake off the sense of entitlement which has become the other principal defining characteristic of so-called ‘Scottish’ Labour.
The attempt to eschew resentment of BLiS’s electoral nemesis wasn’t entirely successful, of course. He is still unable to bring himself to allow that the SNP’s electoral success is deserved. According to Mr Purcell, the SNP didn’t come into possession of the “flag” by winning the trust and confidence of the electorate. They only got it because HIS party dropped it. There is the distinct impression that he considers the last ten years to have been an aberration. It’s all been a mistake. It’s just a blip. The voters will soon come to their senses and return to the British Labour fold.
It is interesting and, perhaps, informative, that Steven Purcell adopts a distinctly different tone when referring to the “spectacularly re-energised” Tories. The difference being that the Tories are, like BLiS, a British party. Both are part of the British political system. Both owe allegiance to the British state before Scotland. I don’t buy into the silly oversimplification of “Red Tories”. But the two main British parties are more partners than outright rivals. Both are part of, and mutually dependent on, the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.
Regardless of any commonality of perspective and agenda, it is easier for a British Labour politician to identify with the British Conservatives than with the SNP – or any explicitly Scottish party. For evidence of this we need only refer to the ease with which British Labour went into partnership with the Tories in defence of the British state, and how comfortable they were with being part of the aptly named ‘Project Fear’.
Steven Purcell isn’t alone in fretting over how BLiS might be “salvaged”. It’s an issue that has been exercising minds both within and without the ‘party’. It’s almost a pastime for politics anoraks, and the go-to topic when political journalists are struggling to find something to pontificate about. Few, if any, trouble to ask what to me is an obvious question. Does British Labour in Scotland deserve to be salvaged? Even if it can be saved, is it worth saving? It it simply the case that its time has passed?
There is good reason to think that those who suppose BLiS might be rehabilitated are badly misreading the situation. Stephen Purcell certainly is. His assertion that “Nicola Sturgeon stands in Donald Dewar’s shoes” betrays a massive fallacy. The implication is that Sturgeon is standing in a place that could (and should?) be occupied by Dewar, or the inheritors of his essentially British nationalist project. Purcell boasts that “Labour is the party that actually created the Scottish Parliament”. But he omits to mention, or is unable to acknowledge, that devolution was always a device intended to serve the interests and purposes of the British state. And that any benefit to the people of Scotland was quite incidental to the overarching imperative of preserving the union AT ANY COST.
Nicola Sturgeon is most definitely NOT standing in Donald Dewar’s shoes. She is standing in the shoes of the First Minister in a REAL Scottish Government such as Dewar never intended. She is standing in a Scottish Parliament such as the British Labour architects of devolution never envisaged. A Parliament with powers such as would have horrified those who designed it. Powers which BLiS fought to deny. A Parliament with a status that would have been anathema to those who always intended that it should be no more than a minor adjunct to Westminster. Status which British politicians and Unionists in general regard with angry resentment.
It’s not only Nicola Sturgeon who is standing in a different place. All of Scotland has moved on. There is no going back. The place where British Labour in Scotland was relevant no longer exists.
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