Watching the 2017 edition of the British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) leadership contest I, like most who aspire to the restoration of Scotland’s independence, was rooting for Anas Sarwar. The other contender, Richard Leonard, was something of an unknown quantity. I knew little of him. In fact, I don’t think I was even aware of the man’s existence prior to him becoming a candidate for the job of managing British Labour’s North British branch office.
Largely on account of the susceptibility of his own intellect, Sarwar was known to epitomise the intellect-crippling resentment of the SNP which has been the defining characteristic of BLiS since 2007. I was confident that Sarwar could be relied upon not to rise above the dismal standard set by his predecessors. I knew we could rely on him being an embarrassment to the pretendy wee party and a handicap to the British Nationalist cause.
I wasn’t so sure about Richard Leonard. He was being touted by BLiS and their accomplices in the media as Nicola Sturgeon’s nemesis, the ‘Hammer of the Nats’ and the man who would bring the Scottish electorate back into the fold of British establishment politics after their decade of flirtation with the notion of a distinctive Scottish political culture. But they would say that, wouldn’t they. The same had been said of every one of the sorry succession of previous incumbents. It had been true of none of them. But maybe Richard Leonard would be different. Unlikely as it may have been that a competent, astute political operator might emerge from the dire snake-pit of British Labour in Scotland, I admit that I was moderately concerned that Richard Leonard might turn out to be clever and talented.
I needn’t have worried.
I stress that I genuinely wish we could have a better standard of opposition in the Scottish Parliament. The opposition has an important part to play in the democratic process. The British parties at Holyrood are failing abysmally to satisfy the demands of the role and meet their responsibilities to the electorate. I wouldn’t wish them on the people of Scotland. But I am resigned to the fact that, so long as the constitutional issue remains unresolved, the situation is not going to improve. It is a minimum requirement for any elected representative that they acknowledge the legitimacy and respect the authority of the Parliament in which they sit. This cannot be said of any British politician in the Scottish Parliament.
I should also point out that it was not the possibility of the new BLiS leader being more effective in scrutinising and challenging the SNP administration that concerned me. On the contrary, if their efforts were focused on improving public policy and making the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government better servants to the people of Scotland, that would be a welcome change. My worry was only that they might be more adept at playing to the British media and feeding the British Nationalist propaganda machine.
It’s not necessary to recount here how quickly and comprehensively my fears were allayed by Richard Leonard. His gaffes and blunders are a matter of public record. As is his fervent devotion to the British Nationalist cause. He is everything that Anas Sarwar might have been, and more.
More interesting than the fact that Richard Leonard is in the same mould as previous BLiS leaders is the question of why they all share such a grotesquely distorted perception of the SNP. For anyone to compare Nicola Sturgeon to Margaret Thatcher is woefully ignorant. For someone who pretends to a significant role in Scotland’s politics to do so is truly disturbing. It betokens a prejudice that is blind in every sense of that term.
For a leading politician to harbour some resentment of a political rival is, perhaps, only to be expected. Especially when said politician comes from a culture of entitlement such as enveloped British Labour in Scotland during their decades of hegemony. But when that resentment becomes so bitter and all-consuming as to distort their perception and warp their judgement to the extent that they not only look at Nicola Sturgeon and see Margaret Thatcher but feel entirely comfortable about saying so on TV, then we all should be concerned.
When the toxicity of this animus is carried over from the confines of partisan politics to the realm of public policy, manifesting in contempt for Scotland’s democratic institutions and malicious denigration of our public services, then we should determine to make whatever changes are necessary to rectify the situation.
Richard Leonard may appear no more than a blinkered oaf mechanically regurgitating the bilious banalities of British Nationalist rhetoric. But he is symptomatic of a malady that is doing very real and significant harm to Scotland.
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