Monday, 28 March 2011
Harry Reid - The Election Blog 2011
Harry Reid is a distinguished journalist and author. He was formerly editor of The Herald.
The great mystery about modern Scotland is the continuing, wholly irrational and, it has to be said, somewhat tribal support for the Labour Party.
Labour admittedly continues to produce Scottish politicians who are able, though not of the calibre of Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, John Reid, George Robertson, Donald Dewar and Alistair Darling. Over a couple of generations, Labour nurtured a special group of Scottish politicians.
It would be wrong to deny that they were skilled, heavyweight operators. But only one of them, Donald Dewar, made it clear that his main commitment was to Scotland...
As a journalist working in Scotland right through the 1970s and 1980s I was able to track closely the burgeoning careers of these politicians, in some cases from well before they were elected to Westminster. I saw exactly what drove them and how they operated. Several of them – notably Gordon Brown and Robin Cook - seemed from a very early stage to predicate their careers completely on eventual success at Westminster. Gordon Brown was at a young age elected chair of the party in Scotland, but this was in the same year as he was elected a Westminster MP.
From then on, it was obvious that he was operating in a context that was wholly Westminster- oriented. What took up his time and his energy and consumed his personal ambition, were British issues in the British parliament. Indeed he once told me: “I certainly didn’t go into politics to argue about things like whether Scotland should have its own army”
This attitude applied also to those other able Scots: they were all in effect more concerned about England than Scotland, for Westminster is obviously far more concerned with England than Scotland. Their careers were brazenly, unashamedly Unionist.
If you contrast them with the equally able group of outstanding politicians we have at the head of the SNP - Alex Salmond, obviously, and also people like Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney, Mike Russell and Kenny MacAskill, who are all consummate political operators, and who would incidentally grace any UK cabinet, it is obvious that their political careers are completely focussed on serving Scotland.
For them Scotland is not some tedious sideshow back north where you have a constituency and a few chores to attend to from time to time. It is the be all and end all of every moment, every decision, every aspiration of their political lives. Admittedly Alex, like Winnie Ewing before him, spent time in Westminster, but no-one could ever accuse that pair of being Westminster careerists like so many Scottish Labour MPs.
The point is that all these outstanding figures, Salmond, Sturgeon, Swinney, Russell and MacAskill, are in politics solely to serve Scotland, not England. Indeed this is such a devastatingly obvious point that I’d have thought it would be at the centre of the current discourse as we approach a crucial Scottish election.
Yet there are even people in the independence movement who take the romantic view that nationalism, and the drive to independence, should somehow transcend mere politics. Don’t believe that: it’s a delusion. To achieve our independence we’ll need plenty of sheer, hard politics – and a cadre of committed, credible and experienced politicians.
Meanwhile Scots voters in the coming Holyrood election have a simple and direct choice to make - between those whose political world is Scottish-centred, and those who serve a party that is so blatantly and overridingly Unionist that any alleged commitment to Scotland can only be some kind of opportunistic afterthought. Labour candidates may be standing for the Holyrood parliament but their party does not regard this as the main parliament. By definition, within their own party they will be seen as second best.
The irony here is that Labour set about delivering devolution as soon as it regained power at Westminster in 1997, and delivered it speedily and well. But we must always remember that many in the Unionist Labour Party were certain that devolution was the best way of preventing an eventual push for Scottish independence. This is, and has been for two generations and more, a very strong current in Labour thinking. Give the Scots so much, but no more, so that we can hold the good old UK together - that’s how many of these people think.
As a Scot, I want to be governed at our Scottish parliament by politicians who put Scotland first, in each and every political decision. It’s as simple as that.
Harry will be joining John Swinney, Paul Scott and Tom Nairn at the launch of A Nation Again (Luath) this Wednesday, 5.30, at the Quaker Meeting House, Victoria Terrace Edinburgh. All very welcome. Details here