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George Galloway, Holyrood. Iain Gray, politics, Scottish parliamentary elections, SNP. Alex Salmond.

Iain Gray. Bute House. But why?

  George Galloway for the Scottish Parliament?  Bring it on. At least he’d liven things up a bit – and no catty remarks at the back, please.  Nor should “Georgeous George”, who announced his candidature this week,  be underestimated.  He was the youngest ever chair of the Scottish Labour Party and one of the most vibrant Labour politicians of his generation in Westminster, before he went off to the wilder shores of minority politics. 

    If Galloway is elected on the Glasgow list –  and he only needs around 11,000 votes – he’s made clear he will be supporting the Labour leader Iain Gray on the big issues of the day – on public spending cuts and the constitution.   And truth be told, Labour needs someone with a bit of charisma even though, as a Respect candidate, Galloway won’t be sitting on the Labour benches or taking the party whip.  There is an air of complacency, of entitlement,  about the Scottish Labour Party right now which isn’t justified.  Iain Gray is supremely confident of  coasting to Bute House on the wave of opposition to the Tory-led coalition in Westminster.   Ed Miliband has pencilled in victory in the Scottish parliamentary elections in May as the next milestone on his road back to power. It’s all too easy.

   Yes, the polls may be going their way, but Labour have yet to earn their return to government, and a surprising number of Labour supporters, and not a few politicians, will privately admit this. Where is the vision?  Iain Gray has confined himself to safety-first policies like a National Care Service, merger of police forces and more apprenticeships. Plans to radically reform council tax have been dumped.   Labour is still committed to implementing the Calman tax reforms enshrined in the Scotland Bill, though it’s hard to tell.   Nothing Iain Gray has said in the past year that has added significantly to the debate about how the new tax powers should be adapted to meet economic reality.  Or even whether Labour intends to use them.   Labour MSPs have confined themselves to tweaking the noses of economists, like Professors Hughes Hallett and Drew Scott, for giving intellectual comfort to the hated Nats. 

     Where do Labour stand on the central question of whether or not the Calman reforms would be deflationary and or leave Scotland worse off than under the Barnett Formula?  I don’t know.  Would Iain Gray consider actually using the tax powers to reverse service cuts, or finance things like higher education?  Pesumably not.  It might be too much to expect Labour to go into the election promising to increase income tax, but they’re prepared to increase council tax to please their mates in local government.  The Calman tax powers may not be implemented before 2015, but they will be the key constitutional issue before the next parliament. We need to know.

    Labour were quick to attack the SNP Finance Secretary, John Swinney, for failing to keep his eye on the ball over the Tartan Tax. Before Christmas, Labour MSPs accused him of “abolishing” the Scottish parliament’s tax-varying powers by not paying for the IT to be upgraded.  It has since emerged, thanks to FOI documents, that Swinney couldn’t have implemented the tax even if he’d wanted to because the Revenue’s machinery simply wasn’t up to it.   This contrived row typifies Labour’s essentially sectarian approach to politics.  We saw this most egregiously with their blockng of the legislation on minimum pricing of alcohol.  Labour railed about the iniquity of Nat plans to pinch the working man’s pint; about how the supermarkets would make a killing; and how anyway it ‘wouldnae work’.  Well, we now learn that minimum pricing will be introduced south of the border because every known authority, from the police to the BMA, knows that it will. 

    It’s the kind of thing that makes you despair of politics.  Tribalism defines Labour’s approach to every issue from the weather to business taxes.  Iain Gray has leapt to protect the very supermarkets from the SNP’s levy on out of town superstores.  The tribunes of the people have gone to the barricades to defend Tesco and Sainsbury’s against Swinney’s £30m “tax on success”, as if the mega-markets would even notice this insignificant dent in their vast profits.   As with alcohol princing, this was just opposition for oppositon’s sake.  As was the ludcrous row over the snow.   Scotland became an international laughing stock as the first country to lose a transport minister because he got the weather forecast wrong. 

   Now, I’m not blaming Labour for opposing the government.  If the circumstances were reversed, the SNP would be doing much the same.  However, there has been a particularly mindless quality to Labour’s oppositionism that is deeply dispiriting. The SNP, remember, supported Labour’s smoking ban.  It doesn’t do democracy any favours to seek to displace ministers over acts of God, or the inaction of the Inland Revenue.  

  What makes this particularly annoying is the knowledge that Labour and the SNP actually agree on most things: like the deficit reduction programme, comprehensive education, funding universities largely through taxation. The Tories have made zero progress in Scotland.  There’s no demand here for free schools or GP commissioning or any of the measures that are dominating politics south of the Border. The  Liberal Democrats have committed hara kiri in Scotland by supporting £9,000 fees.   Scotland is and will remain dominated by two essentially social democratic parties who have been condemend by their histories to attack each other, even as they pursue identical policies. 

    It’s my impression from speaking to people in civic Scotland from both sides of the tribal divide over New Year that there is now a yearning for an end to brain-dead oppositionism, and for the parties to seek some form of co-operation – like in Wales, where Labour and Plaid Cymru are in coalition.  There’s no natural law that says Labour and the SNP have to disagree on everything.  As Scotland faces a very uncertain economic future, and as the cuts begin to bite, Scottish voters are going to look to some kind of collective response from Labour and the SNP.  

   Of course, it’s not going to happen before May.  But the very emptiness of this forthcoming campaign, and the paucity of real vision, will generate, I believe, real anger among Scots.  Politics is too important to be left to the politicians. Perhaps George Galloway might be the man to broker some rapprochement between the two tribes of Scotland. Then again, perhaps not.  

About @iainmacwhirter

I'm a columnist for the Herald. Author of "Road to Referendum" and "Disunited Kingdom". Was a BBC TV and radio presenter for 25 years - "Westminster Live" and "Holyrood Live" mainly. Spent time as columnist for The Observer, Guardian, New Statesman. Former Rector of Edinburgh University. Live in Edinburgh and spend a lot of time in the French Pyrenees. Will that do?


11 thoughts on “Iain Gray. Bute House. But why?

  1. Its the powers to be handed back in Calman which are also worrying.some of the powers being handed back are

    Posted by cynicalHighlander | January 28, 2011, 7:39 pm
  2. Does Galloway not hate Alex Salmond and Iain Gray in equal measure?He'd never have looked at Holyrrod if he hadn't lost the last English election dismally.And will he not simply take up time in a parliament that, until recently he considered toytown, by making never ending speeches using words that only he can understand, and even he mispronounces on occasions?In other words, he may have been a great socialist when he was young, but is he not now just a great big mouth?

    Posted by tris | January 28, 2011, 8:15 pm
  3. "about how the supermarkets would make a killing;"Just after the ALcohol Bill bit the dust the figures for the supposed supermarket profits were re-calculated because it was realised that the original figures had understimated the effect that an increase on price would have on consumption. The result of the re- calculation was that the supermarkets would have LOST money. So Labour were protecting supermarket profits just as they are doing with the Tesco Tax.FTI Consulting was the company which reviewed the figures calculated by the Institute of Fiscal Studies and, using official government [UK] data. They did so at the request of Belhaven owner Mr Green King.As to the comment that both the SNP and Labour believe in funding Higher Education from taxation is correct – Labour believe in taxing the graduates and the SNP believe in funding HE from taxes colected from everyone. Bit of a difference don't you think?

    Posted by CWH | January 28, 2011, 8:46 pm
  4. There is no Scottish Labour Party. George Galloway was the Chair of the Scottish Labour region and it's not surprising that George Galloway will support Labour as he is a unionist and like Iain Gray prefers Conservative rule from Westminster to Scottish independenceIt's difficult for Iain Gray to have a vision without hallucinogenic drugs. He's not the leader of the mythical, "Scottish Labour Party", he just leads the Labour MSP's in the Scottish Parliament and even though Labour has a Scottish Region he doesn't control that either because it wasn't set up to have a leadership structure. He neither has the power, position nor inclination to take the Scottish Labour region beyond the day to day policies of the Labour party and that means doing nothing till he does what he's told. It's rather sad that when Wendy Alexander uses the Committee system of the Scottish Parliament to abuse those who volunteer to give evidence because they don't follow the Labour script it's described as nose tweaking. It was a direct abuse of her position as Convener and a refusal to listen to the opening statment of Scott and Hughes Hallet. What she did has destroyed the reputation of the committee system in the Scottish Parliament.Asking Iain Gray's opinion on Calman is pointless. Calman is a Labour creature and Iain Gray is a minory player in the Labour party. He will tell us his opinions when he is told what his opinions are. I'm not sure why Labour's tribal, pig-headed oppositional politics makes you, "despair of politics". I thought it might make you despair of the Labour party but I suspect that even now you can't single out Labour for criticism without trying to broaden the criticism to include every other party. When the SNP were in oppostion they voted with Labour on the smoking ban and trying to imply that they would vote against minimum pricing and a Tesco tax if Labour had proposed them is simply wrong and an attempt to minimise Labour's destructive attitude to Scottish politics.Labour and the SNP don't agree on most things. They agree on some little things. The massive gap between the two parties is that the SNP believe Scotland should be an independent state and Labour want it as a British region. The mind set of both parties and the policies of both parties are a consequence of this major difference. The SNP have ambition for Scotland and believe that Scotland should make its own decisions in the world of independent statehood with the responsibilities and benefits that independence implies. The Labour party Scottish region want Scotland to be a British region and therefore think, act and plan accordingly.I suspect the people from civic Scotland want an end to brain dead oppositionism from Labour. I haven't seen any examples of brain dead oppositionism from the SNP in this parliament or the last one. Again you just can't single out the Labour party as being at fault. And I can't see how George Galloway can broker any rapprochement between the SNP and Labour. The only thing that separates him from Labour's ambitionless, regionalist thinking is his ego.

    Posted by DougtheDug | January 29, 2011, 12:51 pm
  5. Galloway may use "big words" but he is at least educated. Have a look around Holyrood at the calibre of MSP for heaven's sake. Its embarrassing. Look at Gray just for starters. But if Galloway intends to support Gray on all the big issues maybe Gray is going to have to talk policy some time soon. What we know so far isn't promising. He wants Councils off the leash so that they can clobber householders with massive Council Tax Rises. Labour want prescription charges back as a handy means of raising revenue. And, shock horror, Labour are also rumoured to be supportive of selling off Scottish Water. I find Galloway's loyalty to the Labour Party bizarre to be honest given his absolute despair over the illegal invasion of Iraq and the consequences of that terrible decision. The Labour Party brought that about George. Many walked away from Labour over that deciion alone and can never return because of it. Blair may have run the show but you once referred to the Labour benches occupants who couldn't find a spine between them to stop him. They could have stopped him over Iraq. Instead the vast majority nodded their heads and allowed the UK to indulge in illegal wars and the crimes that go with them. Bizarre indeed that you have an ounce of loyalty left for that Party. We are still living with the consequences of the tidal wave of global racism unleashed by that invasion and the deaths, in the London bombings, which were a direct result.

    Posted by Jo G | January 29, 2011, 9:25 pm
  6. Labour, the party of big supermarkets.Maybe Tesco sponsor them now! And that’s actually not as daft as it seems.The last I heard was that Gray had some scheme to create more employment (laudable) but that to fund it he would have to ask the Tories for more money and he would be asking big business in Scotland to help out too. Doubtless he is using his skilful negotiating technique with them right now and this is why he’d vote to eat his own granny before he would to vote for anything that would upset Tesco, etc.So can we look forward to thousands of new jobs in supermarket shelf stacking if Labour wins?

    Posted by tris | January 29, 2011, 10:29 pm
  7. "It's difficult for Iain Gray to have a vision without hallucinogenic drugs"That is a magnificent way to put it.I say this a lot on your blogs Iain, but I agree with pretty much everything you say here. The sense of expectation within Scottish Labour gets my blood boiling.

    Posted by Craig Gallagher | January 30, 2011, 10:10 pm
  8. Why is Iain Gray confident?Because he not only gets an easy ride from the media. including the print media. he is shielded and the SNP, his main opponents are attacked.If you wanted to put your money where this post puts your mouth is, in your Herald Column, why not address this, why did the BBC not report on the Montenegro insult and the complaint?Why was nothing made of the SoS's office revealing the paths across the Balmoral estate and the attempt to pin that on Rosanna CunninghamWhy did the BBC, who forecast light to moderate snow, decide to go after Stewart Stevenson and no other minister in Europe was castigated for the snow being heavier than predicted?And all the other stories unreported or made out of something?Surely the part the BBC has to play in this is worthy of a coumn?

    Posted by Anonymous | January 30, 2011, 11:22 pm
  9. "Surely the part the BBC has to play in this is worthy of a column?"Worthy of an entire book more like.

    Posted by Jo G | January 31, 2011, 11:58 pm
  10. Labour's opposition to alcohol pricing would've been more principled if they'd argued that it wouldnae work because it is illegal. Minimum pricing breaches EU competition law. No one mentions this because most of the interested parties gain from the policy. The government looks like they are doing something about alcohol abuse; the brewers and the supermarkets make more money. But it will be challenged down south and it will be defeated. Labour missed a trick here but then that's not really a surprise.

    Posted by Shug | February 5, 2011, 6:35 pm
  11. "The tribunes of the people have gone to the barricades to defend Tesco and Sainsbury’s against Swinney’s £30m “tax on success”, as if the mega-markets would even notice this insignificant dent in their vast profits." -Iain Macwhirter.Alex Salmond has pointed out in The Scotsman, 7 Feb., that under the SNP Government's proposed tax on supermarket profits, "the retailer Sainsbury's would have paid £2.5m more a year – the equivalent of its hourly profit."

    Posted by silly old blogger | February 7, 2011, 5:23 pm

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