Lallands Peat Worrier
Cogitations from a Cranachan Cairn
23 November 2012
Scottish Labour's Samson strategy?
Back in 2011, a waggish nationalist friend half-seriously suggested that, failing everything else, Scottish Labour's best strategy to defeat independence was to be as crushingly, dishearteningly mediocre as possible.
There is a sort of bleak logic to it. Fostering a collective sense of confidence in Scottish political institutions is the sine qua non for those who favour independence. Part of the SNP's governmental and parliamentary strategy must be to promote, wherever possible, images and examples which make it easier for folk to envisage an independent Holyrood, and an independent Scottish government in which they can repose confidence, operating effectively in their interests. Arses must be consistently distinguished from elbows. Government must be poised, parliament at the very least credible, at best, something which one could be optimistic about. The major opposition party can play an important role in creating - or despoiling - that atmosphere.
And here's where Labour's "Samson strategy" might come into its own. Your argument (and I'm not endorsing it, merely stating it), probably looks something like this...
"Isn't this level of political discourse dismal? You needn't make the argument that daft wee Scotia can't fend for herself. Just watch First Minister's Questions. We can't even sustain a meaningful debate on the powers within our competence at the minute. What sort of future can Scotland have, when the national defence, when foreign affairs, when tax and welfare decisions are to be made in this vacuous, bilious climate of rank stupidity and corrosive partisanship? If only we were like the sober souls on the Green benches in Westminster. At least there you get serious debate, not like Holyrood. If this is the best we can do as the official opposition in parliament, how the devil can you have confidence in Scotland's future, with us lurking about as the only government-in-waiting? Doesn't it all just dishearten you? Sod it. It's all too depressing. Just vote no and put us all out of our misery."
As another crony pointed out to me this week, this strategy may be - much more destructively - elaborated upon. Why not pull the temple down around your ears? Like the Biblical strongman, it's a self-sacrificing tactic, but not necessarily ineffective for all that. If the credibility of devolved institutions is an important part of the pro-independence argument, why not rob them of that advantage altogether, by striking out at the pillars of its credibility? Finger the Presiding Officer for bias, call for her to be sacked, attack not only the government, but the committees, the chamber, everywhere spreading the notion that Holyrood is collapsing under the weight of its own amateurism and incompetence, finally revealed to be the "wee pretendy parliament" and dysfunctional parish council that some always believed it would be. Certainly, this sort of political strategy may bring the roof crashing down on all of yours heads. Collateral damage might be inflicted on things you value, but that's all to the good, so long as the separatist serpent is satisfyingly crushed when the roof caves in.
It is not, perhaps, accidental, that we simultaneously hear the likes of Gordon Brown making speeches which give every impression that devolution was really something of a mistake, with a whisper of nostalgia for the old days of Scottish governance by the Queen in Parliament, untroubled by devolved parliaments and their governments. None of this should be understood as an unqualified defence of how Holyrood discharges its duties, or to suggest that a majority government in a unicameral parliament, and the unremitting loyalty of SNP backbenchers doesn't pose challenges. Clearly they do, and I've been critical about some manifestations of that before, but the challenges of majoritarian government are hardly unique to Scotland. Yet an increasingly hysterical, Labour-dominated opposition in Holyrood would have us believe that the SNP administration is some unique, terrifying, oppressive, unprecedented chimera, gnawing away at the roots of Scottish democracy.
Increasingly, this looks like a classic case of projection to me. Johann Lamont is weel kent as a formidable woman, but given the political atmosphere of the last month or so, I'm beginning to wonder if she doesn't also have more shades of Samson than Delilah about her...