The immaturity of much of the “Labour” Party, whether the UK party or the Scottish branch office, is disconcerting. Rather than opposing the Tories and austerity, key elements of the shadow cabinet appear to be fostering the idea that the values underpinning the ideology of austerity are sound, even if the Tory implementation of this ideology is not. For example, here is the terrifying Rachel Reeves (yes, the Labour shadow work and pensions minister who promised to be tougher than the Tories):
“We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work,” she said. “Labour are a party of working people, formed for and by working people.”
So she is saying that “Labour” is not interested in people who are not in work – who, then, is to represent them?! I can only hope that this is childish posturing, designed to appeal to Tories, rather than meaningful policy (though I’m not convinced, given how far right the “Labour” party has moved in recent years).
The other key issue – the extent to which the party might enter some kind of cooperative arrangement with the SNP – is, of course, driving a lot of debate at the moment, but is connected to things like Reeves’ statements.
There are some signs that Ed Miliband is, at least, smarter than people like Reeves and Scottish branch manager Jim Murphy: for example, here’s Neal Lawson explaining why Labour must do a deal with the SNP, whilst Peter Arnott wonders if sanity might be breaking out in certain circles (on all sides, maybe, slowly…). However, there are also reasons to be concerned about Miliband’s position, whilst Stephen Daisley, though acknowledging Miliband is probably smarter than Murphy et al, has slightly different concerns.
All of this points to a need to give “Labour” space. I do expect the “Labour” Party, driven by a desire for self-preservation, to move position on a number of key issues, including possibly even independence or at the very least devo-max over the coming years. I think they need the predicted wipe-out (or at least, severe punishing) in May – for too long “Labour” has taken the Scottish electorate for granted, and doesn’t realise it needs to earn the right to represent constituents. If it can learn from this, we might have a very different Scottish “Labour” party in five or ten years’ time (ideally one that is actually more Labour so I can dispense with the tiresome scare quotes!).
In the meantime, Nicola Sturgeon is playing a fabulous hand. I think she realises something that many in the SNP do not: once the “Labour” Party becomes more of a party that seeks to represent everyone (Reeves, take note!), it becomes more of a natural and useful opposition to the SNP, but also a party the SNP can more readily deal with, at least on the UK level. Getting there needs space: a very wise artist friend of mine, Carrie Gooch, recently pointed out that changing position on big issues was like turning a tanker around in the sea: a lot of space is needed. I think Sturgeon is giving them that space at the moment, and if for no other reason than self-preservation, I do expect wiser heads in “Labour” to prevail eventually.
Certainly, one of the wiser things Miliband could now do is copy Sturgeon – and categorically rule out a cooperation deal with the Tories. He and his party need to realise that on a UK level they have a bigger political opponent than the SNP – and Cameron, Osborne, and those Tory-lites Clegg and Alexander, are the leaders of that opponent.