Pissing in the wind

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 29 September 2017 in Comment

The major players in the Scottish Labour leadership contest seem to have lost all sense of perspective

Before we get started let’s make one thing clear – holding a multi-million pound stake in a business which has no formal trade union recognition doesn’t make you a hypocrite. But equally, it might not help make you leader of the Scottish Labour party.

Anas Sarwar passionately believes that businesses should pay the real living wage. In fact it’s these sorts of issues that pushed him into politics. Unfortunately the law does not currently compel firms to pay it, and so Anas Sarwar’s family’s firm – he owned about a quarter of its shares until recently – does not do so.

The whole thing strikes Anas Sarwar as wrong, and he intends to stop it. As soon as he is able to, Anas Sarwar intends to force Anas Sarwar to do the right thing, and no one – especially not Anas Sarwar – will stand in his way.


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As he put it while launching his leadership campaign: “I don’t want to be a Scottish Labour who just talks about fighting inequality, creating opportunity and building a fairer society. I want to deliver that equality, opportunity and fairness as the next First Minister of Scotland.”

Whether it was fair not, some question if the Scottish Labour health spokesperson’s words on fighting inequality matched up with his record. Attempting to defuse criticism, Sarwar was quick to point out he had never actually worked for the company, or indeed done anything at all to cause himself to receive the money.

It was a left-field defence, if not a particularly left-wing one. But that was just the start of a rollercoaster few weeks.

The Labour leadership contest then took a more confusing turn with the news that interim leader Alex Rowley had been secretly recorded telling a student that he would prefer Sarwar’s rival, Richard Leonard, to win.

Rowley, a man widely known to lean towards the left of the party, preferred the candidate whose views are closest to his own. It was outrageous. Shock and upset ensued – particularly from the SNP. How could this happen? And who could have predicted that the deputy leader of Labour would have a view on politics?

The whole thing was quite confusing, not least because at the time of writing Alex Rowley is the interim leader, while also still seeming to be the deputy leader. This means Rowley makes up the entire Labour leadership. He is a one man leadership.

As pressure mounts over the secret recording, one option would be for Alex Rowley to resign as interim leader and let deputy leader Alex Rowley take over in an attempt to stop the whole thing looking ridiculous.

But events escalated quickly, with Jackie Ballie responding to describe Rowley’s “hypocrisy” as “incredibly disappointing”, and adding “but what is most concerning is the revelations about a plot against Kezia Dugdale”.

She said: “This behaviour by the party establishment is a complete betrayal of the membership and every value we hold dear.”

Well indeed. And it does certainly look like Labour’s values could be in jeopardy. Though if any of those values included solidarity Baillie may have spoken too late.

But things were quickly getting out of hand, and so fortunately Richard Leonard’s team responded to Jackie Baillie’s response to Alex Rowley’s response to refute her allegations. They were not true, the team said.

Actually, in the covert recording of Rowley he never actually said he was trying to oust Dugdale, just that he was planning for after she left in the early 2020s. And that should have been the end of it. Or it would have been if the subject of the email – sent out to the nation’s press – did not read “coment [sic] on latest Jackie Ballie pish”. Want things to get dirtier? Well, urine luck.

It was just wonderful, and there really are a lot of great things going on in those six words, assuming ‘coment’ even counts as a word, given it seems to be something invented to convey a substance half way between a remark and a material used in construction.

The use of pish is of course very welcome, but it’s the inclusion of ‘latest’ that really draws the eye, suggesting, as it does, that a press officer sat and worried about whether the media would be aware specifically which piece of pish from Jackie Baillie they were referring to that day.

Was it the pish Jackie Baillie was talking last week? Or the pish yesterday? No, don’t worry guys, it was the latest one. You can only assume the Leonard camp has been cataloguing the stuff, bottling it in separate jars, like how the BFG stores dreams, in order to properly label and denounce the pish later.

Weeee! What a ride the contest has been! When the party talked about taking on the Tories, who knew they meant in the race to self-destruction. The most incredible bit is that in the time it took for the row to begin and then reach boiling point, Jeremy Corbyn was still on stage in Brighton, delivering his conference speech.

Of course conventional political wisdom holds that it’s better to have your internal opponents inside the tent pissing out, rather than outside pissing in. And that may well be true, but it requires a sense of perspective to realise it and the leadership contest seems to have descended too far for that. By now all the major players seem to be standing around in a cheap Vango, ankle deep in the stuff and screaming, all the while wondering when the voters will join them there.

But maybe that’s a bit much. Hysterical even. Maybe the contest is getting to us all. So where are we now? It’s tempting at this point to return Sarwar’s speech back at the hustings in Glasgow.

“Over the past week, the most common question I have been asked is why are you standing?” he said. “People look confused when I reply it’s because I’m scunnered with Scottish politics.”

But why was Sarwar feeling scunnered? “I’m scunnered”, he said, “because our politics has become petty, inward-looking and divisive. But you have two options when you’re scunnered – you can walk away, or you can try to change things.”

Good advice for everyone there.

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