Sketch: How the Independent Group looks set to sweep Scotland

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 22 February 2019 in Comment

Sketch: The Independent Group's early momentum was checked somewhat by running into accusations of racism almost immediately

Image credit: Iain Green

The Labour Party split was marked by sadness, bitterness and anger, which are just some of the ways it can be differentiated from a banana split.

In fact, that’s one of the key tests you can use if you’re ever unsure about a banana split. Just ask, is it engaged in a vicious internal feud with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party? Is this dessert characterised by a deep sense of betrayal? If so, you may not be dealing with a banana split at all. You might be dealing with a Labour Split.

So what’s making Labour MPs quit? A mix of things, it seemed, with reasons ranging from Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to deal adequately with anti-Semitic abuse in the party, to his stance on Brexit, to suggestions that, if elected, he would actually weaken the UK’s national security.

Which are all pretty good reasons for quitting a job, to be fair. Usually if you find yourself wondering if your boss might be a threat to national security, you should really be asking if you’ve accidentally ended up working for a super villain.

Anyway, that’s how the world was introduced to the founding members of the Independent Group, with BBC footage of them arriving on stage accompanied by expert analysis from a voice off camera, muttering: “Between this and Brexit, we’re actually fucked.”

Well, indeed. But how would splitting the party – however unevenly – help foster unity? And what’s the plan, anyway, assuming that just shouting ‘we’re not Jeremy Corbyn’ over and over again isn’t acceptable as a manifesto?

Explaining that bit was left to Chuka Umunna. “The usual way things are often done in Westminster, you have a podium and someone goes up and tells you how it’s going to be,” he explained, moments after he had stood behind a podium in Westminster to tell everyone how it’s going to be done. “We’re clear that there needs to be an alternative, people cannot be saddled with this appalling choice of incompetence, frankly. But the idea you can cook this up in Westminster is not the way, I think, that people want things to be done.”

It was clearly gibberish. Asked if anyone might follow them in quitting either Labour or the Tories, Chris Leslie expanded: “Everyone’s had a crack at the story, the Da Vinci Code of how many, and who, and what’s happened, and there’s a really obvious reason for that – look, we’re politicians and also human beings, we have conversations with each other all the time. If you talk to colleagues who aren’t here today, their assessment of the situation in the Labour Party is remarkably similar to ours. There will be some who will see this today and be agonising about what to do.”

Although it’s undoubtedly true the launch was agonising, it wasn’t immediately obvious how much it was really like the Da Vinci Code. Yes, the plot was baffling, but there were more characters in the Da Vinci Code. Also, unlike the organisers of the launch, Dan Brown has shown an awareness that events can take place outside London.

But unfortunately, despite their early triumph, the group’s momentum was then checked somewhat with Angela Smith finding herself facing accusations of racism almost immediately.

Yes, you got that right. Within three hours of quitting Labour because of racism, a member of the Independent Group was being accused of it, after Smith went on live TV to describe black and minority ethnic people as having a "funny tinge". The last bit came tumbling out her mouth, apparently by accident, leaving her grasping for words – any words – and eventually just muttering ‘BME’ in a desperate attempt to rescue the situation. She later apologised, explaining that she had made the comments because she was tired, though if being sleepy makes you racist, you should maybe focus on getting more sleep. At least she wasn’t forced to resign, though – the idea of an MP sitting as an independent former Independent MP would be too much to take.

Meanwhile, those watching from Scotland questioned whether calling your party the Independent Group while opposing Scottish independence would appeal to voters. Particularly if they followed Labour’s lead and called the party north of the border the Scottish Independent Party, while campaigning for the union. If they really want the pro-UK vote they should be clear. Call it the anti-independence Scottish Independent Party.

Richard Leonard, meanwhile, was more cautious, warning the MPs that “they are in danger of walking into a political wilderness”, though in the wilderness’s defence, they may find themselves subject to less anti-Semitic abuse there than they did in the Parliamentary Labour Party.

But you can see why Leonard was worried, even if it raised real questions about where he thinks he is at the moment. Who knows what the opposite of the political wilderness is, but wherever it is, that’s where you will find Richard Leonard. An inner-city bus station, maybe. While others wander off into the political wilderness, Leonard is in the centre of things, living in the political equivalent of a motorway underpass. Dominating political discourse. Leading the conversation. Protesting car park charges.

But maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. At present, the party – sorry – group, has said nothing about running in Scotland. It remains the United Kingdom Independent Group – or UKIG – for now. Maybe it’s better they didn’t go launch an actual party.

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