Sketch: Scottish Labour's comedy tour
Never again, Ian Murray has warned, should Labour policy be developed at the Edinburgh fringe festival, and you can see why.
“Let’s never again have a senior member of the Labour Party coming to a fringe show at the Edinburgh Festival and changing our constitutional position on Scotland without telling anyone about it,” he said, speaking at the launch of his campaign for the deputy leadership of the Labour party.
Well indeed – let us not. They really should stop doing that. This, of course, was a reference to John McDonnell repeatedly contradicting the Scottish party in the summer, by opening the door to a section 30 order. But it was a statement that raised all sorts of questions, not least because of the use of “never again”. How often has it been happening? You could probably understand them doing it once, but if the party has to introduce a new policy against using the world’s biggest comedy festival as its primary vehicle for policy formulation you do start to wonder if there might be a problem.
And so, in fairness to Murray, it does seem a very good policy – the fringe festival is definitely not the right place for constitutional announcements. It should be the Jazz Festival. Save the fringe for tax policy.
True socialism means you care as much about destroying the electoral prospects of comrades in Durham as much as Dundee
No, it’s clear there are a whole range of different cultural celebrations which UK Labour could use to contradict their Scottish Labour colleagues. But Murray is probably right, even if some will question whether it is too rash. Surely they could try using the fringe to announce new contradictory positions on independence two or three more times before giving up? In fairness, that does seem a possibility, with the use of “without telling anyone about it”, suggesting that they actually might keep doing it, but only if everyone gets more of a heads up first. They could do a preview show, for half price, just to make sure their new position on independence really hits home.
Whatever happens, it was good to see someone picking over what went wrong at the last election. As Murray put it, explaining the problem with the ‘change policy at comedy festivals’ strategy: “That is not just disrespectful to the Labour Party, it is not just disrespectful to the Scottish Labour Party, it’s disrespectful to every single person who looks to the Labour Party for holding this UK together, and standing up for the key principle that independence for Scotland is bad for Scotland, and independence for Scotland is bad for the rest of the United Kingdom.”
It was also quite disrespectful to the fringe, when you think about it, even if Labour’s approach to comedy does seem to be taking an increasingly surrealist turn. But what else was on Murray’s agenda? Well, it seems the deputy leadership hopeful is also keen for UK colleagues to stop coming up to Scotland to make provocative speeches without any basic idea of what they’re talking about. It really is radical stuff.
As the Edinburgh South MP put it: “I say to all leadership and deputy leadership candidates, please don’t come up to Scotland and talk about things when you’re not quite sure what you’re talking about. Just make sure in the first instance that you at least try and understand.”
It was bold. It was fresh. But was it too idealistic?
And, anyway, who could he have been referring to? Well it didn’t seem to be Jess Phillips, whose campaign has moved elegantly from lecturing Scottish Labour on how to win an election to dropping out the race in the space of a week. And nor was it Lisa Nandy, despite her decision to spend the last couple of weeks elaborating on her plans to crush the separatists, with all the enthusiasm of a Sith emperor.
No, it seemed these two were OK. As he explained: “I wouldn’t talk about anything that’s happening in Salford, where Rebecca Long-Bailey is the MP, or in Norwich, where Clive Lewis is the MP [he has since dropped out], without having spoken to them and being completely across the issues. So it’s not different to coming up to Scotland.”
Well that didn’t seem like a very socialist attitude. In fact it sounded like nationalist talk, with Murray keen for Labour politicians to only barge wildly into the politics of their own local areas.
What happened to internationalism? A true Labour leader would be willing to launch pointless infighting against colleagues regardless of where they were based. After all, true socialism means you care as much about destroying the electoral prospects of comrades in Durham as much as Dundee. That you trash talk colleagues from Aberystwyth to Aberdeen. From Elgin to Essex, they shall all be ruined equally. That’s what pooling and sharing of factionalism is all about.
But who knows – maybe Murray’s pitch will be successful. Maybe the rest of the party will listen to him, without launching any ill-advised attacks in response.
Yet, with the race continuing until April, and plenty of public facing debate to come, at present it’s too early to say. We will probably need to wait until August, and the start of the fringe, to find out.