Posts Tagged ‘Scottish Labour’

Scottish Labour needed to reinvent itself to survive. But not like this

21/11/2017, 09:32:23 PM

by Rob Marchant

The election of Richard Leonard has, inevitably, provoked jubilation on the Party’s left and despair in the rest of the party. While despair is certainly the more appropriate reaction, there has been some misreading on both sides.

First, let’s deal with the left. Yes, Scottish Labour really needed to reinvent itself, faced with a hegemonic SNP and falling into third place – yes, third, in a country which had previously been solidly Labour as long as anyone could remember – in the 2016 and 2017 elections. But not like this.

Jim Murphy and, later, Kezia Dugdale tried and failed to carry out that reinvention. But the truth is that they were both up against an atrophied Scottish party, made soft and flabby by years of Brown-era coddling.

The history of the last couple of decades is this. Blair’s people kept out of Scotland: meanwhile Brown’s people let things drift. In particular, it allowed radical-dominated unions to take hold of various local parties until they were converted into one-horse-town fiefdoms such as Falkirk CLP, dominated by Unite’s Grangemouth oil refinery operation.

Later, the farrago of a parliamentary selection there in 2013 became the trigger for a radical rewriting of leadership election rules, the use (and abuse) of which helped secure Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader. Meanwhile, the Scottish party itself bumbled into irrelevance, leaving the way clear for the SNP to run Scotland.

Now, instead of coming up with a program which could appeal to the apparent majority of Scots who did not want independence, and rebuilding the trust of their traditional base, the party has now opted for a definitively Corbynite leader in Scotland who merely reinforces the protest-party impotence of Labour north of the border. In other words, an attempt to outflank the SNP to the left: a party which has years of experience of cannily acting left, while delivering in the political centre.


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The Tories are within 4 points of Scottish Labour. What a time to try to “outflank the SNP from the left”

04/02/2016, 05:03:37 PM

by Rob Marchant

Uncut has not spoken much about Scotland recently but, as the gaze of Britain’s political machine turns briefly northwards, as it does every four years, that will change.

It is right that it will, and this time it should not be brief. This is not just because the Holyrood elections are almost upon us. It is because Labour’s short-to-medium-term success, and perhaps its very survival, depends on a Scottish turnaround.

Why? Let’s just look at the basic electoral arithmetic. As Lewis Baston pointed out in an outstanding analysis at LabourList, because of its wipeout in Scotland, Labour needs a bigger swing than it had in the 1997 general election to win in 2020.

That is, a bigger swing even than its best-ever post-war result.

It would be a tall order for a party even at the height of its popularity and which had not for the last five years neglected swing seats in the South East which it had won in 1997 and needed to win again.

And this was all chasing the frankly imbecilic notion that it could squeeze into power on the back of a leftish “progressive majority”, consisting of discontented Lib Dem and Green voters turning towards Labour.

Now consider a party which, on top of that, has its most unpopular leader since records began.

It is not merely a tall order. It is impossible. It is difficult to overestimate the extent to which Labour’s comfortable hegemony in Scotland has provided Labour’s electoral safety net during its postwar opposition years. We are now living a historical anomaly for Labour.


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Jim Murphy needs to be radical to revive Labour in Scotland

18/12/2014, 05:27:18 PM

by Daniel Charelston-Downes

Labour, according to the New Statesman, is now 20 points behind the SNP in Westminster voting intentions. This would see an almost virtual wipeout of Scottish seats for Labour and goes some way to explaining why Nicola Sturgeon was so keen to welcome the new Scottish Labour leadership with words of unity and collaboration. It seems SNP are preparing for, even expecting, coalition partnership.

Jim Murphy’s leadership has come at a crucial time for Scottish Labour. When Lamont talked of her despair at Scottish Labour being treated as a branch office, she hit close to home with all Scottish voters. London-centric politics is killing the main parties in Scotland and will take Labour down leaving the SNP the last man standing.

The moment Tony Blair’s name became sacrilegious in my household growing up was when he abandoned Clause IV. With Murphy using the language of the Clause, he is clearly trying to evoke memories of that kind of reform within the party and the wave of electoral success that brought with it. A rehashed statement of intent for Scotland is an attempt to move Labour into a ‘reformer’ platform.

However what Scottish voters liked about Salmond and continue to appreciate in Sturgeon is their lack of political machinery.

Where Murphy will struggle, and where his use of Blairite language displays a complete lack of understanding, is that he is viewed as the worst kind of career politician. He is straight out of Westminster. He has bounced from education, to the National Union of Students presidency, to think tanks and policy groups and now parliament. He has always seen Scotland through Labour eyes.

If Labour is ever to win a majority again they are going to need to gain Scotland back. The SNP are a much greater threat to the Labour party than UKIP are to anyone, they are doing a much more successful job of converting anti-Westminster sentiment into seats than any other British party.


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Murphy’s push on party rebuilding should not stop at the Tweed

17/12/2014, 12:17:52 PM

by Rob Marchant

Jim Murphy is the new leader of Labour in Scotland. It is hard to see this as other than good news; irrespective of political leanings, he is an experienced, Cabinet-level politician, with the kind of clout and vision that the Scottish party urgently needs. The SNP is sneering as best it can, but it is nervous laughter.

Murphy has, of course, a huge challenge on his hands: to turn around disastrous polling and an inward-looking party; left to its own devices through its hegemonic days under Blair and Brown and the early days of devolution; and later, seemingly taken by surprise by the rise of the SNP.

It was certainly high time that Scottish Labour took a long, hard look in the mirror, rather than give in to the temptation of huffily declaring that it was treated as a “branch office”, as its last leader, Johann Lamont, did. And it has: it has realised both that it needs a radical change and that it does not need to dance to the Nats’ own tune of “MSPs only”.

It has realised that, far from attracting support, trying to compete with the SNP to see who can be the most insular is a game Labour can only lose.

Reaching out to all the party’s talents, in contrast, is a position of strength. The truth is that there is valuable experience and support that Labour colleagues in Westminster or elsewhere can provide, as Murphy has just shown.

As a first step, what refreshingly positive was Monday’s announcement that Murphy would immediately start to reform and rebuild Scottish Labour; that party reform would be at the centre of his plans.

Almost since its inception, Uncut has repeatedly written on the importance of party reform for Labour, including in our manifesto of 2013. While cautious about the party’s commitment to full implementation, we applauded Ed Miliband’s adoption of funding and voting reform this year.


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Unite’s reaction to Jim Murphy’s candidacy tells us all we need to know about why it’s important

05/11/2014, 03:20:04 PM

by Rob Marchant

On Saturday, after some days of deliberation, Jim Murphy announced his candidacy for the Scottish leadership.

Within hours, Unite had put out a statement:

“Unite’s representative members will soon decide who to nominate on behalf of our union. On the basis of this speech, it is extremely difficult for them to find much to find hope that Jim Murphy is offering the genuine, positive change in Scottish Labour they seek.”

Notice first how Unite members are being given a completely free choice of candidate, and that its leadership is not trying to influence them at all. In fact, this effect of denying a level playing-field to leadership candidates in the union vote – that is, trying to distort the One Member, One Vote (OMOV) process – was one of the main reasons for the Collins reforms.

By Monday they had announced the results of a poll claiming that “working people” (i.e. Unite members: the union sees no irony in considering the two identical) wanted an MSP in the role and not an MP. Oh, wait a minute, which of the declared candidates is not an MSP…?

Why go to such lengths to trash the front-running candidate?

Because, apart from being probably the Shadow Cabinet’s most outspoken centrist, Murphy is widely known as being “his own man”, as Damian McBride describes him. There is little that would put Unite’s nose out of joint more than someone who didn’t play Scottish Labour according to the usual rules.

Scottish Labour, lest we forget, was the political Wild West land through the New Labour years, which survived virtually untouched under the protective gaze of Gordon Brown.

However, McBride’s sympathetic account of the trials of managing the Scottish party also gives away probably the greatest weakness of the Brown administration: its preference for managing genteel decline, rather than attack underlying problems at their root. Its preference for comfortable fiefdoms, where you did as you were told, over a healthy party full of competing ideas; a thousand flowers blooming. Scottish Labour was Brownism writ large.


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Party chiefs will hope Lamont’s resignation gives them a fresh start in Scotland

25/10/2014, 12:10:39 PM

The resignation of Scottish Labour party leader, Johann Lamont, has plunged the Scottish party back into one of its periodic bouts of crisis.

Lamont, long an advocate for greater devolution for the Scottish Parliament and more autonomy for the Scottish party, was said to be furious that national chiefs treated Scotland like a “branch office”.

The final straw came earlier this week with the enforced departure of the Scottish party’s general secretary, Ian Price.

Recruited last year to lead its referendum campaign and drive forward efforts to reform the fractious party, he was already sidelined by July, when the party’s respected former North West regional director, Sheila Murphy, was asked by Ed Miliband to step in and manage the campaign instead.

The view from London is that Labour cannot take the chance that a resurgent SNP will burrow into its vote and put seats at next year’s general election in jeopardy.

However it was clear from the result of the referendum, with places like Glasgow voting for independence, that Labour’s support base in working-class Scotland has been shaken.

The party’s indelicate treatment of Lamont and Price reflects the fact it does not want to have to spend time and precious resources campaigning in seats that Labour should easily win.

In her resignation interview with the Daily Record, Lamont warns her colleagues that “the focus of Scottish politics is now Holyrood, not Westminster” and that too many of them, both in Scotland and London “do not understand the politics they are facing”.

That may be so, but the party’s focus is holding on to what it currently has next May and many will be privately relieved at the chance of a fresh start.

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The fight for the union goes on, whatever happens on the eighteenth

15/09/2014, 12:08:26 PM

by David Butler

“If we fight 100 times and beat him 99 he will be King still, but if he beats us but once, or the last time, we shall be hanged, we shall lose our estates, and our posterities be undone” – Edward Montagu, 2nd Earl of Manchester

The future of the Union hangs by a thread. A partnership that has lasted three hundred and seven years, and achieved many wonderful things, could be extinguished. Better Together can still win on Thursday and I’m hoping it will. If No does indeed win, there can be no let up in the struggle. The nineteenth of September 2014 must be the first day of the next battle for the future of our country.

The words of the 2nd Earl of Manchester were spoken at the height of the First English Civil War in November 1644. The fate facing opponents of Scottish independence is not death and penury, but the point stands: the SNP must win only once, by a single vote, to separate Scotland from England forever. We must win every time.

Alex Massie, in a recent Spectator piece, charted the increasing acceptability of independence as an idea. As Massie correctly observed, the idea of Scottish nationalism cannot be killed, not now, not after all this time. If 47% of the electorate vote for separation, that is a sizeable bloc who wish to tear apart the existing polity; only a minor swing would be required to make that a majority opinion.

Perhaps the SNP, like Quebec separatists Bloc Quebecois, would eventually collapse and be consigned to a future behind Labour in Scotland. This seems unlikely given their current poll ratings. Even if they were weaker in the polls, it would not be something we could just wait and hope for. Nationalism must be fought and driven back with ideas, policy and organisation. It is worth remembering the remarks of Neil Kinnock that “the victory of political ideals must be organised”.

The SNP would not be a majority party in the Scottish Parliament (and hence able to call a referendum) were it not for the collapse of Labour and the Lib Dems in the 2011 elections and the Tories long-term decline. Patrick Wintour in The Guardian tracked the decline of Scottish Toryism during the Thatcher era and their subsequent failure to reassert themselves during New Labour (unlike in England and Wales). Labour’s decline was, on paper, more sudden and stark. However, it was rooted in the talent exodus to Westminster and SNP positioning themselves as moderate social democrats appealing to a conservatism about the institutions people valued (such as the NHS or universities).


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Sunday News Review

11/09/2011, 06:33:19 AM

10 years on

On this 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of ­September 11, 2001, we remember that 9/11 was not only an attack on the United States, it was an attack on the world and on the humanity and hopes that we share. We remember that among the nearly 3,000 innocent people lost that day were hundreds of citizens from more than 90 nations, including 67 from the United Kingdom. They were men and women, young and old, of many races and faiths. On this solemn anniversary we join with their families and nations in honouring their memory. We remember with gratitude how 10 years ago the world came together as one. Around the UK, entire cities came to a standstill for moments of silence. People offered their prayers in churches, mosques, ­synagogues and other places of worship. And we in the United States will never forget how the people of Britain stood with us in ­solidarity in candlelight vigils and among the seas of flowers placed at our embassy in London. We are touched that the UK will honour the victims again today – including by breaking with protocol and flying the Union Flag at half-mast at its ­embassy and consulates in the United States. – Barack Obama, the Mirror

Manhattan is always a hectic place. It is frequently gridlocked and its citizens are used to hustling their way through crowded streets and subways. But on Saturday it was different. As New York prepared to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a new terror alert provided a grim reminder that a decade of war and struggle has not removed the threat. The visible evidence was all over New York. In the wake of an unconfirmed but scarily specific threat that three terrorists, likely to be aiming to use a car or truck bomb, had entered the country to attack the Big Apple, the city went into a kind of security lockdown. Yet, through it all, New Yorkers were urged to keep calm and carry on. “If you do lock yourself in your house because you’re scared, they’re winning,” Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show. Most people seemed to agree. Even with a wary eye on the security efforts, people seemed to feel it was still business as usual. “They look like they know what they are doing. I’m going to keep acting normal,” said Izzie Garcia as she arrived in Manhattan’s Union Square for an early start to a morning of shopping in her favourite stores. Bloomberg was also leading by example. It was he who had appeared on the nation’s TV screens to give the first official public details of the new terror threat. At a press conference in New York he had warned of the dangers and had urged New Yorkers to keep taking the subway. – the Observer

In America they speak of the “lost decade”. The moment it began is obvious: the morning of 11 September 2001, when the world’s lone superpower fell victim to the most devastating terrorist attack of modern times. Its end, however, is harder to date. One answer is 1 May this year, when a team of Navy Seals tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden at his hideaway in Pakistan. A circle was complete; after almost 10 years of frustration, false leads and continuous war, the master planner of 9/11 had finally paid for his crime. But look at it another way and the answer is not so obvious. In these 10 years America has lost much, in terms of lives, treasure and reputation. Most of all, perhaps, it has lost its illusions. One, that its home territory was invulnerable, beyond the reach of hostile foreigners, vanished on that terrible Tuesday morning. But a decade on, another no less cherished illusion has disappeared as well: the certainty that whatever happened in the world beyond, America was a place of infinite opportunity and ever-growing prosperity. – the Independent

New Scottish Labour

The Scottish Labour Party has put in place the first building block for its fightback in Scotland. It decided that Iain Gray’s successor as leader will not, as now, just be leader of Labour’s MSPs but leader of the whole party in Scotland. The review group recognised that for an individual to have the authority to lead Labour in Scotland all sections of the party must be involved in his/her selection and know their views will count. So the base from which a future leader can be drawn has been expanded. No longer will a candidate have to be an MSP, instead any Labour parliamentarian will be free to stand – MPs, MSPs and MEPs. However, it will be clear that whoever becomes leader will be Labour’s candidate for First Minister of Scotland. Expanding the gene pool from which a future leader is drawn is a first but insufficient step. The basic building block of Labour Party organisation has always been its Constituency Parties (CLPs). These are based on Westminster boundaries. The consequence has been that gearing up to fight a general election has been much easier than preparing to fight a Scottish Parliament election. Often MSPs or candidates have had to deal with two, three or even four CLPs, wasting time, effort and money on internal organisation when their time would have been more productively spent linking into their local communities. The new organisational base for Labour in Scotland will be based on Scottish Parliamentary boundaries reflecting our determination to have an organisation fit for purpose to fight the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016. – Scotland on Sunday

Proposals by MP Jim Murphy will go before their ruling executive committee today which could “transform” the party. The blueprint is the result of a four-month review led by Murphy and MSP Sarah Boyack following Labour’s crushing defeat in the Holyrood election. Insiders who have seen secret presentations by the pair say the plans amount to Labour’s biggest shake-up since 1918. But some changes could prove so controversial with sections of of the party that there are no guarantees the committee of MPs, MSPs, union leaders, local party bosses and others will give their approval when they meet in Glasgow today. Under the radical plans, Scottish Labour would: Loosen ties with the UK party, Appoint a Scottish leader – who might not be an MSP – with unprecedented powers to shape policy and plan strategy north of the Border, Kick out long-serving MPs and MSPs and train a new generation of “top notch” candidates, Reconnect with the business world and Haul themselves into the 21st century by using social media for campaigning. – Daily Record

Don’t cut the 50p rate

One of the biggest names in British business has told the government not to scrap the new 50p rate of income tax. The former head of Marks & Spencer, Sir Stuart Rose has not only said he opposes the move but is happy to pay more tax to help the country out of its current financial difficulties. Rose is the biggest name so far to oppose the move which has been backed by a group of 20 economists on Wednesday, who feel the levy is hurting the UK’s competitiveness. Rose told BBC Radio 4’s Hard Talk yesterday: ‘I don’t think that they should reduce the income tax rate. How would I explain to my secretary that I am getting less tax on my income, which is palpably bigger than hers, when hers is now going down?’ Rose’s comments are in stark contrast to former Conservative Chancellor Nigel Lawson who urged George Osborne to axe the 50p top rate of income tax, warning it is ‘dangerous’ and ‘foolish’ to leave it in place. – Daily Mail

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Wednesday News Review

06/07/2011, 06:42:50 AM

Cameron under pressure to hold investigation

David Cameron was today facing growing pressure to back calls for a public inquiry into the phone hacking scandal. The Prime Minister was urged to act as MPs held an emergency debate on the issue after more alarming claims emerged to the extent of the interception of mobile phone messages. Mr Cameron said the alleged hacking of murdered teenager Milly Dowler’s mobile phone had left him shocked. Mr Cameron said: “On the question of the really appalling allegations about the telephone of Milly Dowler, if they are true, this is a truly dreadful act and a truly dreadful situation. What I have read in the papers is quite, quite shocking, that someone could do this actually knowing the police were trying to find this person and trying to find out what had happened, and we all now know the tragedy that took place.” The News of the World said last night they had passed “significant new information” to police in connection with the hacking investigation. MPs will today hold a debate on whether to launch a public inquiry into the scandal. The row intensified as Labour MP Chris Bryant, 49, yesterday accused the News of the World of “playing God with a family’s emotions”. – Daily Mirror

Ed Miliband has called for Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International, to “consider her position” and called for a public inquiry after it emerged the News of the World hacked into Milly Dowler’s mobile phone while Brooks was editor. It comes after David Cameron described the hacking as a “truly dreadful act” and urged police to “pursue this in the most vigorous way”. Police were due to meet with senior executives from News International on Tuesday morning, according to reports, with Brooks’s role coming under increasing scrutiny. The current News International chief executive has insisted she would not resign. Miliband joined the Labour shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, in calling for a public inquiry into the Guardian’s revelations that Milly Dowler‘s mobile phone was repeatedly targeted by the News of the World. The Labour leader said Brooks should “consider her conscience and consider her position”, as pressure mounts on the News International chief executive. Miliband said the latest revelations in the News of the World phone-hacking saga were a “stain” on news reporting in the country. He added that the hacking “represents one of the darkest days in British journalism”. – the Guardian

The revelations followed extraordinary allegations that, months earlier, Milly Dowler’s phone messages were hacked into and deleted by the News of the World, giving her family false hope that she was still alive. All this came on a day when: There was intense speculation that the newspaper might also have eavesdropped on Sara Payne, mother of eight-year-old Sarah, whose murder in 2000 prompted then editor Rebekah Brooks’s controversial campaign for the right to know if a paedophile is living locally; Labour leader Ed Miliband led calls for the resignation of Mrs Brooks, who is now Mr Murdoch’s most senior UK executive; Senior politicians threatened a public inquiry, led by a judge, into press standards and regulation; Pressure grew on Culture Secretary  Jeremy Hunt to block Mr Murdoch’s  bid to take full control of the broadcaster BSkyB; Ford announced it was withdrawing advertising ‘indefinitely’ from the News of the World, while  other leading firms – including Easyjet and Tesco – said they might do the same; Commons Speaker John Bercow granted a highly unusual emergency debate on the affair today; Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator at the centre of the scandal, issued a public apology but claimed he had been under ‘constant demand for results’ from the News of the World; There were reports that detectives are contacting some of the 52 families of the victims of the July 7 bombings in London in 2005, whose names or phone numbers appeared as part of their enquiries. Journalists may have been seeking to access messages left on phones as family members waited to hear news about their loved ones. – Daily Mail

Ed’s first landslide

The PLP have backed Ed Miliband’s plans to abolish shadow cabinet elections. Turnout was 92.2%, and 83% of the PLP voted in favour of the plans (196 in favour, 41 against and 20 did not vote). Ed Miliband responded, saying: “This is an excellent result for the party. We have an important job to do in holding the government to account and preparing for the next election. To do that job properly we need to spend our time talking to the public and not ourselves. “Labour under my leadership will be a party that looks outwards and not inwards.”Labour List

Ed Miliband won the first round of his battle to modernise Labour’s traditional practices last night when the party’s MPs voted overwhelmingly to allow him to choose his own Shadow Cabinet. Mr Miliband, who has described the elections as a distraction, wants to sharpen up the performance of his top team and ensure they spend less time lobbying for the votes of backbenchers. Last night his proposed reform was approved by a margin of 196 votes to 41. The turnout among Labour MPs was 92 per cent. Mr Miliband said: “This is an excellent result for the party. We have an important job to do in holding the Government to account and preparing for the next election. To do that job properly we need to spend our time talking to the public and not ourselves. Labour under my leadership will be a party that looks outwards and not inwards.” The move needs to be approved by Labour’s National Executive Committee this month and its annual conference in September. After that, Mr Miliband will be free to reshuffle his frontbench team whenever he wants. Although aides played down the prospect of a shake-up immediately after the conference, the Labour leader is expected to reshape his Shadow Cabinet to give fast-track promotions to the “new generation” of MPs he would want to see in his first cabinet if he wins power. – the Independent

Rank hypocrisy over Bombardier contract

Britain’s last train maker slashed 1,429 jobs yesterday – sparking fears the firm could hit the buffers. Troubled Bombardier’s main contracts run out in two years. But the Government last month awarded the £1.4billion Thameslink project to German rival Siemens. Furious MPs and union leaders yesterday called on the Tory-led coalition to reverse the decision in the wake of the job cuts. They argued the contract could keep Bombardier’s 3,000 Derby workers busy for years. Labour’s Derby North MP Chris Williamson said: “This is one U-turn well worth making. The lame excuse Siemens offered better value for money simply won’t wash.” Bob Crow, of the RMT transport union, blasted: “We will fight this stitch-up tooth and nail.” Campaigners are furious after ministers met in Bombardier’s home city of Derby just four months ago and praised it as the best of British manufacturing. The Canadian-owned firm said 446 full-time engineers and 983 temporary staff must go. But it is feared 20,000 jobs in the supply line could be hit. The firm said it would have made lay-offs even if it had won the Thameslink deal to build 1,200 carriages. Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said: “Bombardier has had a fantastic run of success.” – Daily Mirror

Bob Crow may not be to everyone’s taste. The RMT union chief has a fine track record of bringing chaos to commuters. But when he’s not starting a fight, he can also start a debate. Yesterday’s subject? The plight of British manufacturing and whether the Government, for all its “Made in Britain” rhetoric, has anything resembling an industrial policy. A “scandal” was Mr Crow’s pithy assessment of the sobering news from the Canadian train manufacturer Bombardier. It reflected, he claimed, “a policy of industrial vandalism that would wipe out train building in the nation that gave the railways to the world”. Bombardier had just axed 1,400 jobs at its Derby plant after failing to win a contract. Not any contract, either, but one awarded by the British Government to build 1,200 train carriages for the Thameslink commuter service into London. Having assessed the bids, ministers awarded the £1.5 billion prize to a consortium led by Germany’s Siemens. German workers and component manufacturers will now get the work. The upshot is lay-offs at Bombardier, not to mention the wider supply chain – and the risk that Britain’s last remaining train builder could now be heading for the buffers, effectively closing a 200-year-old British industry. Another shipbuilding, perhaps. – Daily Telegraph

Scottish Labour to become a fizzy drink

Scottish Labour is to rebrand itself as the “Irn-Bru of modern politics” with distinctive “made in Scotland” policies that will set it apart from the main UK party, party insiders have revealed. The radical overhaul of the Labour image aims to turn the party into an iconic Scottish brand that will outflank the SNP’s appeal to patriotism. The plans are being considered in a radical review of the party after its devastating defeat at the Scottish elections, led by shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy and MSP Sarah Boyack. In their determination to root the party in Scotland, senior Labour figures have even studied how Scottish products like whisky and Irn-Bru retain a solid Caledonian identity while appealing to a wider market. Their ideas include creating an overall leader for the Scottish Labour Party who will be in charge of MSPs in Edinburgh and Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster for the first time. The Murphy and Boyack review will present its conclusions on reform by the autumn but the first stage of the party overhaul is set to be approved by MSPs and Labour MPs at Westminster this week. It will include a new contract for Labour council candidates in next year’s crucial local government elections, specifying minimum responsibilities for the party and voters. Iain Gray, the current Scottish leader, is under pressure to stay on as a caretaker until full agreement can be reached on a new party structure that will bring Westminster MPs and Holyrood MSPs together into one force. – Daily Record

Nothing indicated the nervous state of the Scottish Labour Party more clearly than its fear that it might lose the Inverclyde by-election. On the face of it, the fear was ridiculous. Unpopular governing parties have sometimes seen comparable majorities melt away at a by-election; opposition ones should have no fear of that. Admittedly, there was a 15 per cent swing to the SNP. So, while Labour feels relief, the SNP can also be happy. So Labour should remember that the wheel turns, the pendulum swings, and that one of the most common of political errors is to suppose that what is happening now will continue to happen and that tomorrow will be just like today. Consequently for Labour the first requirement is to hold its nerve. The party may need to change, but it should think carefully before deciding what changes are needed and not rush to judgment. Iain Gray, savaged by the media, had a poor election, and immediately announced that he would resign the leadership. This was in keeping with what is becoming a convention: that a party leader is allowed only one go. If the SNP had adhered to it, Alex Salmond would have been replaced as leader years ago, perhaps as far back as 1992 when the party’s slogan “Scotland free by ’93” proved so ludicrously wrong. If Labour engages in a Scottishness competition, it is being lured into a trap. The SNP will always win. The only way you can beat the SNP in a Scottishness competition is by becoming more narrowly nationalist, anti-English and anti-European, even racist, denouncing the “social union” that Salmond tells us will survive the end of political union. It would be ridiculous for Labour to take this course. – the Scotsman

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Wednesday News Review

11/05/2011, 06:13:30 AM

A year on

Nick Clegg will risk the wrath of Coalition colleagues by boasting that the Liberal Democrats have blocked a string of flagship Conservative pledges. In a transparent attempt to cheer his battered troops as the Government marks its one-year anniversary, the Deputy Prime Minister will describe the union as one of ‘necessity, not of conviction’. He will reel off a list of Tory manifesto promises – including scrapping the Human Rights Act, replacing Trident in this Parliament, cutting inheritance tax and building more prisons – that have been prevented by the Lib Dems. ‘None of these things has happened,’ the Lib Dem leader will say. ‘They haven’t happened because the Conservatives are not governing as a majority party. They are in a coalition, and coalition requires compromise.’ His remarks reflect intense Lib Dem frustration that they are being punished by voters for ripping up their pledge to scrap university tuition fees, while Tory support has held firm despite their failure to deliver key promises. – Daily Mail

In a speech later today, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg will review the first year of the coalition Government and promise a clear party identity, which he is calling “muscular liberalism”. The Deputy Prime Minister will say he understands the anger over tuition fees, but will again repeat his point that the Lib Dems did not win the election. He will explain that with just 8% of the MPs in the Commons, they cannot deliver on all parts of their manifesto – but in a coalition, neither can the Tories. Mr Clegg believes the Liberal Democrats need to be seen as a distinctive voice within the coalition Government. Mr Clegg claims the Lib Dems are “punching well above our weight” on policy, delivering 75% of their manifesto promises, but he wants his party to be more assertive over the next year. “You will see a strong liberal identity in a strong coalition Government. You might even call it muscular liberalism,” he will say. – Sky News

What a U-turn

Samuel Beckett was once asked why he quit his job as a university lecturer teaching the cream of Irish society. Indeed, the rich and the thick, was his riposte. The Tory minister, David Willetts, was forced into an embarrassing climbdown before the House of Commons yesterday after suggestions that he wanted to introduce a two-tier system in English universities which would apparently favour those with money over those with academic ability. Politicians who fly kites take the risk that they might be struck by lightning. That was what happened yesterday to Mr Willetts. By mid-morning he was back-pedalling furiously on an idea that critics portrayed as a daddy’s chequebook exercise in old-style Tory privilege. In Parliament, Mr Willetts was forced to state categorically that the scheme to allow businesses and charities to fund extra places would not allow rich students unfair access. Public schools, many of which have charitable status, would not be able to buy places, he promised, but he failed to dispel fears that family trust funds and the old boy network would buy preference in a system where almost a third of applicants now fail to secure a university place. – the Independent

It has to go down as one of the fastest U-turns in ­the history of politics… Blundering David Willetts dropped plans to let rich students buy a place at university just four hours after he announced them. The Universities and Science minister had suggested those from well-off families should be treated like foreign applicants who pay up to £28,000 a year for places. But critics immediately slammed the idea, warning it would create the sort of elitist higher education system campaigners have fought for decades to abolish. Mr Willetts tried to justify the ­ludicrous idea at 10am by claiming it would free up more college spots for poorer children as the wealthy would not count as part of the strict quota of students because they would pay their own costs in full. But by 2.05pm, he was forced into a humiliating climbdown after his announcement sparked a furious backlash. David Cameron had angrily slapped down the minister, sparking fresh questions about his volatile temper. The university farce is just the latest in a long line of Coalition U-turns that also includes ­flogging off forests, granting rape-suspect anonymity, Mr Cameron’s vanity photographer and cutting school sport. – Daily Mirror

MPs to review Scottish defeat

Labour leader Ed Miliband has moved to exert his authority over the party in Scotland following the disastrous Holyrood election campaign. At a meeting of Labour MPs, Mr Miliband vowed “never again” to allow them to be cut out of a Scottish campaign. The Labour leader has also ordered a review panel, to be led by former Scottish secretary Jim Murphy MP and Edinburgh MSP Sarah Boyack, to produce an interim report by June on the future for the party. The review will also involve Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, and shadow Scottish secretary Ann McKechin. The move by Mr Miliband suggests a reversal of a leadership campaign promise to allow the Holyrood party to run itself without Westminster interfering. But it comes as the Labour leader has to explain to his own internal critics how the party lost so heavily in Scotland. – the Scotsman

Tributes pour in

Westminster was in mourning at the sudden death of Labour MP David Cairns, aged just 44, from acute pancreatitis. Tributes poured in to Inverclyde MP, a former Catholic priest, whom party leader Ed Miliband said would be “missed beyond measure”. His death leaves Labour facing a by-election battle against the resurgent Scottish Nationalists in what was one of their safest seats. Popular Mr Cairns won in May 2010 with a huge 14,416 majority – but the same area in last week’s Scottish elections saw Labour win by a wafer thin 1.8 per cent, or 500 votes. Mr Cairns leaves behind his partner Dermot, father John and brother Billy. “David will be missed beyond measure as a former minister, as an MP, as a friend and a colleague by many people,” said Mr Miliband. Former prime minister Tony Blair added: “David was, quite simply, a good man, with time for everyone and a wonderful sense of humour, which made him a delight to be around.” To enable him to enter the Commons,Parliament had to reverse a law dating back to the 19th century which banned former Catholic priests from taking up a seat. – Evening Standard

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