Did we see a defining moment in Scottish political history last week? Was Johann Lamont’s “something for nothing” tirade at the SNP the final revelation of what so many of us thought we knew – that the Scottish Labour Party is finally disintegrating under a leader who is out of touch with opinion in her own party and the public generally?
Almost a week on, I’m still gobsmacked at the crass stupidity, if nothing else, of her speech and follow-up tirade in parliament. She had many good and serious points to make, but when a Scottish Labour leader can seriously suggest that the system of universal benefits should be examined, presumably with a view to ending it, then she has lost the plot.
A columnist in The Guardian, traditional supporter of Labour, was moved to write of the Scottish leader’s speech that “the point at which the [party’s] vicious circle becomes a death spiral has just moved much closer”.
Now I am absolutely sure that in real life and up close and personal, Lamont is a lovely lady, and she no doubt just forgot when she was challenging the Sturgeons in parliament on why they should get universal benefits with their six-figure income that as Mrs Archie Graham, she gets paid by the taxpayer and so does her Glasgow Labour councillor husband. You might say that slipped her mind, for she clearly was not in possession of her marbles when she wrote that speech.
Some have called it brave. Well, there are two types of courage – that of a person who, knowing all the pain and anguish they will face, goes ahead with his or her action, believing it to be right. And then there’s the courage that comes from having no imagination, little brainpower and a commitment to “bravery” that derives from ignorance, or hatred for the opposition.
Sadly, I believe Lamont is in the latter category.
Like not a few Labour members, she has become so consumed with hatred of the SNP, our success and electability, that she has forgotten why my party so overwhelmingly won the election – because we work for Scotland and don’t take orders from party HQ in London, and because we promoted popular policies that struck a chord with Scots. And let’s be honest here, some of the SNP’s policies were in accordance with Labour ideals of old.
So here’s a history lesson for Lamont from a former Labour supporter. The reason why we have universal benefits is largely due to the brave decisions of past Labour governments such as that of Clement Attlee in the 1940s acting on the recommendations of William Beveridge – the Liberal whose legacy has been so trashed by Nick Clegg, Willie Rennie and co. Those universal benefits were so popular that only Maggie “the milk snatcher” Thatcher of subsequent Tory leaders did away with any.
They were made universal back then to avoid the means test, two words which then provoked panic and fury among working people, regardless of their status. So is that what Lamont wants? To bring back the means test for all universal benefits?
I’d love to say exactly what her stance is on that issue of means testing, but yet again we got no firm answers from the Labour leader, just the establishment of yet another policy think tank and “commission”. How so very New Labour, how so very ho-hum.
She accused John Swinney of being George Osborne in a kilt – which must make her Tony Blair in a skirt, only without the people skills, good looks and charisma.
Perceptions are everything in modern politics, and more and more Johann Lamont comes across as a mean and nasty piece of work, for all the world resembling a tough wee Glasgow wifie hanging out of a tenement window haranguing the weans for playing football in the street.
She can be forgiven her poor oratory and unfortunate manner, but not the actual content of what she says, and those words last week will come back to haunt her forever.
She actually said: “You cannot hide a dole queue behind a saltire.” What a staggering insult to the Scottish Government and all right-minded Scots. No-one in this country, and certainly no SNP member, is suggesting that our chronic unemployment can be obscured by flag-waving. On the contrary, we want people to see what decades of Tory, Labour and coalition rule has done to our economy and vote accordingly in the referendum.
Last week’s speech was, I believe, a watershed moment in her career. For she outed herself as a total Blairite, and that is not the sort of creature that Scottish Labour needs or wants.
It’s not even as if she can blame the party’s professional head of communications – he’s been suspended. Oh, and the Scottish Labour general secretary is going, too. Seems to have problems with keeping her troops, does Lamont. Wonder why?
And when you have died-in-the-wool Tories like fellow columnist Brian Monteith supporting her, then you have to ask what kind of Labour leader is she?
Still, the last thing we in the SNP want is for Lamont to resign. On the contrary, such a woman of principle and vision should immediately be promoted to head the campaign to keep the Union.
Two years of Lamontable utterings should be quite enough to secure independence.