Do you know, Johann Lamont might just make a decent fist of this Scottish Labour leadership malarkey, if recent signs are anything to go by.
In this week’s First Minister’s Questions, she moved the political discourse on to solid territory for her. She had a few well-sighted barbs too: “As ever, the First Minister focuses on other people’s responsibilities and not his own. Never mind the budget at UK level—his own budget for jobs and growth could be done under the Trade Descriptions Act.”…. “To coin a phrase, when will the very man who launched a consultation document in a castle put people before prestige?” And my favourite – and I suspect one we will hear again – “The First Minister talks about his new Minister for Youth Employment. That is one job for one woman, but what about the other 399 women who are losing their job every day under the SNP Government?”
This is bread and butter politics to the likes of Lamont; it is far more discomfiting for the First Minister. Despite the best efforts of the Scottish Government to focus on tackling unemployment, and youth unemployment in particular, the bad news keeps on coming. Unemployment among young people and women is likely to rise for a while yet. The reasons for this are complex and more properly rest with UK Government austerity measures and its inaction on creating growth. But it is easy for Labour to join the dots and point the finger at the Scottish Government and its failings, whether real or imagined. Whether folk will follow the line of thinking and also begin to doubt remains to be seen.
Focusing on women and women’s needs and issues in the labour market currently is a good place for Labour to be. Johann Lamont with her political influences and traditions is on the political equivalent of a comfy sofa, the First Minister, meanwhile, is on a shoogly three-legged stool. The SNP has always enjoyed an uneasy relationship with women voters – recent polls on referendum voting intentions show how much work the party has to do to capture this vote. As many point out, the women’s vote is not homogenous but across all the age groups, backgrounds and other demographic characteristics, the inescapable conclusion is that support for the SNP and independence among women lags far behind men.
The party has always struggled to engage women effectively on its vision and aspirations. The same applies across a whole host of policy areas, including economic and employment strategy. Women as a key target group in the labour market are rarely mentioned; the disproportionate impact of public sector cuts – something which Lamont honed in on – appears to have passed the party by; few of its big hitters, the First Minister especially, ever seem comfortable when talking about policy and issues that strike a chord with women. Lamont appears to have found this niche and if she has any sense, will continue to try to exploit it.
Moreover, despite being somewhat sidelined in recent weeks by Alistair Darling’s dazzling displays on the independence referendum, Johann Lamont is starting to forge a bit of a convincing and consistent line on the issue. It still falls far short of credible, of course, but again the focus has been on trying to paint the First Minister into a corner, by calling for clarity on the question and accusing him of being a feartie by not having the referendum sooner. It’s playground stuff but again, it keeps the doubters doubting and talks about the process in language people can understand.
Johann Lamont’s recent performance, however, is but one small glimmer of hope for Scottish Labour. And ahead of the local government elections in May, any bounce such activity might create is probably a dead cat one. Elsewhere, the signs are grim.
Eric Joyce clearly has some serious troubles in his life and in any other profession, he would be allowed to grieve privately. His meltdown in the public domain will simply reinforce for many that Scottish Labour consists of a ragbag of unfit to govern types. It should not be, but that is how it is. The stunt in Stirling by Labour and the Tories in voting down a competent SNP minority administration’s budget and replacing it with one that not only cut the council tax but in doing so, threatened the living wage and breakfast clubs will get its reward at the ballot box. Expect to see them hammered
In other Scottish Parliamentary business this week, Labour with a now rare morning leading the debate thanks to parliamentary arithmetic, decided to focus on transport issues. Again.
“In our last Labour Party debate, we discussed the impact of Scottish Government policies on bus passengers. Today, we return to two more transport issues that are of crucial importance. In our second debate today, we will focus on support for ferry services, but in this debate, we will discuss the need to provide the rail services that Scotland requires and, specifically, the need to ensure that railway stations that perform a crucial role in their communities are not closed.”
And that is about as much as you need to know. Nothing debates on nothing very much that amount to nothing at all. Add into the mix the excoriatingly piss poor performance over the Scottish Budget, where Ken Macintosh managed to confuse even himself, never mind the listener, when interviewed about it the day after by Radio Scotland. It all serves to show just how far the party still has to travel to get its head around the scale of its defeat last May. Worst of all, it demonstrates a total lack of understanding of how to find the path to recovery, never mind get on it.
No, the party has further to fall and ironically, it will be the proportional voting system of STV in the local government elections which will save Scottish Labour from annihilation. Just.