At the risk of inciting cries of “haud the front page”, allow me to announce that the burd has changed her mind. Rather, the burd has been persuaded by articulate and eloquent argument made elsewhere, that she got it wrong.
First, it was the comments from Jo in relation to the statement in this blogpost concerning Eric Joyce. Jo, to put it mildly, was raging with me but still managed to string a cogent sentence or three together. Then, there was Lesley Riddoch’s excellent article on the subject matter and Johann Lamont’s woeful leadership on the issue. Leadership or more pertinently, lack thereof.
Silence has been the order of the day, which brings into sharp relief my rather premature declaration of promising signs from Scottish Labour’s putative leader.
The episode also demonstrates two things. That the Scottish Labour leader is not really mistress of all she surveys in her land and that the rules on recall of MPs need changed, urgently.
Johann Lamont appears to have no locus on matters pertaining to Westminster and the conduct of MPs. Labour has already removed the whip from Mr Joyce which is fair enough, but it seems clear that the Scottish Labour leader had nothing to do with that decision. It was made by Ed Miliband. Even if that is the right and proper thing to do – and it probably is – they could have at least made it look like Johann had summat to do with it. She could have made lots of appropriate sounding noises and shown that she was in charge of all things Scottish and Labour. It would appear, either that the new status of the Scottish Labour leader got forgotten in the rush to act, or Johann Lamont was happy to avoid the situation.
Whichever, or whatever if the reason for her being absent without leave on this occasion was because she was flossing her teeth, in one swift move, her authority and credibility has been undermined. And she has made no attempt to try and claw back lost ground. Leaders are expected to lead or at least, give the impression that they lead. Johann Lamont, on this one, failed on both counts.
Despite local folk and Labour worthies lining up in an orderly fashion to furnish the Sunday papers with quotes stating that Joyce must go, the people have no power in this matter. Eric Joyce is an MP and as an elected representative, the only person who can remove him is himself, until or unless he gets a suitably hefty conviction for the bar-room brawl.
And despite promising to introduce recall powers in legislation, the Coalition Government hasn’t quite got round to it yet. A draft bill was published in December which would enable the recall of an MP imprisoned for less than 12 months or if the House of Commons determines to recall an MP, after 10% of the registered electorate of a constituency signs a petition seeking one. Given the reaction to Eric Joyce’s misdemeanours last week, such a petition would seem pretty easy to fill, if only the good folk of Falkirk had the chance.
So we are left with Eric Joyce doing the honourable thing and that amounts to the Labour party, whichever bit of it wants to take charge, making him do the honourable thing. If the party was wishing to demonstrate that it has learned its lessons, it would act tout de suite and not wait for the outcome of justice. The people of Falkirk deserve better.
But even if we have to wait a while, a by-election there shall be. So who might be Labour’s chosen one? It’s probably far too early to tell, but when has that ever stopped me having a punt?
Ian Smart was being poked and prodded on Twitter to declare his intentions. Naturally he said no. I mean, who’d declare an interest at this stage: Mr Smart is far too experienced an activist to make such an elementary mistake. He says no, he might well mean yes when the time comes. I’d like to think he’d have a shout but then maybe the issue is that it would mean hauling up and down to London every week. I’m not sure I’d want that either.
Someone who was pretty keen out of the traps was John Mackay, erstwhile “not very good former Labour candidate”. That’s the problem with Twitter: everyone can see your tweets. So he has acknowledged an interest in pursuing an opportunity to stand and would definitely be one to watch. Whether or not he has the hinterland is debatable: sadly, at a time when Labour should be looking to introduce bright young things into its mix, there is bound to be a time-served angle to the decision. There usually is.
Which is where the former MSPs come in: bound to be at least one whose name gathers a few mentions. Whether or not he or she will actually mount a challenge for the seat is a moot point. Speculation is about getting enough runners and riders in the column inches to make it seem like a hot contest, whether or not it actually is.
It would be nice to think that a woman might make an appearance at some point, though none of the parties in Scotland are renowned for their feminine side when it comes to choosing by-election candidates. There’s plenty former women MSPs who might fancy it, though the ones with a connection to the Falkirk area are bound to wonder if they can be bothered. When a man usually wins such internal contests after all.
Then there are the local worthies. The time-served councillor who often wins the day, if not the contest. I scanned comments carefully to see if there were any obvious contenders but alas not. Which is not to say one or other would not fancy their chances, especially when many of the Falkirk wards are on a shoogly peg courtesy of continuing party doldrums and a rampant SNP in the polls.
So who would I like to see get it? If Mr Smart puts his hat in the ring, my heart would definitely will him on. A more thoroughly decent guy in Scottish politics would be hard to find. He’s served his party loyally and deserves reward for that; more importantly, he’d make a good MP. My head would point at the likes of John Mackay. Scottish politics needs new talent and he comes from a decidedly different Labour tradition which would be welcome in the central belt. Besides he’s done things other than politics (though that is bound to disqualify him).
But the smart money should probably be on a local, never heard of councillor, with years of experience, a biddable presence and a risible media personality. His kind – and they nearly always are male – always win through in the end.
And while the people of Falkirk deserve better than Eric Joyce, it’s doubtful they’ll get it from Labour anytime soon.