Lamont’s vision of real, Scottish and better Labour

I’m not a big fan of the Blairite way of delivering a speech.  All short phrases, big pauses and hand gestures.  It’s phoney and folk see through it.  Ed Miliband has bought it and you can see him straining his sinews with every earnest soundbite and tortured piece of syntax.  Yeuch.

But Johann Lamont spoke so fast, she scarcely paused to draw breath, never mind to allow some “dear leader” style applause.  Nerves I suppose, but it is also who she is.  That is brave, setting out your stall as take me as you find me, yet it is also foolhardy.  There were some big themes and interesting ideas in her speech that were buried by the staccato pace of delivery.  Shame.

Still, these things can be improved upon.  As can the speeches themselves.  Far too much content, far too much detail. he political hacks were suggesting it was really Paul Sinclair’s speech.  If so, get someone else in, Johann.  Maybe ask Douglas Alexander for advice:  his are crafted well these days.

The problem with Johann’s first leader’s speech is that it was crammed full of half-gestated ideas.  And there was a big chunk about internal machinations to make Scottish Labour “better” that should have been left out and made in a separate announcement.

Worst of all was the fixation on Alex Salmond (even the SNP was reduced to a bit-part player).  If internationalism is Labour’s lodestar, then Salmond appears to be Johann’s touchstone. No leader should allow her or himself to be defined by her opposite number to this degree:  the speech was peppered with mentions of him and every time a positive idea was promoted, it was quickly dragged back into the SNP’s orbit.  I found myself tutting in annoyance in the end, so if it did that to me….

But at least there is evidence of a pulse, that there is some thinking going on about how to articulate a pro-Union case.  The bit that worked in particular was where she likened the SNP’s case for independence to a pro-Union case:  “if even the SNP acknowledge that Scotland needs the UK for a stable currency, a growing energy market and to keep our defence industries why would we contemplate leaving it?

The idea of a test for powers – “our test is different to the nationalists. Our test is what is in the best interests of the people of Scotland” – is also interesting and expect to see it developed and used more in the months ahead.  “I will not be seduced into the place where which powers you demand is a test of political virility. Where calling for corporation tax to be devolved somehow makes you harder, or more Scottish, or even more progressive.”

What constitutes progressive is another battlefield.  Lamont had a fair old pop at the SNP’s view of progressive: “in Alex Salmond’s progressive Scotland, he took a 2 per cent cut from the Tories, doubled it and handed it to Scotland’s councils. We are seeing the consequences of these decisions in our communities every day.”  This was where Johann Lamont felt most at home in questioning what she sees as unfairness and inequality, delving deep into conventional Labour mores.

Is it fair that an elderly person has his care visits – possibly his only contact with the outside world – squeezed into 15 minute windows because their care worker is overstretched?… Is it right that in Fife, where 25 per cent of school leavers go to Adam Smith and Carnegie Colleges and 2.5 per cent go to St Andrews University, it is college funding that is attacked?… Is it acceptable that families are trapped in sub-standard or inappropriate homes because we cannot meet the shortfall in housing demand?”

Lamont is definitely more comfortable on this territory than Salmond is, in talking about small and specific issues which are real and tangible to folk.  This is the manifestation of what Lamont sees as real Labour, though it did not impress Alex Massie, who likened the economics of her premise to Dinosaur Labour.  The idea of redistribution of wealth might be a little old-school but that doesn’t make it obsolete.  And Lamont’s positing of a question around progression and redistribution has potential mileage:  “is it in the interests of Scotland to enter into tax competition with London, or as someone who has a progressive vision for Scotland, is it better to have a unified tax policy which redistributes wealth to where it is needed most? What matters most in this is not theories of the state, but what these powers do for people.”

The premise that was tested in this speech, that not only is being in the United Kingdom good for Scotland but that Scotland is good for the United Kingdom is likely to feature in Scottish Labour’s referendum campaign – and if they play it right, it could elicit a shrill response from the SNP.  As could Lamont’s gallus adoption and promotion of Scottish credentials. “I will wear the saltire with pride, but I won’t bind it around my eyes so I cannot see the injustice in our country” featured at the top of her speech and near its climax, she proclaimed that she expresses her patriotism, “not in a separate Scotland but a better Scotland“.

All in all, this wasn’t a great speech but it was a decent effort, especially for a first time leader not particularly comfortable with grandiose speech-making.

It tested out a lot of ideas, particularly around the positive case for the Union.  Reaction to these internally and externally will determine whether these ideas become part of the full-blown narrative.  It positioned Johann Lamont in a very different place from Alex Salmond in terms of pitch and approach – small and specific as opposed to big and generic.  No gimmicks, no flummery and certainly no cheesy anthem at the end.

And it started the long haul of redefining Labour. We got a glimmer of what real – not old, not new – Labour under Lamont will look like.  There was a huge dollop of Scottish Labour.  And we got a sense of Lamont’s purpose in the coming years:

We will re-build our party, re-connect with our country, win and put social justice and fairness at the top of the agenda again. And this time we will do it better than before.

Before all that, of course, there’s a referendum to defeat.






17 thoughts on “Lamont’s vision of real, Scottish and better Labour

  1. Lamont said “The question is not what powers should Scotland claw back, but which powers should we share.”

    Personally I believe it’s a cringing embarrassment that someone who wants people to elect her as the First Minister of Scotland doesn’t think she’s fit to handle all the powers of government.

    The other issue with Labour is that they would rather see a Tory government in Westminster able to wreck Scotland than (possibly) have a Labour government in an independent Scotland. She also used the pejorative term “separation” instead of independence which I find insulting, can anyone reading this comment tell me as an grown adult when you left home for the first time did you “separate” yourself from your friends and family or did you gain independence to live your life as you see fit?

  2. First time out as leader this may have been, but La Lamont has long been part of the bunch that brought Scottish Labour to its present sorry pass. While this was a competent speech, delivered competently, this is 2012, not 2002 when that would have been enough.

    Full of venom for Salmond and Enid-Blyton-level declarations about caring Labour vs nasty nats, it made no proposals how stock promises to care could be funded, lacked anything that defined a Scotland distinct from the blighted wastelands her party has lorded it over for decades and—crucially—how being in the union would avoid another half-century of relative decline that was cushioned only by Scotland’s oil and Canary Wharf’s untrammelled greed.

  3. Only 7 references to the SNP but 19 references to Alex Salmond.

    Johann Lamont is indulging in personal politics.

    It is clear she is appealing to her Labour audience but she has yet to articulate a strategic vision for Scotland nor policy aims and goals of the Labour party.

    However we do know a few things. Johann Lamont does support Devo-Minus, the handing back of powers to Westminster. She does not support fiscal powers for the Scottish Parliament. She supports tution fees, and she does support the retention of Trident in Scotland. That represents the views of Westminster not the majority of Scots.

    Finally when Johann Lamont moves away from being the character of a concerned and angry parent-come-teacher she struggles. The problem is that leadership is much more than being a projected stereotype.

  4. Labour just do not understand Scottish nationalism, that’s all there is to it. You can see it with such phrases as “not in a separate Scotland but a better Scotland”. Well, I have news for you Ms Lamont – I ALSO want a better Scotland. But you can only get that with a government in Edinburgh, making decisions in the best interests of Scotland. You just cannot get it with a UK government, which has to take more than 8.4% of the population into account.

    I’m rather fed up of people like Lamont effectively saying that I, as a nationalist, do not care about making Scotland better, because all I’m really interested in is putting up borders around Scotland for some inexplicable reason. Does she realise she is insulting many people with such phrases?

    Kenny Farquharson highlighted her bit about the Forth Road bridge contracts going to Poles, Chinese etc. This is another example of Labour completely misunderstanding Scottish nationalism. Scottish nationalism is built on nationhood, not nationality. We want a better Scotland for the people who live here – we don’t care where they came from originally. This bridge contract thingy is effectively “Scottish jobs for Scottish people”, which is remarkably similar to Gordon Brown’s “British jobs for British workers” policy when he was trying to combat the BNP’s march into Labour territory.

    The fact they think this borderline racist/xenophobic line of argument will resonate with potential independence voters tells you all you need to know about what Labour thinks nationalism is all about. They don’t understand it, and they never will. You can’t take a policy that was used to dilute support for the BNP and use it to dilute support for the SNP, no matter how many times Labour activists use slurs like “Scottish Nazi Party” or compare Salmond to Mugabe, Hitler, Milosevic or Mussolini.

    Scottish nationalism is far more complex than Labour will ever understand, because they don’t have the intellectual capacity to understand it. Otherwise, they would understand there is more to social democracy than saying “tax cut bad, tax rise good”.

  5. Lamont say’s “we need to stop apologising.” A start would be a good thing.

    Apologies required for:

    1) Her own lies in Holyrood for bringing a false rape case to the chamber.
    2) The institutionalised culture of bullying within Labour in Glasgow.
    3) Her failure to act on the Eric Joyce situation, letting Milliband step undermine her “Scottish” Labour claim.
    4) The second time Jackie (health) Bailey has been caught lying about the NHS, the latest one being patients sharing blankets? The last one was infection rate figures being used from 2005 when Labour was in power.

    What is it with Labour and lies? No wonder the Caird Hall was nearly empty for this joke of a conference. Labour are now an embarrassment to Scotland. Like a boil on your nose.

  6. If we take a step back the fact that the leader of the Labour Party can say “Our test is what is in the best interests of the people of Scotland” that is actually huge progress, from the point of view of someone like me i.e. a nationalist. Because it is a nationalist statement.

    It does slightly undermine the “all in it together” angle though. I can’t see a way to reconcile those two arguments,

    In a sense what I see happening under all the very genuine loathing that Labour has for the SNP is still an adoption of SNP thinking. Yes she may not measure things in tartan but if she is looking at every issue in terms of what is in the best interests of the people of Scotland – not the UK, not people belonging to a certain class or voting a certain way, but the whole nation of Scotland – she is actually thinking the same way the SNP does.

  7. I think, Burd, that you want to see in today’s speech, and in Johann Lamont herself, a return to genuine Labour values that might challenge the SNP’s default status as the most left-wing party in Scotland. That’s a hope I share with you, in some respects, particularly on the taxation issues that she raised in her speech today.

    But it is only a hope. However much power Johann Lamont has been given to reshape her party north of the border, most of the more left-wing suggestions she throws out won’t make it past Gretna. The gerrymandered Middle England swing seats won’t vote for anything with the word “redistribution” in it. The challenge that Scottish Labour are really facing is rooted in the fact they won’t be able to fight on a UK Labour platform and seriously challenge the SNP, while they can’t be seen to abandon it for fear of undermining Miliband’s attempts at getting back into power.

    They’re fighting on too many fronts, which makes talk of “redistribution” and “progressive taxation” hard to believe as real ambitions. As you say, I’d be amazed if Lamont herself believes half the stuff she said today. She knows, as Ian Smart and others have pointed out, that the party doesn’t really believe it has to change; it just thinks it needs to expose the SNP as the fraudsters they are to have the electorate stampeding back to them, and then all will be right with the world.

  8. Micturation into a Force 8!
    Why can’t you see that as long as they are tied to Westminster they have to appeal to Middle England and they cant be different!
    In an independent country you might just get the real Labour Party back???????

    • yep that thought did cross my mind listening to Johann’s speech. Don’t think she believed half of what she was saying by the by. Sighs

  9. My my!

    It was quite a challenge for Labour in Scotland to find a less able leader than Wendy Alexander and Iain Gray, but by Jove! I think they’ve achieved it!

    • At least Wendy didn’t have the embarrassment of a half empty hall, a stark reminder of how far the once dominant Labour party have fallen.

      • indeed, it was pretty poor really.

      • Well, when I was sat in the hall listening to her speech it was standing room only. Don’t know which speech you were watching.

        Oh and dont try the “bussed in people from northern England” line some nationalists seem to be trying out.

  10. Lamont flagged up the same old mantras concerning poverty & inequality that were meat and drink to the Comrades back in the 70’s – and we now know via the McCrone Report that ‘Scottish’ Labour preferred Thatcher & London rule to an independent Scotland able to really address the poverty & despair arising from successive Tory/Labour governments.
    As for cuts, Lamont will have no credibility until she fesses up to the mess that London Labour made of the economy & of the cuts planned by Darling & Balls. Of course, she then needs to explain why Scotland should be left powerless in the face of these very cuts.
    Labour are at it and the public know it.

    • There’s one big difference from the 70s and 80s, and that’s Trident and the rest of the warfare state. Back then Labour wanted to disarm – which was a difficult policy to sell during the Cold War. Now – and the Cold War over for twenty years and even Tom Clancy and the like struggling to find plausible bogey men – they want to “punch above our weight”. There’s one really obvious place to find money for education, tax cuts, welfare and the rest, but Labour have placed defence spending on the top shelf so that it’s well out of the public’s view.

    • “As for cuts, Lamont will have no credibility until she fesses up to the mess that London Labour made of the economy & of the cuts planned by Darling & Balls.”

      Why should she? Lamont was nowhere near the scene of the crime. I don’t even think she was in any of McConnell’s cabinet’s – and I don’t suppose she had a voice as an opposition MSP.

      No, the people to do the appologising should be Brown and Balls – the “Light Touch regulation” duo who created the conditions that led to most finacial institutions addiction to greed.

      Interesting you bring up Darling as both main parties went to extrordianry lengths to not divulge their plans for cuts post election. The biggest stushie was over an increase in NI rates – small beer compared to the actions perpetrated since.

      • Lamont was very much at the scene of the crime as Deputy to Iain Gray – the substantive point is that Lamont can’t get away with deploring cuts which her own party were gearing up to introduce post election. Utter hypocrisy.

        Add to the mix the incredible demands from SLAB for spending on anything that will garner a positive headline – without saying what programmes and budgets would need to be cut in order to pay for the wish list – and the reasons for Labour’s denouement are plain to see.

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