Thursday 27 September 2012

Lamont's suicide note

Johann Lamont - unprincipled
It was perhaps predictable that, after the initial shock of Lamont's precipitous lurch to the right, it wouldn't be long before the unionist media dutifully fell into line to protect "one of their own". The line now is to portray Lamont's speech as an utterly reasonable questioning of assumptions about universal benefits rather than a dramatic abandonment of social democracy by the "Scottish" Labour leadership.

Across the unionist media today, even as "Scottish" Labour furiously back-pedals on virtually every one of Lamont's pronouncements, we are being urged to read less into her statements rather than more. Which must have taken a major effort on the part of journalists more accustomed to seeking the most sensational interpretation possible - even at the cost of an honest and accurate representation of what has been said.

If you are inclined towards an interesting and possibly illuminating thought exercise, imagine for a moment that it was not Lamont but Salmond who had spoken about universal benefits and welfare in the terms used by Lamont and described Scotland as a "something for nothing country". Would The Record, The Scotsman and others today be praising his "pragmatism"? Or would they be savaging him for an embarrassing and unforgivable U-turn on basic principles. I think we all know the answer to that. Although not all will be honest enough to admit it.

Let us not be fooled by the platitudes offered by those who will support anyone who opposes the SNP no matter how obscene their politics. Let us not be taken in by the mealy-mouthed weasel words of those who will rationalise absolutely any proposition, no matter how politically inept and economically illiterate, in the name of preserving the British state. Let us be clear about what Lamont is actually saying.

She is most emphatically NOT exhorting us to find ways of maintaining the institutions and structures which, for those of us with a social conscience, define our society. No! She is instead placing herself and her party firmly in the camp of those who, for wholly ideological reasons, are determined to eradicate those institutions and structures. Not because they are "unaffordable" or "unsustainable", but because they represent a social ethos that is anathema to them. An ethos of mutuality and interdependence. An ethos of common interest and cooperative effort.

An ethos which openly challenges a world-view in which people are mere production/consumption units in the service of an economic imperative elevated to the status of fundamentalist religious dogma.

I don't believe for one moment that Johann Lamont subscribes to this world-view. Which makes her betrayal of the social democratic ethos even worse. Because it means her betrayal is not motivated by any kind of principle - however misguided. It means her reasons are much more petty and partisan. Calculated entirely on the basis of personal and party interest. And all the more despicable for that.

But, for all the efforts of others in "Scottish" Labour to distance themselves from her (e.g. Kezia Dugdale on bus passes) Lamont is not in any sense isolated. Her speech yesterday was not the aberrant product of a politician clearly out of her depth and flailing around wildly in a her attempts to appear relevant. That speech was the outcome of a Labour policy-making process which at no point asks what is best for Scotland's people. It was the outcome of a process that is exclusively and obsessively focused on attacking the SNP at whatever cost in terms of the already ailing credibility of "Scottish" labour and its leadership.

That speech was probably Lamont's political suicide note. Although it could be a slow, lingering death the entertainment value of which will rapidly fade as it gets to be just embarrassing and ugly. But whoever picks up the poisoned chalice in her stead will be destined for the same fate unless "Scottish" Labour itself gets over its paralysing resentment of the SNP. Frankly, I don't think they are capable. Which may be good news for the SNP, but perhaps not so great for Scottish politics.
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