Surely the most striking thing about Labour MSP Neil Findlay’s recently published “Socialism and Hope – A Journey Through Turbulent Times” is the fact that it almost manages to avoid using the same insult twice.
Pro-independence campaigner Robin McAlpine “talks utter bolloks, this guy is completely nuggets”. Scottish Resistance leader Sean Clerkin is “mad as a hatter and a serial abuser of Labour politicians.” Cat Boyd of the “so-called Radical Independence Campaign” is someone who “fancies herself as some sort of left superstar”.
Tommy Sheridan is “an attention-seeker extraordinaire”. Stuart Campbell, proprietor of the Wings over Scotland website, is “a vile blogger, a cretin”. And Scottish Greens leader Patrick Harvie is “often too sanctimonious and pious for his own good.”
Former SNP MSP Margaret Burgess “must be one of the worst Ministers in the history of devolution, someone clearly out of her depth.” SNP councillor Greg McCarra is “one of the most patronising people you are ever likely to meet.”
Former Labour MSP Jim Devine “has lost the plot”. Labour councillor Alex Gallacher and former Labour MSP Alan Wilson are “seriously deluded, they are so far out of touch it frightens me.”
Former Labour MP Ann McKechin is “to the right of George Osborne on taxation.” 2016 Labour Party leadership contender Rachel Reeves “will go down like a bag of vomit [when she visits Scotland], if indeed anyone knows who she is.”
Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale is “being over-promoted too early by certain people in the party” and “tries to come across as the friendly, smiley girl next door.”
Former Labour MP Thomas Docherty is “awful, how he became a Labour MP is beyond belief, I’ve never heard our MPs say a good word about him.” He is “the most right-wing Labour MP in Scotland – no-one knows why he joined the Labour Party. Most of the Scottish Labour MPs think he is an arse and really can’t be bothered with him.”
Former Scottish Labour General Secretary Ian Price “has the charisma of a lump of concrete.” (A hundred pages later, however, he is someone who “has all the charisma of a breeze block”. It is unclear whether this represents a gain or a loss on the non-charisma scale.)
Martin Sime, head of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, “does whatever the Scottish Government asks.” The Herald newspaper is “really just an in-house SNP journal”. And former Scottish Labour Party special adviser John McTernan is “a serial loser, the world’s worst political strategist.”
Former Scottish Labour Party leader Jim Murphy’s decision to insert a “patriot clause” into the party’s constitution seems to have particularly provoked the author’s ire:
“Pass the sick bucket! This is the guy who toured the country shouting ‘Better Together’, and now he’s screaming ‘hoots mon, we’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns and there’s a moose loose about the hoose, while wearing a Scotland top and drinking Irn Bru! It is utter, utter bolloks.”
Only in turning his attention to pompous gits and vomiting pigs does the author’s distinctive literary style collapse into repetition.
Former SNP MSP Chic Brodie “is a pompous git, and even his own side dislike him”. Former Labour MEP Hugh Kerr is likewise “a pompous git, full of his own self-importance”.
Former Labour MP Margaret Curran has “some brass neck” and her lack of sincerity is “enough to make a pig vomit”. The standing ovation given to Hilary Benn MP by Tory MPs after a speech backing military intervention in Syria is likewise “enough to make a pig vomit”.
There are a lot of “formers” – former Labour MSPs, former Labour MPs and former Labour MEPs – in the book because of the period it covers.
Apart from a brief introductory autobiographical chapter, plus two concluding chapters outlining events of the past two years, the bulk of the book covers the period between January of 2014 and Jim Murphy’s resignation as Scottish Labour leader in May/June of 2015:
The 2014 Scottish independence referendum campaign; the ousting of Johann Lamont as Scottish Labour leader; her replacement by Jim Murphy; his brief but disastrous interregnum; and Scottish Labour’s debacle in the 2015 general election.
These were the years which “have taken us from a position of power to a point where people were questioning our continued relevance.” They were the years which resulted in “an existential crisis enough to take even the greatest optimist to the edge of despair.”
Written by someone centrally involved in the Scottish Labour left, and who stood against Murphy for leader of Scottish Labour in late 2014, the book provides an inside story of the political linkage which underpinned that chain of events.
Scottish Labour largely failed to offer a distinctly Labour case for a ‘No’ vote in 2014. Instead, its leadership threw its lot in with the Tories in the Better Together campaign. Jim Murphy was promoted as the public face of that campaign in preparation for an eventual palace coup.
Assisted, if that is the correct word, by John McTernan, Murphy’s ‘strategy’ to beat the SNP consisted of making policy on the hoof, meaningless and counter-productive political stunts (the “patriot clause”), authoritarianism, and a Blairite obsession with focus groups.
The inevitable disaster struck in May of 2015, when Scottish Labour lost all but one of its 41 Scottish MPs. A similar disaster, albeit on a relatively ‘smaller’ scale, struck again in the Holyrood elections of 2016, when Scottish Labour lost 13 seats and finished third behind the Tories.
It was Scottish Labour’s disastrous performance in these two elections, rooted in the earlier disastrous decision to collaborate with the Tories in Better Together, which produced the horde of “formers” which populates book.
Most of the book is made up of Neil Findlay’s diary entries for this period. This certainly helps provide a feel for the unfolding disaster and the wilful deafness of the Labour right to warnings of the impending debacle.
But it does so at the expense of political reflection and analysis.
Thus, Neil Findlay writes: “We now have to ensure we organise the left and make it an organisation with much broader appeal than just the Campaign for Socialism.” But there is no discussion of what the form and the political basis of such an organisation might be.
Momentum receives a passing mention as “much criticised and maligned”, but with no assessment of the accuracy of the criticisms levelled at it. The Scottish sources of this criticism and maligning are also left unidentified.
And in his diary entry of 22nd May 2014 he writes: “I really am and always have been a fierce critic of the EU. … I will probably vote to leave if there is a referendum in 2015 or 2016.” But there is no explanation of his subsequent decision to vote remain.
This is all the more frustrating in the light of the book’s repeated product placements for the rabidly pro-Brexit and anti-freedom-of-movement-of-labour Morning Star:
“Outside, the ultra-left groups are selling newspapers. I bought a Morning Star and chatted with friends. … Have been privileged (sic) to speak at several Morning Star conferences. John Foster and the CP folk are great. …
Attended a Morning Star fringe meeting. … The Morning Star used to be called the Daily Worker and is the paper of the Communist Party. It has been going since 1930 and is the world’s only English-language socialist daily.
It is great for getting an alternative view of the world and covers the Labour movement brilliantly. I get a copy delivered to my parliamentary office every day.”
“An alternative view of the world” is certainly one way of describing the Morning Star and its political predecessor. Rather in the same way that Stalin’s “History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union“ provided an “alternative view” of the Russian Revolution and its leaders.
At first sight, Neil Findlay’s “Journey Through Turbulent Times” appears to reach the safety of dry land in the form of Jeremy Corbyn’s election and re-election as Labour Party leader: “Make no mistake, this was a huge moment in the history of the Labour Party.”
But the respite proved to be of short duration.
A snap general election was called in the spring of 2017, followed two months later by the resignation of Kezia Dugdale as Scottish Labour leader: “As this book goes to print, we enter into another Scottish Labour leadership election.”
And so, the reader leaves the book’s author just as a new chapter of his political Odyssey commences: a journey through the turbulent waters of the third Scottish Labour leadership contest in as many years.
Will Scottish Labour’s Odysseus ever reach the socialist Ithaca? Only time, and a volume two, will tell.