Friday, 7 August 2009

Every silver lining has a cloud

Wendy Alexander, who was once the next First Minister, has taken her famed intellect out for another turn around the block. The Paisley Daily Express has reported that Paisley got £1.8 million of town centre regeneration money. The council leader (Derek Mackay) was delighted with the money - but you might have expected that from an SNP councillor. His welcome was echoed, though, by the depute leader of the Labour group on the council, Jackie Green, who said
“We very much supported the application for the money, and we are really pleased we’ve got it.”

Everyone together and working hand in hand to improve Paisley then? Nearly. In comes the Wendibles:
“I am sorry to see Paisley lose out to the likes of Alloa, Ayr, Kirkcaldy, Dumfries, Edinburgh, North Lanarkshire and Glasgow – all of whom got more than Paisley.
“How can the SNP justify Paisley’s need being less than Alloa, Ayr or Edinburgh?
“This half-hearted commitment to the town only convinces me to redouble my efforts for Paisley to receive the full amount bid for in the next bidding round.
“Paisley’s need is greater than many others who have benefited today and I will continue to work tirelessly to make that case.”

What a gymnast, what a scorching wit, what a fine, soaring examination of evidence from Labour's leading light who, when she was Communities Minister, made sure that town centre regeneration schemes got ... oh, hang on ...

We know that Wendy Alexander demonstrated a commitment to Renfrewshire Renaissance - but we didn't know that she resented other areas of the country getting their fair share. If she thought she was stealing a curmudgeon's march on her Labour colleagues, though, she was in for a surprise when Hugh Henry, Labour's answer to Droopy Dog, got stuck right in as well, welcoming the money for Paisley (did they not compare notes first?) but
“I am shocked that Johnstone is being sold down the river with a paltry sum of money.”

Not to be outdone, her favourite brother, Douglas, came right across her bows with
“I welcome this vital investment in Paisley Town Centre, although I would have wanted a higher award for Johnstone Town Centre when compared with awards to other Scottish towns.
“As I said in Wednesday’s Paisley Daily Express, I have been campaigning for many months for the town centre cash. The challenge will now be to spend this cash effectively to the benefit of the Renfrewshire Community.”

Strange how impotent UK Ministers are, I thought, but there you go. How is it, though, that it's Labour's councillors who are showing leadership in that party just now while their parliamentarians are proving themselves to be petty? Here we have Councillor Green looking for the opportunity for the area he serves rather than party political advantage while the parliamentarians just whinge. Councillor Pat Watters has been leading COSLA with grace and some distinction, getting the best possible deal for local government by working with the Scottish Government while Labour's MSPs have sought only some petty points.

There's a lesson that Labour needs to learn - they need to offer some positivity, welcome things which are good, praise things done well and offer an alternative, positive vision for Scotland. We've not seen any Labour policy being developed since Jack McConnell left office and we've heard little from them about what they'd like to see done differently. labour appear to be frightened to engage anyone in debate about what they believe in or any ideas they might have. Labour members are afraid to speak to the public, but it seems that they are also unable to take back control of their own party.

Leaving aside the incidents like Walter Wolfgang's eviction, it's clear that there is a fear in Labour and a bullying culture similar to that disclosed by Dennis Canavan recently still pervades Labour's structures. That is part of the reason that the life is being choked out of what was once a decent party - and all for the sake of a few political careers.

The democratic centralism and central control dominating Labour is clearly stifling debate - but it's what the leadership want and need. It is time for Labour to show that it is a forward-thinking party willing to debate ideas for the future. They are two years into opposition, soon they will have to start their own manifesto process for the next election. There’s a general election just months away and a referendum not long after that. Surely, If they are truly serious about what Labour now stands for and converting the open minded, then they should start debating Labour vision for Scotland's future. It isn't clear what Labour's vision for Scotland's future is, of course, other than the continuation of the UK, so let's start there. Does Labour believe that the Union is an end in itself or is it merely a means to an end?

I'm glad I'm perfect!

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