Having had him as my MSP for four years, been in many of the same meetings as local council leader and crossed swords with him on several occasions as we contested East Lothian closely in May, I feel I know the public Iain Gray. I make no comment about his private side but find his public face inconsistent, verging on the confusing.
As a constituency MSP, he is shrewd enough to be guided by his staff and so shows up at most events where he would be expected and gets regular mug shots, columns and press releases into the local papers as a result. When constituents write to him, he replies, takes up cases and often manages to resolve them. Many of the causes he espouses are laudable and, even where we differ—as we do on both Cockenzie and Torness power stations having a future—at least he deploys plausible arguments. In short, he appears a decent guy trying to do a difficult job.
But when we turn to his other job as Labour Leader a Jekyll & Hyde transformation occurs that is not only less flattering but stretches credulity that his utterances actually come from his own convictions. We take it as read that he is a devolutionist, believing his party delivered that. This is, again, a plausible position, especially when shored up by solid argument. But, rather than the “(Labour) needs to talk positively about what we are for and less about what we are against” from Ken Macintosh or the “By 2016, Scottish Labour will either have re-established itself as the party of aspiration, or it will be an irrelevance” from Tom Harris, at the leadership conference in Glasgow this weekend, Iain goes off the deep end.
“You will be attacked, you will be smeared, you will be lied about, you will be threatened,” he said. “The ‘cyber Nats’ and the bedsit bloggers will call you traitor, quisling, lapdog, liar and worse. They will question your appearance, your integrity and your sexuality. They will drag your family and your faith into the lies and the vitriol. If you are a woman it will be worse.
“It is no consolation to know that any journalist or commentator who gives you a fair hearing will suffer the same. This is the poison some have brought into our politics and it is vile. It is time we started talking openly about it and it is time the SNP did something about it. They know who some of these people are. This is not how you build a better Scotland and Scotland deserves better.”
Astonishing for the leader of any party to stoop to such levels and to regard this as what he wishes to be remembered by in his farewell speech. Let’s assume there is some substance to these accusations; how would the argument be advanced by venting his own spleen in this manner? Scotland indeed deserves better and any leader of Scottish Labour should help provide it, whether in power or opposition.
Independence is not the only plausible future for Scotland but it deserves serious consideration and debate. For Harris or Davidson to dismiss it out of hand ill serves Scotland but for Gray to do it ill serves anyone. The language of ‘separation’ of ‘tearing Scotland out of the UK’ is inflammatory, as is scaremongering about border posts at Berwick and trouble visiting granny in Carlisle. He claims devolution to be the ideal settlement but has never articulated why the Irish are not clamouring to return to the fold and why the most devastated part of Ireland should be the part that remained in the UK after 1922.
As leader during the ‘attack dog’ period of Scottish Labour when their MSPs sulked for four years after 2007 and then wondered why they had their heads handed to them last May, Gray symbolises how bankrupt of ideas the whole party became. To accuse the entire SNP as he does above means he learned nothing and ought to have stepped down sooner, rather then peddling the same poison for another six months. Scotland needs a mature and thoughtful Labour party to hold the SNP to democratic account. Even as an SNP member, I am not so foolish as to think we have all the answers. But this toys-out-the-pram spite from Glasgow makes me despair of that ever happening.
There are extremists in and on the periphery of all parties. Scotland is poorly served when their bias and unreasonableness becomes the lingua franca of any major party. When leadership contender Tom Harris claims that “Labour has not had a vision for 12 years” he deserves to be taken seriously. Instead, the best their leader can do is insult the party that just wiped the floor with his own by inspiring a majority of Scots.