It seems only yesterday that Margaret Curran was appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and announced a fitba’ team of fellow Labour MPs with a common mission: Cathy Jamieson, Russell Brown, Gemma Doyle, Tom Greatrex, Ian Murray, Anne McGuire, Gregg McClymont, William Bain, Fiona O’Donnell, Des Browne and Lord Neil Davidson were her team. Notably absent from the list were anyone we might have heard of (say Ian Davidson, Anne McKechin, Douglas Alexander or Jim Murphy,or anyone with proven track records with committee chair or ministerial experience). Nonetheless, Ms Curran was swift to state their purpose:
“This is a powerful team of talented Scottish MPs who will be holding the government at Westminster to account day in, day out. The new team is hungry to do the right thing in standing up for Scotland.”
Them’s fightin’ words and should be applauded…if they have any substance. But what has this “powerful team of talented Scottish MPs” done in the two months since? The silence has been deafening. Press coverage has been zero. Examine Hansard all you want for any of the team taking the fight to Cameron—let alone Salmond—on key issues that affect us. There are speeches and a welter of questions. But hardly any of them bear on Scotland.
Little wonder then that the Scottish press has not seen fit to print even one story about their exploits since this piece of gesture politics was announced on October 11th, four days after Ms Curran’s own appointment. That she should hit the PR ground running was expected; but that she would have nothing to offer her team by way of direction beggars belief—except for those used to the shallow, substance-free bluster that seems to pass for policy in Scottish Labour these days. Her web site carries one news item since her appointment. In all that time, she has posed 13 written and 2 oral questions to the UK Parliament but has yet to make any speech at all in her new role. Willie Bain has at least been on his feet a few times, even if most of them were not Scotland-related. Tom Harris has a better record alone than her whole team together…but then he hasn’t gone native.
This is a ‘new team hungry to do the right thing for Scotland’? The SNP’s nimble seven-a-side squad is running rings round them. In the same two months, Moray’s Angus Robertson produced over 50 questions and six speeches, all relating to Scotland; Dundee’s Stewart Hosie had 31 and 8; normally quiet-spoken Angus’ Mike Weir logged over 70 questions, plus speeches. Even David “Outvoted-by-Pandas” Mundell clocked up over 100—almost all about Scotland
But most ‘heavyweight’ Labour MPs, such as listed above, clearly wouldn’t touch a place in Ms Curran’s squad with a barge pole; they are too busy making Westminster careers for Scotland to be more than a distraction. Twenty years on, the famous ‘feeble fifty’ have shrunk towards a feebler fifteen. They put me in mind of Churchill’s acid remark about General Mark Clark, whose Allied Fifth Army stormed ashore at Salerno in April 1944—and, through lack of leadership, completely fluffed the chance to walk into Rome unopposed and three months earlier than eventually happened:
“I thought we were hurling a wild cat onto the shore, but all we got was a beached whale!”