BBC Scotland’s newly appointed political editor, Glenn Campbell, wasted little time in signalling his gratitude for his lofty new position. In a tweet on Monday, he provided the future coordinates for the corporation’s tongue in respect of the UK Labour leader’s fundament. “This will get lost in the turmoil of today but Keir Starmer’s speech on redesigning UK could come to be seen as a hugely significant moment in our constitutional debate, which is why the staunchest Unionists/nationalists will seek to trash it.”
Campbell is a classic BBC apparatchik whose main qualifications for the job (as with all his predecessors) are longevity; obsequiousness to senior politicians and the ability to walk and read an autocue at the same time. He’ll not be expected to break any new stories; no fresh or original political perspective will be demanded of him. Like those who went before him, he’ll have been given a standard issue pen-knife for the purposes of extracting skelves from all the fences upon which he’ll be expected to sit.
Campbell’s tweet afforded Starmer’s speech on re-hashed federalism (part 67 in a series) a respect it failed to merit. Worse than this, it channelled the kind of supercilious contempt that Scotland’s political classes reserve for those who exhibit any kind of passion about politics.
If you are pro-Scottish independence and feel, after many years of incoherent ideas about federalism, that it fails to meet your aspirations for Scotland, you now know where you stand with BBC Scotland’s political department: you are to be considered “staunch” and your opinions thus deemed to be worthless.
Starmer, of course, is a dream come true for the BBC’s political “journalists” on either side of the Border. He is of Tony Blair’s vanilla left, which is to say that his radicalism stretches no further than being sufficiently left of the Conservatives to justify the role of opposition leader. And thence to retain it until such times as the electorate simply tires of the Tories and makes him prime minister instead.
He won’t exhibit any of Jeremy Corbyn’s alarming tendencies actually to promulgate core Labour values around collectivism, trade union rights and seeking a fair share in the nation’s wealth for those who produce it: the actual workers. The BBC, chiefly through the grotesque and unprofessional bias of its UK political editor, sought to portray Corbyn as an extremist while failing to show him any measure of the respect, bordering on sycophancy, she accords Conservative administrations. This permits her unfettered access to those fabled Downing Street “sources”. Her predecessor, Nick Robinson, deployed a similar degree of unprofessional partiality in his coverage of the 2014 referendum.
Thus, Starmer is a sufficiently safe Labour leader who will give no cause for alarm to the BBC or those print barons who control the right-wing press and whose duty it is to assemble firing squads when anyone gets dangerously close to threatening the UK legislature with something approaching socialism.
He is also a gift to those within the Labour Party who seek an easy life and the opportunity to solicit greasy handshakes on their progress through Parliament for the purposes of ensuring a tidy wee lordship or a few non-execs. Over the last two decades, these have been the ultimate career goals of most of Scotland’s Labour grandees.
Federalism neatly encapsulates Labour’s race to the middle without making a nuisance of itself to vested interests. It sounds interesting and a little thrilling, implying as it does a radical challenge to the existing constitutional arrangements. Of course, it’s not really. Proper federalism brings parity of esteem economically and culturally and rests on the willingness of an enlightened government to reinforce it with the instruments and finances for regional authorities to flourish.
Nothing in the present Tory administration’s direction of travel suggests they’d grant anything like this. Meanwhile, the presence of London, a city state behemoth whose population alone swallows up that of the second-largest constituent country of the UK, renders the concept obsolete. In the hands of a Labour Party absolutely committed to employees’ rights in the workplace and trade union activism, then who knows – perhaps it might be made to work after a fashion.
But Starmer, and those other fake Labour politicians, have already shown us what they were all about in this respect. Even as Jeremy Corbyn in 2017 was securing more votes than Tony Blair did in his last two elections, they were seeking to undermine him. Against all odds and the combined forces of the UK establishment, the BBC and most of the press, Corbyn destroyed Theresa May’s seemingly impregnable majority and came within a whisker of defeating her. If Starmer and Stephen Kinnock and the rest of their treacherous gang had shown loyalty to their leader instead of actively campaigning against him, there’s every chance that under a Corbyn premiership the UK would already have departed Europe with a statesmanlike deal with the EU.
Nor did it take long for Gordon Brown to be wheeled out again to reinforce Starmer’s message. Brown, the former iron chancellor, is now reduced to the role of an old performing circus clown whose old-fashioned act sparks feelings of nostalgia among the grandparents. That the centrists of London Labour still believe him to be a touchstone for pro-Union sentiment in Scotland betrays the fundamental ignorance of the party about Scottish politics and the dynamics which have produced 17 successive opinion polls indicating clear majority support for independence. The reliance on Brown is just part of this long flight of ignorance. The other is that Labour simply needs to get its act together in Scotland to reclaim its hinterlands and thus skewer the SNP. That ship, though, sailed a long time ago. It fails to acknowledge that the SNP first defeated Labour in Scotland 13 years ago, when Blair was still in power.
The political dynamic of the UK has changed so radically in the space of six years that ideas around federalism are now about as radical and profound as a department store’s 10% discount. In terms of a serious challenge to the embedded corruption at the heart of the UK gangster state, Scottish independence is the only game in town, as it has been since 2014.
Starmer’s federalism intervention came after he had failed to urge Boris Johnson to seek an extension on trade negotiations with the EU. Of greater concern to Labour voters across the UK is their leader continuing in his role effectively as Boris Johnson’s minister without portfolio.