NOT SO TRICKY DICKY SOON FOR THE LABOUR CHOP AT HOLYROOD

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Even Jeremy Corbyn didn’t look convinced about the policies Richard Leonard put to him about Scotland’s future.

Notebook by BILL HEANEY

Richard is not a good name for a politician. It’s a gift for journalists and other politicians who want to take him down a peg. And who out there doesn’t want to knock the wind out of a politician’s sails? Any politician.

Tricky Dicky trips of the tongue and into a laptop, into the lap even, of latter day iconoclasts.

It’s manna from heaven for such as WH Mencken, who made an extremely comfortable living out of upbraiding and pointing out the faults of men (and very occasionally women) in power.

Who can forget the disgraced US President Richard (Tricky Dickie) Nixon of Watergate infamy?

And so it is for Richard Leonard, leader of the Scottish Labour Party, who is currently in the frame for a night of the long knives-type removal from his post. Or it would be if there were any long knives with any political ability in the upper echelons of the Labour Party.

Why Labour chose Richard Leonard is a mystery. He is too nice a guy. He wouldn’t say boo to a gosling never mind a full-grown goose.

At least that’s the conclusion I came to when he occupied the office next door to me in Fountain House, the GMB trade union headquarters in Glasgow.

Richard’s role there was to look after the interests of workers in the Scotch Whisky industry and, although he acquitted himself well enough doing that, he appeared to be uncomfortable with the publicity that went along with the job.

He wasn’t the type of guy who blew his own trumpet or shouldered himself to the front when the news reporters and television cameras appeared.

His language was always tempered when he spoke about the distillers who were in dispute with his members and I thought he was disinclined to put the boot in when he should have.

He was never in the mould of Jimmy Reid and the shop stewards in the shipyards.

And with his Yorkshire accent, floppy locks and well-cut suits, he lacked the appearance and presentation most Scots associate with their trade unionist icons.

Neither did his predecessor Henry McLeish or his predecessor Donald Dewar, of course, but at least Henry McLeish had been a footballer and understood those parts of the Scottish psyche to do with sectarianism and Celtic and Rangers. Billy and Dan, Orange and Green.

Jack McConnell did though when he stepped over Henry’s prostrate figure on the floor of St Andrew’s House after McLeish was knifed in the back for a minor expenses lapse which today would pale into insignificance when compared to what’s gone on before and since, have been kicked down the road to Westminster for an inquiry. Duck houses and all that.

The report of this would then have been released to the media late on a Friday afternoon – or om a very busy news day – when it would have made no more than a few paragraphs in the slim Saturday morning papers.

Henry would have survived, God Help Us All. He was never cut out for greatness either, apart maybe from on the football field, where he would have become a legend for East Fife, which has the stature of Holyrood in the world of football.

As for Kezia Dugdale, Labour’s other Shadow First Minister, she too was nice. Too nice. When she attacked the Opposition, Kezia gave the impression that her  heart wasn’t really in it. She reminded me of a nursery school teacher. And the fact that she has now been given a sinecure in academia at Glasgow University just goes to show that she wasn’t.

Kezia Dugdale, Wendy Alexander and Henry McLeish with journalists David Bytheway, and Donald Fullarton and then Special Adviser Bill Heaney.

We all know about Wendy Alexander who did well enough until she stupidly challenged the SNP to “bring it on” and Iain Gray, a good man who couldn’t be heard behind a bus ticket. No street fighter he.

And then there was big Jim Murphy, who was lauded to the heavens by duped Westminster colleagues, but who made a bourach of it in the end. We are not surprised he has ended up in an elephant’s graveyard somewhere.

The fact that Labour’s Scottish Westminster MPs resented the Scottish Parliament and even their Labour colleagues in it, did nothing to assist their own members to settle in.

Most of them saw MSPs as Johnny Come Latelys who stole their thunder in their local newspapers and their prominence as Numero Uno in the constituency.

It is from this quagmire that Labour will have to come up with the perspicacious people and the policies to win the Election in May next year – unless First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP are found out for the disasters they have presided over. Or snookered by events. Events, events dear boy, as Harold Macmillan once said.

Covid-19, the school exam results, the unacceptable number of deaths in care homes and the Calmac ferry story, which has cost the country £ millions are the tip of the SNP iceberg.

It has already sunk the arrogant Finance Minister Derek Mackay, the Labour dyke-jumper Health Minister Jeane Freeman and the mousy Education Minister, John Swinney.

Meanwhile, many of their most experienced MSPs have been breaking the social distancing rules while pushing each other out of the road to get to the Holyrood exit doors, where the large pensions and golden parachutes await.

Dare I mention the Alex Salmond inquiry and the additional opprobrium this will bring to the SNP who have been brutally shown up to be the Party of the Middle Class. They they are the Tartan Tories of the 21st century there is no doubt.

How any politician of any hue came to think it was a good idea to discriminate against poor and deprived children is unbelievable. Nicola Sturgeon must have been aware of this.

And then we have the disastrous tale of two hospitals, the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in the West and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in the East, where children and adults have died in circumstances which are currently being inquired into by the High Court judge, Lord Brodie.

And the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has been given a copy of a report  about bullying and harassment which could lead to prosecution in the courts.

The placemen women and friends of the SNP who sit of the on the health boards (there are so many of them that they should wear kilts to the meetings), which are not fit for purpose have let the public down to the tune of £1.7 billion.

There is an old Scottish expression about incompetents not being able to keep hens out of a midden. It will soon be replaced by the fact that the SNP couldn’t keep pigeons out of a hospital.

When Richard Leonard became leader at the height of the misguided Jeremy Corbyn cult, Scottish Labour had seven MPs after winning 717,000 votes and 27.1 per cent support in the 2017 election.

Under Mr Leonard – and Mr Corbyn of course – six of those MPs and 200,000 votes were lost just two years later, and the party’s support fell to 18.6% in Scotland.

That same year, Scottish Labour also lost both its MEPs in the European election, when the party fell from second place to fifth, as its vote sank from 25.9% to just 9.3%.

Tom Gordon, the astute political editor of the (Glasgow) Herald, wrote this week that “the panorama of pain visible from Mr Leonard’s summit would also take in the imminent Holyrood election.”

In 2016, Labour won 24 MSPs with 22.6% of the vote in constituencies and 19% on the list.

The most recent YouGov poll suggests a quarter of those MSPs will be lost as Labour’s support falls to 14% in both seats and regions.

Tom Gordon says that the same poll found most Scots barely know who Mr Leonard is. Asked to rate his performance, 10% said he was doing well, 37% badly and a whopping 53% were “don’t know”.

He added: “To survive for so long without achievements, profile or prospects is, in its own small way, remarkable.

“But being Holyrood’s answer to moss wasn’t the objective. Mr Leonard is meant to be within striking distance of Bute House.

“After more than 1,000 days, it’s clear he never will be. He has had his chance and it hasn’t worked out. He is not a late bloomer but a dead bulb.

“That’s not to say he’s a bad chap. He is manifestly decent and sincere.

“His biggest problem is his failure to connect with the public. Too cosy talking shop within his own tribe – never get him started on trade union history – he hasn’t reached out widely enough to voters, and hasn’t fought hard enough for their attention.

“As one party source told me more in sorrow than anger: ‘He’s making no impact whatsoever. He’s got no traction. He’s a lovely, intelligent and sharp guy, but I despair at times.

“Yet he carries on regardless, recently promising that he would lead Scottish Labour into the 2021 election despite the third strike all around him know is inevitable. It will not be a campaign, but a resignation tour.

“While Ms Sturgeon will be asked if she intends to serve out a full term, few expect Mr Leonard to last the weekend after the votes are counted.”

Few people would disagree with that assessment.

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