When did Scottish Labour become so inept at politics?
This afternoon, Gary Gibbon of Channel 4 published this blog, reporting findings from his attempt to "take the temperature" of the party's Westminster delegation on the reported volte-face on devolving all of income tax to Holyrood. Gibbon found that the Labour tribunes were not happy little bunnies, not at all.
"The temperature is at morgue chiller levels", he reports, alongside a series of damaging quotations from disgruntled parliamentarians, suggesting that tomorrow's Smith Commission proposals will be a calamity for the Union, a "complete disaster." Income tax devolution is not represented as the intrepid, visionary and generous act of a party comfortable in its own skin, emboldened by the referendum victory, and committed to "home rule" - but a grudgingly granted and much-resented concession.
This is madness. If, as expected, the Smith Commission endorses these plans tomorrow, these leaky tribunes will have achieved nothing save to undermine (a) confidence that Labour will deliver on the Smith compact, if elected in 2015 and (b) strangle in the cradle the already frail delusion that Labour, in its current mood, is "the party of devolution", despite its historical boasts and pieties.
Yesterday, I argued that the Smith Commission represents an opportunity for Labour and the Tories to redraft their constitutional storytelling, to restate the Union in bold, contemporary form and to re-articulate their own places within it in a more satisfactory way. The Smith Commission plans certainly contain the resources for a compelling shift in the constitutional debate. A powerhouse parliament. Completing devolution's work. Expressing our faith in the capacity of the Scottish people to govern themselves. And for Labour - a critical opportunity to get back on the front foot and to knock the perfidious Nats helter-skelter.
And god knows, you'd think the People's Party would be glad of the life-raft. Bilious low expectations gnaw at Labour's credibility on devolution and its institutions. You'd think they'd have learned the lessons from reluctant devo-something offer, which saw them dawdling behind the Tories, mistrustful of Scottish self-government and apparently determined - above all - to protect the party interest. But today, on the cusp of their big opportunity to make the weather, they appear determined to appear stinting and huffy. Again. Madness.
Bitching, publicly, about something almost certain to happen -- and instead of pitching it as a glorious triumph of a renewed, confident party, comfortable with devolution and at home with governing in the UK -- it is all soor faces and grief. Reluctant, crabbit, clenching, grudging.
And there's more bad news. If the Labour MPs are girning on about income tax, it seems unlikely that Smith will recommend the devolution of substantial social security responsibilities -- that would drive them hopping mad and cultivate an altogether different temperature. My own view, for what is is worth, is that the failure to stump up significant powers over welfare will sign the Union's death warrant. Certainly not today, and probably not tomorrow -- but in the long run, the failure of nerve and failure of confidence will keep the underlying questions of social justice burning bright and hot.
Labour look determined to lose the post-indyref peace. Their Unionist fellow travellers, anxious about the Union's continuing frailty and anxious that that peace is won and won well -- must have their heads in their hands.