With 40 out of the 59 seats North of the Border, Scotland has an importance to Labour which is greater than mere mathematics. Its Cadre of Celtic Comrades provides any Labour Prime Minister with a loyal phalanx of cannon fodder with which to counter any tendency amongst its more rebellious English and Welsh colleagues to rebel in the lobbies. After all, to be a Scots Labour MP is to have some certainty of preferment unless you are a true maverick or serial refusenik. No fewer than four Scots MPs are members of the Cabinet (Brown, Darling, Browne, Alexander), seven are members of the government outside the Cabinet, four act as Parliamentary Private Secretaries (and so are being groomed for possible government membership) four chair Common’s committees and finally another fourteen are members of committees. So with eleven government members plus twenty two others who are on committees, no less than 33 of Labour’s forty Scottish MPs are part of the frontline.

Having lost control of the Scottish Executive, indeed having been brusquely ushered to its door, and having the party in Scotland struggling to come to terms with its abject loss of power for the first time in fifty years also facing the uncertainty of a new leader bedding into the post, assuming, as most do, that Jack McConnell, the defeated and humiliated former First Minister, will be off later this month to spend more time with his family, this solid block of Comrades becomes ever more important to Macavity as he seeks to deal with the so far deft moves of SNP First Minister to nudge Scotland ever closer to the Nirvana of independence.

Recent opinion polls in Scotland will have alarmed Gordon Brown, which is perhaps why he has now apparently retreated to his bunker in Cowdenbeath, there to plot and scheme how to slay all the Painted Picts who have so unceremoniously grabbed the levers of power. He must be deeply concerned about his Scottish powerbase and its immediate prospects. Their performance at the May Scottish Parliamentary elections was, if one was to look for the kindest word, lacklustre. To lose control of something you have controlled for fifty years takes some doing, so this was a disaster, notwithstanding that Labour only got one seat less than the SNP.

Given that the whole raison d’être of the SNP is independence for Scotland, this Scottish Parliament is going to be utterly dominated by that topic, not least because so many measures which the SNP proposes will have an ancillary purpose attached to them, namely to provide some of the levers with which Salmond will gently ease Scotland further into independence mode.

Into his hands the three Unionist parties have just played themselves. The joint announcement yesterday by Labour, the LibDems and the Tories that they would have no truck with an independence referendum will seem churlish at the least. The problem is that the SNP, notwithstanding its minority status in Parliament, is in a position to set the agenda and that agenda will inevitably be Independence, whether as the headline or the subtext. The other parties will thus be seen to have taken their ball and mooched off the pitch in a huff.

The SNP, having shown a steady enough hand in the months since May, have seen a spectacular rise in their opinion poll ratings. There must be every chance that by continuing to be sweet reasonableness itself they will win more friends as the others continue to play an aloof and haughty game on the next door pitch: prepared only to discuss more powers for the Scottish Parliament and Executive, they will be faced with Smiling Alex running along their touchline urging them to come and play with him and his chums. I predict that, provided his Ministers continue to keep it simple and maintain a collective safe pair of hands, then their poll ratings will continue to show a significant lead over Labour.

There is also a strong sense that Labour have seriously underestimated the abilities and appeal of Alex Salmond in much the same way as the Tories south of the border misread Macavity. Faced with, as I say, sweet reasonableness, Scots Labour has seemed to be trying to fish for eels by hand, never once being able to lay a hand on the slithery body which slips out of their grasp with a flick of the tail.

Thus, as Macavity peers out of the loopholes of the Cowdenbeath Führerbunker, he has genuine cause for concern. The view from Downing Street suggests vistas of victory and all seems to point at a marvellous window of opportunity to have a snap election and catch the Tories with their pants down. But in Scotland Labour is embattled.

So great an amount of his power derives from Scotland and were he to seize the moment he might find that the Scottish people vote about Scottish affairs and give Alex Salmond a handsome vote of confidence. If Tories and LibDems then vote tactically for the SNP, as some might, the prospect looms ever larger for a meltdown in Scotland for Labour. This is something which, as I have argued before, Macavity will wish to avoid like a dose of herpes and militates strongly against an early general election whilst Scottish Labour rebuilds itself and seeks to rediscover its equilibrium.

Meanwhile the presence of the Tories on the same platform as the LibDems and Labour is one which will cause the very greatest sense of unease for any Conservative. It would, I feel. have been far better for the Tories in Scotland to maintain their distance and find a set of distinctive post-devolution constitutional policies and place clear blue water between themselves on their otherwise bitter enemies. It looks too much like a cosy stitch-up.

There is moreover a sense of the most rank hypocrisy about their refusal to countenance a referendum on Scotland’s status in and relationship to the Union whilst at the same time demanding a UK Referendum on the UK’s status in and relationship with the European Union. Indeed, and this is a matter which I regard as bordering on the criminal, they may have thus gravely damaged the policy of the Conservatives on an EU referendum and the wider campaign to secure such a referendum, since Labour can now point to this inconsistent piece of hypocrisy. If this does any damage to that campaign, it will not be forgotten or forgiven.

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