There is a photograph doing the rounds on Twitter which was taken at the Jim Murphy Roadshow in Aberdeen this Tuesday.
Jim Murphy MP, senior Labour Party man (made famous yesterday by having an egg thrown at him – which is a pretty horrible experience, I am sure, but hardly in the same league as that experienced by an Iraqi living through an illegal war – voted for by Mr Murphy – in which hundreds of thousands of people died) is on the left and the younger gentleman is Aberdeen City Council member, Ross Thomson. It is a nice photo, isn’t it? Two smiling men from opposing political parties come together in unity to defend the UK from the ‘separatists’. Does it not just show how right the Better Together/No Thanks/UK:OK campaign must be if it can join together people with such widely differing* views on politics in the UK?
Among Yes supporters this picture has been receiving much criticism, mostly directed against Jim Murphy, as their – I mean, our – claim is that Tories and Labour being joined at the hip is a clear sign that the No campaign doesn’t have a leg to stand on. But that is a bit ‘he said, she said’ for my liking so I’ll not get into that.
Anyway, the criticism aimed at Jim Murphy is that it shows that the man has no scruples or political, never mind moral, compass if he is willing to be photographed campaigning alongside the Tories.
But, I say, let’s flip that on its head and consider this: Mr Murphy is a seasoned politician, quite senior within the Labour Party and probably in the running for a Ministerial post if Labour wins at Westminster in 2015. He has a lot of political capital built up over the years and he can afford to spend some of it by fighting alongside his usual enemies. In fact, he cannot afford not to spend it because Jim is campaigning not just to preserve the Union but to preserve his job too. If No wins, Jim will be fêted as a hero and all such warm, cuddly moments with the Tories will be swept under the carpet. But if Yes wins Jim will be without a seat at Westminster and quite possibly without much of a political future in iScotland.
So let’s look at the other man. I know very little about Ross Thomson other than he is a young Tory politician and I imagine – I admit I am extrapolating here, but I don’t think wildly – he is intending, or at the very least considering, becoming an old Tory politician, and probably somewhere other than the political backwater that is Aberdeen City Council. Somewhere like Holyrood perhaps, or maybe even Westminster one day… So here is a young man with very little political capital who is probably intent on making a name for himself and get himself noticed by the ‘big boys’ in London. He will care about his image and who he is associated with and he will want to be seen as someone who opposes the Tory’s main rival, the Labour Party, with all his being.
So while I can understand Mr Thomson attending Jim’s gathering in the name of Better Together/No Thanks (I really don’t know what they call themselves these days) and stand in the front row waving a sign I find it a little odd that he would opt to allow his photo taken in what is very clearly a posed shot with one his most senior arch-rivals in Scotland. Clearly, for a young Tory, being closely associated with a senior member of Scottish Labour is not political kryptonite.
I can’t help that think when Jim Murphy was Ross Thomson’s age, some 25 years or so ago, he would only have permitted himself to be photographed with the likes of Malcolm Rifkind, say, in such a manner that showed he was a) in opposition to Mr Rifkind or b) being polite and formal in the way that we have seen Alex Salmond photographed smiling politely with the likes of Alistair Darling or David Cameron (when we all know they loath each other with a passion). I don’t see much loathing on display in that photo above; they look like pretty genuine smiles to me (though they are both politicians and I never trust a politician’s smile).
So if the Tories don’t see Labour as political enemies they now clearly view them as honourable rivals* in much the same way two football teams view the players on the opposing team. You do everything you can to defeat them on the pitch but once the game is over, it is all smiles, parties and friendships spanning clubs and countries. And that is fine if we are talking football games; but politics is not a game.
Politics affect people’s very lives: politics takes countries into wars in which people die (in our name); politics determines welfare ‘reforms’ which see people having their benefits ‘sanctioned’ (ie. taken off them) and Atos health assessments which have ‘cured’ more people than the NHS ever has (Atos really needs to become a religion for the number of miracle cures it responsible for); politics means people resorting the foodbanks to feed themselves and their families; politics determines whether we get free health care, prescription and education; politics determines state pensions, bus passes and care for the elderly and the disabled; and so on and so forth.
Politics is not a game.
Yet that was one thing that was abundantly clear to me and other Yes campaigners who turned out in Aberdeen to show or opposition to Jim Murphy. Jim Murphy thinks politics is a game; Ross Thomson thinks politics is a game; all the Labour and Tory councillors who were there think that politics is a game. But we, the people of Scotland realise that politics is not a game, it is the life and death of our country and our fellow countrymen and women.
*If you want to see how the face of politics has changed in the UK, please take a look at the Political Compass’s page about the 2010 UK general election. Make sure you scroll down to the bottom of the page to see how the Labour, Tory and LibDems have shifted their political ground since the 1970s. See how today’s Labour occupy virtually the same political space as their ‘arch rivals’ the Tories. You couldn’t get a razor blade between them. Green and Labour supporters might be interested to note that the measured values of the Green’s today are very similar to those espoused by Labour in the 1970s – NB values, not specific beliefs about policies. I would urge you to take the test yourself, just to see where your beliefs place you (mine, incidentally, are such that the Greens look right wing and authoritarian!).