Today the Scottish Labour Party is in meltdown following a weekend of immensely damaging media headlines. This all surrounds the Scottish Labour leader, Wendy Alexander MSP, and her acceptance of an illegal donation to her leadership campaign in the summer from a Jersey-based businessman. Already one colleague of Wendy’s – Glasgow MSP Charlie Gordon – has had to resign his position as Transport spokesman because of his role in matters, and there is speculation that others might follow.
The actual wrongdoing was in itself relatively minor. The sum involved was £950, in political terms hardly substantial – and nowhere near the figures in the Abrahams affair. However, it is the actions of Wendy Alexander’s camp since the story broke which have become more newsworthy than the original misdemeanour. There have been denials and attempted cover-ups, and accusations flying around of dishonesty and deceit.
It all seems eerily reminiscent of the Henry McLeish affair. The former First Minister was involved in a technical breach of Parliamentary rules over a sub-let of his constituency office. The actual breach was relatively minor, but what forced his resignation in the end were the attempts to conceal information and the failure to answer questions. Wendy Alexander seems to be in the same boat; poorly advised, her attempts to brush the issue under the carpet have simply made matters worse as journalists have dug up more and more information.
Wendy is saying she will tough things out and stay on as Labour leader. The feeling is that she is under heavy pressure to continue from Gordon Brown. If she resigns, then the Deputy Labour leader at Westminster, Harriet Harman, who in similar circumstances accepted a much larger donation, will be next in the firing line, and after that Gordon Brown himself. Wendy is personally close to Brown and the two have undoubtedly kept in close contact.
The reality is that Wendy Alexander is now a lame duck leader. She retains hardly a shred of credibility. The only defence put up by her team is that she acted at all times ‘with good intentions’ i.e. did not mean to break the law. But ignorance of the law is no defence. Surely someone with her level of political experience cannot hope to get away with an excuse of not knowing the rules?
With a police investigation now almost inevitable, and a media pack baying for blood, it remains to be seen for how long Wendy and her team can hold the line. She is in for a torrid time over the next few days. It is thought that if it were up to her, she would have done the decent thing and resigned by now, but loyalty to Gordon is keeping her in post as a ‘human shield’.
All this just adds to Labour’s woes in Scotland. The party still has not come to terms with losing power in May, and has adapted very poorly to opposition. If Wendy does resign, who is there to replace her? There is such a paucity of talent on the Holyrood benches that there is even talk of a Westminster MP being parachuted in to fill the gap.
The SNP are loving all this, of course, but the Scottish Tories will be beneficiaries too. It doesn’t seem so long ago that we were the ones embroiled in internal difficulties, but these days are well behind us, and we can look forward to capitalising on Labour’s tawdry mess.