There is an iconic scene in David Lean’s Dr Zhivago, where the rich and privileged are dining in glittering splendour and the huddled masses marching for bread, stop their march and sing outside. In an effort to remove the tension Viktor Komarovsky quips “No doubt they’ll sing in tune AFTER the revolution” to laughter and a standing ovation. Thus demonstrating how unassailable the privileged in Czarist Russia believed their positions to be, and how small a threat revolution posed, but ultimately how out of touch their instincts were.
Later the same scene is described from the point of view of the hungry, Pasha Antipov claims “There’ll be no more peaceful demonstrations. There were women and children, Lara, and they rode them down. Starving women asking for bread. And up on Tamskaya Avenue the pigs were eating and drinking and dancing.”
On October 30th in Glasgow, Gordon Street became Tamskaya Avenue for a few hours, as hundreds of protesters, many homeless, many representing the 34 food banks in Glasgow, demonstrated outside the Grand Central Hotel where Scottish Labour held their £100 a plate dinner, and eye witness reports claim that diners looked down on the crowd while sipping their champagne. Many of the diners, perhaps their consciences pricked, or vaguely aware of the grotesque juxtapositions of the positions of those inside to those outside, or for fear of reprisals eschewed the main entrance opting instead for the back door. Jim Murphy, Westminster’s leader in waiting for Scotland, brazened it out at the front, dropping off a food parcel at the food bank collection as he went in, though whether it matched the value of his dinner in contents hasn’t been revealed
And all of this carried on against a back drop of resignations within the party leadership in Scotland and a poll suggesting Labour could lose 36 seats in Scotland, all but destroying Miliband’s chance of a majority in Westminster in a tight General Election race. The placards said it all “Labour the Judas Party, Enjoy Your Last Supper”. All the while Miliband, with Komarovsky like dismissal of the reality facing him, deludingly claimed “We will do what the SNP has not done and will never do: deliver an agenda that meets the needs of working people in Scotland.” All of this, despite the reality of Labour voters in their heartlands deserted them over independence and the SNP now being the second largest political party, by membership, in the UK from a population smaller (as were always being told) that the city state of London
Labour talk of the “revolution” that Scotland demand, of the extraordinary events which unfolded in this small country, of the profound difference the debate has and will generate, while the media claim that post “indy” UK politics will never be the same, that moulds have been broken. No-one living here could disagree. Meanwhile those that campaigned for independence continue to grow in numbers and say there is no going back, and a further momentous political ground shift may occur at the General Election if even half of the expected number of SNP seats are won. Yet Miliband continues to think that an £8 an hour minimum wage, a 50p tax rise for those earning over £150,000 and a promise to tax bankers bonuses are so revolutionary and are so breaking of the mould that they will turn the tide up here back in their favour. Where as in fact they are the very least a so called just society could demand. The only thing the Johann Lamont has said in recent weeks that was accurate and heartfelt, is that Labour have no idea what’s happening in Scotland to their vote.
Those of us who cut our teeth on Labour politics could never really understand why Scottish Labour didn’t back independence fully, assuring them the real possibility of lasting power up here, against the real chance of never having power in the UK again.
Within the Scottish parliamentary Labour Party there were several shaking heads too. The ONLY way Labour in Scotland will ever be the force it once was will be to cut ties with London and be what they say on the tin: a Labour Party for Scotland. The only trouble is while they hum and haw, and dine and sup, about this and that, they will, on looking over their shoulders, find that others have taken up their mantle of social justice and equality, others are wearing their clothes and others are singing their songs.
We might sing in tune after the Revolution Mr Miliband, but even if we do not; Scottish Labour and Labour UK are sure set to face the music.