Has anyone seen Jackie?

Jackie Baillie, the pantomime dame of Labour's Scottish Optional Identity Mark, is usually eager to get herself in the papers. In fact, Jackie's urge to be noticed is on a par with that of the contestants in one of those interminable reality shows which are more artificial than the contestants' spray tans. The Labour party in Scotland is likewise very comfortable with appearing orange.

The National: Jackie Baillie

Today, we are witness to an event that's rarer than the Scottish Conservatives not behaving like boorish schoolboys at First Minister's Questions, Jackie Baillie is not available for comment. It's not just Jackie either, the entire staff of Labour's Scottish branch office are mysteriously unavailable.

The reason for the uncharacteristic silence is the comment piece written by Keir Starmer which was published by the right-wing Sunday Telegraph newspaper in which he sang the praises of Margaret Thatcher. In the piece Starmer lauded Thatcher for bringing meaningful change to the UK.

Indeed, no one can deny that Thatcher did exactly that. She brought meaningful change to the UK in the exact same way that illegal logging brings meaningful change to the Amazon rain forest.

The meaningful change that Thatcher brought was mass unemployment, turbo charged inequality, and selling national assets off on the cheap. She presided over the wanton destruction of working-class communities across the UK and normalised shocking levels of poverty and deprivation, laying the ground for today's Tory Britain, in which destitution, foodbanks, and people begging on the streets are commonplace.

Apart from that, Thatcher also set in train the rightwards drift of the Labour party, she herself hailed Tony Blair and New Labour as her greatest achievement. Thatcher taught the Labour Party that if it wanted to win power in England it needed to closely align itself to the social and economic policies of the Conservative party.

Starmer is merely making that legacy of Thatcher explicit, in a way that is deeply uncomfortable for a Labour branch office in Scotland which must present itself as being to the left of the SNP if it hopes to recover from the electoral devastation inflicted upon it in Scotland over the past decade.

The National: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer making his keynote speech during the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool. Picture date: Tuesday October 10, 2023.

But Starmer's route to power lies in persuading Tory voters in Brexit supporting seats in the midlands and north of England to back him instead. Cosying up to the legacy of Thatcher is part and parcel of that campaign. It's also a very clear signal that despite his protestations to the contrary, Starmer views Scotland as expendable.

In Scotland, declaring your political admiration for Margaret Thatcher inspires as much confidence in the average voter as learning that your GP's role model is Harold Shipman.

First Minister Humza Yousaf was quick to condemn the UK Labour leader's comments calling them an "insult" to Scottish communities. SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn has challenged Anas Sarwar on whether he agrees with Starmer's remarks. In a letter to the leader of the Labour party in Scotland, Flynn asked if Sarwar agreed with his boss that Thatcher brought "meaningful change" and "set loose our natural entrepreneurialism."

The National: SNP Westminster group leader Stephen Flynn speaking during Prime Minister's Questions

He added: "It really sticks in the throat to read a Labour leader heap praise on an individual that wreaked havoc on our communities leaving parts of Scotland in terminal decline and engrained poverty for decades."

By Monday, the Labour damage limitation machine was in action, with Starmer telling us that what he'd really meant was that Thatcher was a conviction politician and that's what he intended to be too. That's not really much better. Genghis Khan was also a conviction politician when he ordered the massacre of the citizens of the Central Asian city of Merv, an event which contemporary chroniclers described as a “memorable day for shrieking and weeping and wailing". Which is also the description many in Scotland would give to the period of Thatcher's time in power.

The attention seekers of the Labour Party in Scotland are doing their best to avoid drawing attention today, an effort in which they are ably assisted by the anti-independence media in Scotland, which is likewise not keen to draw attention to Starmer's decision to cosy up to Margaret Thatcher.

In further evidence that Starmer really did mean what he said, despite the efforts of Labour's spin doctors to rewrite the evidence of our own eyes and ears – something they also attempted with Starmer's comments that he thought Israel had the right to cut off water and fuel supplies to the civilian population of Gaza – on Monday, Starmer will announce that should it win the next general election, it will not “turn on spending taps” for the beleaguered public services reeling under the effects of a decade and a half of Conservative austerity. The remarks bolster the view of some in the Labour Party that the Labour leader is preparing to sign up to austerity-style public sector cuts.

In a speech to the Resolution Foundation due to be given on Monday he will say: "Anyone who expects an incoming Labour government to quickly turn on the spending taps is going to be disappointed.

“It's already clear that the decisions the government are taking, not to mention their record over the past 13 years, will constrain what a future Labour government can do."

This is very similar language to that employed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown prior to the Labour victory in the 1997 general election when Labour promised to adhere to Tory spending limits.