Labour's woes after European elections

Richard Leonard faces the media Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard faced the media at Holyrood

Entertaining scenes at Holyrood today. In the Garden Lobby, the wicked media, self included, formed a scrum outside a prolonged meeting of the Labour group.

Yards away, in the Holyrood kitchen garden outside Queensberry House, one could spot Michael Portillo, sporting a natty line in strawberry cords.

On inquiry, it emerged that he was filming another episode of his entertaining series, Great Railway Journeys. Don't know whether you've seen it but Portillo, M. journeys by rail to a destination or two, meeting folk and exploring interesting stories along the way.

On this halt, he was examining the historic origins of Scottish Nationalism.

But, of course, Michael had a previous life as a Conservative cabinet minister. When he lost his seat in 1997, the party's critics coined a phrase, "Were you up for Portillo?"

Labour activists were particularly fond of quoting this trope. They would grin knowingly to each other, mutually secure in what was, for them, the glad confident morning of Tony Blair's victory.

However, today, there was no opportunity for Labour types to revisit those far-off days of collective gloating, had they chosen.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Michael Portillo was sporting a natty line in strawberry cords

Instead, they were crushed into a small, ground floor meeting room, wondering just how on earth they ended up with a meagre nine per cent of the vote in Scotland at the Euro elections.

Outside, as I noted, the wicked media waited. And waited. But we are patient individuals, content to defer our opportunity to pester politicians in the public interest.

Plus there were sources of innocent merriment on hand. Firstly, the chance for a brief chat with Michael Portillo.

Secondly, passing cheeky comments from politicians of other parties. One visitor - who returned three times - finally admitted that he had simply come to gloat.

Others inquired what we, the wicked media, were up to. On receiving the answer, there arose a range of responses from dismissive shrugs to cacophonous laughter.

Parlous position

Not, in short, good for Labour. A truly awful result which contrived to make the Conservatives look good.

Yes, the Tories had a stinker of a night. But their Scottish result was better than in England. They retained an MEP. And they were able to spotlight Labour's parlous position as contrast.

Then, to add to the joys, Neil Findlay, a key Left-winger, quit the front bench and announced that he would be leaving Holyrood at the next election.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Neil Findlay stepped down from the Labour front bench and said he would quit Holyrood at the next election

He is a key supporter of Richard Leonard, the Scottish Labour leader, and was campaign manager in the European elections.

So why quit? And why now? Mr Findlay insists that he has been considering such a move for months and is moving aside to allow others to carry the Socialist banner.

However, presumably, his role in the election carried some weight. It is evident, too, that he is unhappy with the decision by Mr Leonard to back a second European referendum.

Constant bickering

Mr Findlay fears that may open the door to indyref2 - or, at least, make it harder to resist.

Close colleagues offer another explanation - which is borne out by a line in Mr Findlay's resignation letter in which he deplores internal conflict and the "toxic culture" of leaks within Scottish Labour.

Chums say that, more generally, he is thoroughly sickened by the constant bickering and especially by the permanent war waged on social media. Worn down by it.

Eventually, Mr Leonard emerged. Given the circumstances, he put up a good showing, contriving a smile when I suggested that his party was disintegrating before his eyes. (It's part of my charm.)

Image copyright Getty Images

He readily conceded - how could he other - that the European result was appalling. He regretted the departure of Neil Findlay, praising his contribution to the party.

But he insisted that Labour would fight on and rise again. As I write, however, little clutches of MSPs can be seen chatting and, one must presume, plotting. More to come, I expect.

And so it has proved. Just before publishing these meanderings, we received news that Daniel Johnson announced that he was also quitting the front bench.

He says he needs the space to argue not just for a second referendum but for remaining in the EU, in line with the views of his Edinburgh constituents.

Outside in the garden, Michael Portillo calmly continued with his broadcasting tasks.

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