Douglas Alexander: Politician, Thinker, Great Briton

douglas_alexander

Scottish Labour’s leading intellect

By Jamie Maxwell

According to Owen Dudley Edwards, the only person who regularly described Winnie Ewing as ‘Madame Ecosse’ during her 20 year tenure as an SNP MEP was Winnie Ewing herself. Such was the conceit of the one-time Hamilton by-election victor.

I suspect Douglas Alexander’s reputation as Scottish Labour’s ‘big thinker’ has a similar backstory. The shadow foreign secretary clearly fancies himself as an intellectual – a loyal career politician, yes, but one with a uniquely thoughtful and expansive mind.

Over the last couple of years, Alexander has delivered a series of well-publicised speeches attempting to craft a new ‘progressive’ unionist narrative to rival the SNP’s centre-left nationalist one.

So far, the Alexander lectures have followed a pretty rigid formula.

Each of them does some or all of the following things: draws a distinction between ‘good’ patriotism and ‘bad’ nationalism; includes quotes from Great Men such as Barack Obama, David Hume and JFK; references Scotland’s achievements as part of the UK, with a particular emphasis on the Enlightenment; expresses concern for those brave souls who ‘speak out’ against the SNP’s ‘narrow’ vision; rattles off the predictable and discredited list of ‘good things’ Labour did in government; concludes with a plaintive appeal to us, the Scots, to stick with the UK’s successful multi-national family. 

Alexander presents his speeches, collectively, as a good-faith attempt to ‘engage’ with the debate over Scotland’s future on a ‘deeper’ level. But as his recent piece for the Scotland on Sunday revealed, his underlying attitude is much less benign:

[The Yes camp] know full well that Ukip’s success, and the rise of other nationalist      parties around Europe, owes more to emotion than economics. As Fareed Zakaria has written about the rise of nationalism: “The question that fills people with emotion is ‘Who are we?’ And, more ominously, ‘Who are we not?’”

So expect lots more lectures about “Westminster Rule” and “London Labour”.

With families still grappling with the traumas of a post-crash economy, there will be a none-too-subtle appeal to suggest proximity is identity, and that people furth of Scotland do not and cannot share our values.

Can you see what Scottish Labour’s leading intellect did there?

In just a few short, superficial paragraphs, Alexander brackets the entire Yes campaign in with extreme right-wing parties on the European continent – parties that include, presumably, pseudo-fascist outfits like the Front Nationale in France and Geert Wilder’s Freedom Party in the Netherlands. In just a few short paragraphs, he manages to conflate the civic nationalist argument that ‘Westminster rule’ undermines Scotland’s economy and its democracy with the chauvinist argument that ‘foreigners’ – whether English people, immigrants or whoever – threaten the ‘authenticity’ of Scottish identity. (And he does it, hilariously enough, quoting a journalist – Fareed Zakaria – who was for a long time associated with the American neo-conservative right.)

Sadly, despite his torturously ponderous efforts to tackle ‘the national question’, this seems to accurately reflect what he actually thinks. For Alexander, the Yes campaign really is stacked with closet Anglophobes, while the SNP is consciously trying, against the determined resistance of Scotland’s moderate majority, to ‘other’ our closest neighbours.

This is puerile, gutter-scraping politics of the sort Alexander wants us to believe he is above. Alexander doesn’t like Scottish nationalists, so Scottish nationalists must be bad guys – bad enough to warrant being lumped in with the European hard-right. Never mind that the SNP’s independence pitch includes Scotland’s continued membership of the EU, increasing levels of immigration and a staunchly liberal approach to citizenship. None of this matters to Alexander. All he sees is nationalism, and one form of nationalism, however outwardly inclusive, is indistinguishable from the next, however nakedly backward or xenophobic.

But looking again at Alexander’s speeches, I can see this nasty, lowest-common-denominator habit is not new. It runs through all recent his contributions to the independence debate. In his 2011 Andrew John Williamson Memorial Lecture’, he argued that the ‘hate filled outpourings of the so called “Cyber-Nats” … challenge the very suggestion of a more pluralist, open, discursive politics if ever [the SNP] were to prevail in its primary purpose’. In another 2011 speech, this one to the Scottish Labour youth conference, Alexander recalled how, in 1995, he was ’spat upon – literally – by nationalist supporters’ before complaining about the way ‘the nationalists, from researchers, to MSPs and Ministers’ treated his sister when she was Scottish Labour leader. Neither of these serious charges are substantiated with even the slightest bit of evidence.

But then none of Alexander’s charges ever are. When it comes to Scottish nationalism, all Alexander really trades in is innuendo. ‘I don’t look at English people and see foreigners’, he said in January 2012, as though that is precisely what Yes campaigners do. Alexander’s strategy is to dress disgraceful smears such as this up as enlightened analysis. But sandwiching a slur between two Bobby Kennedy quotes doesn’t make it any less of a slur; knowing who Ernst Renan and Ivan Illich are doesn’t give you license to imply your opponents are a bunch of thugs.

So when you strip away all Alexander’s self-righteous verbiage, what are you left with? A cheap, partisan political operator who remains utterly convinced that the interests of his party and those of his country are still essentially the same. Bear that in mind next time you hear him say the words ‘National Convention’.



Categories: Commentary

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35 replies

  1. Douglas Alexander has a problem,and its himself that is the problem.He cannot tell us what his party,London Labour,has done or what they will do,because it would only take one sentence,he talks continually about the SNP,and why? I suspect it has a bit of the green eyed monster about him,he wishes he could be honest enough and have integrity to be a member of the SNP.He talks about what he fears the most and he says all the lies he thinks he can get away with,and that is his mentality its all about “WHAT HE CAN GET AWAY WITH” not what he will do but what others either have done or not done,he seeks to stand on the shoulders of those that have done what is right for Scotland.I think he is afraid to tell London what the reality is in Scotland,craven coward is the phrase that came to mind,although I don’t know why.When he gives out snide insults and puts the insults on the face of others,he is saying what he wants to say himself it is him who sees others as foreigners,but he tries to put it about like he reads what others think,no Douglas you said what you think for I am certain you cannot read minds.(if this makes sense to you explain it to me please)

  2. Scottish unionist politicians like D Alexander would rather have Boris Johnson and the tory ruling over Scotland than see an independent Scotland thriving on its own.

  3. ‘I don’t look at English people and see foreigners’, he said in January 2012, ” What do these people have against foreigners?? What does he think when he looks at foreigners? I thought Labour were meant to be uinternationalists but they are constantly implying that foreigners and being foreign is a really undesirable thing to be. One can onoly surmise that they are in fact ethnic nationalists.

  4. Reblogged this on charlesobrien08 and commented:
    Douglas Alexander has a problem,and its himself that is the problem.He cannot tell us what his party,London Labour,has done or what they will do,because it would only take one sentence,he talks continually about the SNP,and why? I suspect it has a bit of the green eyed monster about him,he wishes he could be honest enough and have integrity to be a member of the SNP.He talks about what he fears the most and he says all the lies he thinks he can get away with,and that is his mentality its all about “WHAT HE CAN GET AWAY WITH” not what he will do but what others either have done or not done,he seeks to stand on the shoulders of those that have done what is right for Scotland.I think he is afraid to tell London what the reality is in Scotland,craven coward is the phrase that came to mind,although I don’t know why.When he gives out snide insults and puts the insults on the face of others,he is saying what he wants to say himself it is him who sees others as foreigners,but he tries to put it about like he reads what others think,no Douglas you said what you think for I am certain you cannot read minds.(if this makes sense to you explain it to me please)

  5. Douglas Alexander is a British nationalist, a huge supporter of neo-Liberalism, and the archetypal New Labour careerist. He owes his rise in the Labour Party to the patronage of Gordon Brown. Alexander is not worth listening too, mostly because he has no discernible political principles or vision. Alexander is not a thinker, he is intelligent though. What he is above all else is a careerist politician, who has been happy and willing to drag the Labour Party in an ever more rightwards direction.

  6. This is possibly my favourite article on the entire internet. It’s about time someone took this sleekit coward to task for the snide way he operates. He’s like the kid in school who spends all day flicking your ear, then puts on a “who, me?” look just as the teacher turns around to see you retaliating. He’s by no means the only one like that in Scottish Labour, but he’s certainly the worst. I’ll never forget the quite frankly repulsive way he acted when he was on Question Time with Nicola Sturgeon.

    The only thing that saddens me about independence is the knowledge that people like this (and Jim Murphy’s another one) will probably wangle their way into government eventually.

    Oh, and it’s pretty rich of him to criticise people’s treatment of Wendy, considering we all know about his betrayal of her. You can tell a lot about someone by how they treat their relatives.

    • The one that got me was the ‘debate’ he and Nicola had on Scotland 2014 chaired by Sarah Smith.

      He continually interrupted or talked over Nicola in the very style described so wonderfully above, Smith did nothing and for once you could see that Nicola was serious pissed

  7. In a previous working life, I piloted a desk on the Paisley Daily Express, which meant, the Alexander siblings, Douglas and Wendy, were regularly in our office, spinning their politics.

    From weekly experience of seeing them hearing them and speaking to them, I can in all honsety say – in that family, Wendy got the brains, and the balls.

    She is ten times the politician her brother is, or could ever be.

    As for Jim Murphy, one of my daughters ran around with the Murphy “set” at university. She holds him inutter contempt, as a self-centred, self-seeking arse-hole, who only believes in one thing – how wonderful Jim Murphy is..

    I keep telling her, her taste in men is terrible – but, to her credit, she never went out with Murphy.

  8. If Douglas Alexander has actually read any Ernest [sic] Renan, which I doubt, then he would know the civic nationalism of the SNP is fair closer to Renan’s ideas than the anti-immigration rhetoric of the modern Labour party.

    As a son of the Manse, I am sure wee Dougie is familiar with Matthew 7:1-5.

  9. As i watch the absolute horror of the human crises in Iraq my loathing for unionist Labour makes me want to vomit, Alexander, a Blairite boy, Brown, Darling, Murphy ALL those bastards are implicit in the tragedy of Iraq. Alexander in particular as a foreign affairs ‘expert ‘ has watched the criminal Labour policy of invasion and then running away leaving the poor minorities in Iraq facing genocide!
    Foreign affairs has never been much of a campaign issue so they say but surely to fk we can nail those bstards as war criminals for turning Iraq into a killing field-THEY ALL voted for the illegal invasion all backed the war-criminal Blair! Blair who in some kind of sick joke is supposed to be ‘making peace possible in Palestine’ !
    THese corrupt villains created the tragedy of current Iraq and we say nothing about it because it doesn’t win votes at the Referendum???? Why, because we don’t frame the argument with these Labour lice as what they are -international war criminals!

  10. I like this very much, one of those pieces you wished you’d written yourself….if you could.

  11. He,s no Tony Benn! In fact he’s not fit to tie Denis Canavans boot laces.He is like one of these people at work who manages to find a niche for himself.Not based on anything he has done or actually achieved.Its just that the veneer he exudes makes others think he is brighter than he is.The kind of guy you see in the people directory and think what does this guy actually do!In other words he is a fraud an invention in his own mind.I dont think he has ever had an original idea in his head.

  12. What Alexander and his Ilk are all about is very simple. As scots they’re fighting to keep their jobs.

    • I would describe them as Brits fighting to keep their ‘jobs’. Their constituencies just happen to be in Scotland, but if Yes prevails next month, we could see several Labour careerists such as Dougie Alexander, Jim Murphy or Mags Curran being parachuted into safe Labour seats here in England. If that happens, I can hear a few million voices in Scotland shouting, “enjoy!” across the border. As the immortal Norman Stanley Fletcher might say, they really are a bunch of charmless despicable nerks.

  13. I am old enough still to see Alexander and Murphy as NUS careerists who sooked their way into a career. Neither of them have done anything of note, and both could easily have been in the Tory Party, which, if they had been in middle England, they probably would have found to be their natural home.

    I’m interested that others on this thread obviously think of them as two sides of the same Labour coin as well.

    • Aye, there are many (Tom Harris and Sarwar are another two that spring to mind) who seem to have joined the Labour party because they are the party that gets you into elected office, rather than for what they were meant to stand for. After all, if you’re getting into politics in the 1980s Scotland and your aim is to become a professional politician, there’s only one party you’re going to join, and it’s Labour.

      That’s what gets my goat when people accuse SNP folk of only wanting independence for power. If they wanted power, they’d have joined Labour or moved down south to become a Tory!

      I dare say this will eventually happen to the SNP too. In fact, I would suggest it already happens to a certain extent. But it’ll never be as bad in a proportional system as it is in a FPTP system.

  14. I’d given up paying any attention to Douglas Alexander’s expiations, but as I appreciated your article I did click on a link and ploughed through a piece.

    It may be a clever piece of writing as a piece of vote No propaganda. It has a flavour of intellectualism to give it an aura of gravitas,but the core message is the same old list of negative mantras which the No campaign believe will keep enough people on edge. Is he trying to create an overall impression to the reader skimming through that – ‘That Alexander bloke sounds clever – so he must be right on currency, etc.’

    If the above is the case then it is a slick piece of cynical, political manipulation.

    A closer look at the article reveaIs a more prosaic and depressing reality. It’s the sort of sententious stuff Church of Scotland ministers come out with when they’re puffed up with their own position and mistake that for serious, coherent discourse. It looks backwards and paints a rose tinted picture of a Labour Party which would actually be revolted by his politics; it discusses the Yes campaign soley in terms of the SNP; it uses assertion as fact.

    Worst of all it demonstrates a willful blindness to the changing nature of Scottish political development. The movement for self-determination has grown in spite of Labour; the Yes campaign is not only more than the SNP – it is more than the official Yes campaign! What we are seeing in Scotland is the most exciting emergence of political activity and Douglas Alexander, for all his intellectual posturing, misses that completely. He and his pals have put his party firmly outside the evolving movement for change which has changed Scotland for ever.

    What a sad, blinkered, inadequate little response to what is going on in his own country.

  15. I never understood the claim of Alexander’s greatness.

    The article captured it perfectly with the description of his “formulae”.
    He is like the artist who copies – it looks good but lacks originality. He will never be a great leader but he can quote their words, practise their style and extend his career as a mimic.

    The perfect new labour shell. Simple send the briefing paper and press play.

  16. Maybe it was the name thinking he was like that other drunken lout of yesteryear. But maybe I’m being unduly harsh. I’m in Oz so can’t really understand the persecution that Alex Salmond gets. I can say this though that anyone here who has heard him think he’s a cut above most of the political class that are flaunting their feathers on the world stage. I look forward to experiencing some of the enthusiasm that the is referendum is creating when I’m back on my old turf in a couple of weeks. What an exciting time to be around. The Scottish people have a great opportunity and I hope they take it for the sake of their future and generations to come.

  17. No he’s not really an intellectual, but he’s clever right enough.

    Reminds me of a small shark in a suit. Ideal Blairite really. Loads of empty words right up until he has someone to bite. That he associates over forty percent of the Scottish electorate with right wing intolerance for the sake of party political gain says all you ever need to know about this odious individual. As for how he squares that circle of alienating near half them with true socialism is beyond me, but I seem to recall Labour being a party of the people, not just half of them.

    Mr Alexander strikes me as someone who would sacrifice anyone or anything for the party machine and a career regardless of the collateral damage to the people. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but I have this thing about public servants being seen to exercise care for their electorate. All of them.

  18. Alexander the MEH!

  19. Douglas Alexander quoting Ivan Illich- the world is definitely upside down. Next we’ll have Jim Davidson reciting Rilke’s Duino Elegies or Simon Cowell advocating Tolstoyism or John Barrowman quoting Robert Burns…oh wait we’ve had that!

  20. Salmond is a bit like Neil Lennon. The press demonise someone for long enough and people start criticising everything he does from what tie he wears to his sense of humour. I listen to it every day at my work. He could hand someone £100 and they would find a reason to moan about the way he folded the notes!

  21. National Convention——stable bolted

    sounds so out dated,Scotland has moved on

  22. Jamie Maxwell as per hitting the nail on the head. The supposed soft sell by Alexander is just that a sell, what he wants you to buy is his narrow view of the world while at the same time branding anyone who wants to vote yes as some daft extremist. The Labour party really need to change their name,
    labour
    noun:
    1.
    work, especially physical work.
    work hard; make great effort.

    Their name no longer describes what they are and the people they claim to represent

  23. This poseur really gets my goat. An intellectual pygmy (and short arse?) who screwed up the 2007 election in Scotland and caused 150,000 votes to be spoiled by his incompetent interfering.

    Sticking up(SNP) strawmen to knock down in his snidey burbling style, when he is ironically the epitome of a strawman himself.

    He has actually only worked for six months in his whole life and like his sister has apparently the brain of a small planet…Uranus I would guess.

    The sooner this nematode is flushed down the political toilet along with all the other parasites…Smurf; Lamentable;Zelda;etc. the better.

  24. Whatever you imagine New Labour comes across as in the flesh then this man is it.
    I’ll say no more, wait till you meet him.

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  3. Douglas Alexander – Superior Intellect But No Soul – Senior Office Holder In A Labour Party Devoid Of Any Worthwhile Policies | caltonjock

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