Perfect arse

Life offers joys to appreciate. For instance, only the other day, a gentleman wearing a Star Wars St

Dear readers, allow me to announce that I have actually finished a short story. After weeks of nonsense, distractions, train trips and psychotic breaks I really, truly did manage to cobble together enough minutes to put one word after another for 22 of your earth pages and there it is – probably ugly and deeply flawed, but a story nonetheless.

In many ways, in fact, quite a dandy fortnight has just passed. I now have so much work to do that I can no longer consider considering any of it and have passed into a state of Zen-like calm - unless I’m running on caffeine, in which case, all my twitches and ticks kick in and I may also weep without noticing which adversely affects my hydration. (And it may be significant that the words “psychotic break” immediately suggest a delightful type of holiday, rather than something mentally catastrophic.)

Be that as it may, life offers joys to appreciate. For instance, only the other day, a gentleman wearing a Star Wars Storm trooper mask showed me his bottom. He had mentioned it was exceptional and, in response to what may have been my mildly quizzical expression, took it upon himself to prove that indeed it was – pert, witty, unblemished, debonair and hairless – all one could ask of an arse. So a pleasant 68 seconds there and a chance to reflect on the fact that meeting the public is always enriching.

More comedy last week – had a grand time testing out new material for the Edinburgh Fringe show in August – and enjoyed again the relatively new Wicked Wenches tradition of taking tea backstage at The Stand in Edinburgh. Once a month, comics and staff gather together around a table furnished with an embroidered cloth, china, varieties of tea, home-made and hypoallergenic cakes, dainties and wildflowers. Every now and then someone leaves to go onstage and talk about genitals, dysfunction, relationships, hellmouths and so forth – before returning to nibble a fairy cake or straighten a doily. A great idea there from Julia Cloughley-Sousa and I cannot emphasise enough how delightful it is to experience a few hours of civilisation in one’s workplace. I would heartily recommend that you try your own variation on the theme – perhaps with a tasteful display of quality buttocks added on public holidays. Or whatever works for you.

My final meetings with this year’s students at Warwick University have also now passed. And what do you say to young people who are trotting (or just ambling, in some cases) off in hopes of becoming professional writers ? Obviously, a part of you does want to simply scream, “DEAR GOD NO ! TURN BACK NOW ! BECOME A POLE DANCER ! SELL YOUR ORGANS ! ANYTHING ! IT’S HIDEOUS ! NO ONE WILL RESPECT YOU FOR IT – STRANGERS WON’T EVEN BELIEVE YOU WHEN YOU TELL THEM WHAT YOU DO ! AND WORKING FOR THE THEATRE, OR TV, OR FILM…? THAT’S LIKE RIPPING YOUR OWN HEART OUT, PARING IT INTO FLAKES WITH A HOT CHISEL AND THEN THROWING THE RESULTANT MESS DOWN A WELL. YOU’LL END UP BOSS-EYED, TWISTED, TICKING, SURROUNDED BY PALS YOU MADE UP EARLIER, SHATTERED RELATIONSHIPS AND CRUDE DRAWINGS OF THINGS YOU’D LIKE TO DO WHEN THE NURSES REMOVE YOUR RESTRAINTS.

But instead you smile, perhaps mention eating more fruit, self-maintenance, plans, hope – because the only thing worse than doing the thing you really love would be not doing it. And when it’s good it really is about as good as it gets – making dreams and wonders – not the worst job in the world.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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