There is, after all, life after politics
Well, that happened.
I refer, of course, to the 2015 general election and Labour’s almost total wipeout in Scotland. Just ten years ago, a work of fiction featuring such events would have found difficulty in finding a publisher.
The previous year was without a doubt the most unpleasant 12 months I’ve ever had to endure as an MP or, indeed, as an adult. The referendum campaign was awful, and then, even though we “won”, it didn’t feel like it. And then the long run-up to the general election. Nightmare.
A million weeks, each day knowing I was going to lose, yet still hoping that the polls and pundits might be spectacularly wrong.
Catch-up service: they weren’t.
Losing your seat is like a grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. You know, all that bollocks. I went through most of it and yet, after less than a couple of weeks, it took a comment from my wife, Carolyn, for me to realise exactly what had happened. “You look younger and more relaxed than you have for years.”
It was true. Because it wasn’t just the last couple of years of referendum campaigning that was a miserable experience, it was the last five or even six years. In 2010 I briefly considered stepping down from the Commons voluntarily and doing something else (probably “public affairs” about which I knew very little at the time). The expenses scandal had soured life at Westminster even for those of us who didn’t find ourselves at the centre of a news story about duck houses or moats. Or shelving.
I also knew that we would be in opposition after the general election that year, and that I would hate that. Opposition is a bloody waste of time for any grown man (or woman) to spend their time on. But I bottled it and signed on for another five years. And those five years were even more miserable than I could have anticipated. First there was the election result itself – almost entirely self-inflicted, but hey, that’s the Labour Party for ya! And then there was the leadership election. And Ed Miliband.
But worst of all, a year into the parliament, was the death of David Cairns, my closest friend at Westminster. Just devastating for all of us who knew and loved him. Our landslide defeat by the SNP at the Holyrood elections a few days earlier barely impinged on my consciousness as I waited to hear word from the hospital where he was being treated.
And then the Scottish Labour leadership contest (which was a blast, I must admit) and the announcement by Cameron of a referendum on Scottish independence.
During the general election campaign I was asked by one or two activists if, in the event of my losing in Glasgow South, would I stand again. Absolutely not, I told them. Under no circumstances. I meant it and I won’t be changing my mind. I’ve finally managed to get politics – at least of the elected variety – out of my system.
I’m in a good place. I followed the advice of the estimable Andrew Wilson, the former SNP MSP now heading up Charlotte Street Partners in Edinburgh, and drew a line under my former life by founding my own company, which is doing very well thank you very much.
I still dip my toe into politics by writing a weekly (sometimes twice-weekly) online column for the Telegraph. The only time when I miss the green benches is when I survey the mess that is The Political Party Formerly Known As Labour. The analogy I draw is this: imagine if, following the appalling 1983 defeat to which Michael Foot led us, we elected not Neil Kinnck as leader in his place, but Tony Benn. That’s where we are now. Except things are much worse than that scenario, because Jeremy Corbyn lacks the cabinet experience, intellect and oratorical skills Benn possessed.
So when I consider the inevitable defeats and irrelevance to which Labour Party members condemned themselves by voting for Corbyn in September, I do flirt with the notion that I would love to be back there, arguing and organising for change alongside the sane majority of Labour MPs.
But then I shake myself out of such fantasies and thank God in heaven for the fact that I lost in May, that I have a family who love having me around more, that I no longer have to listen to the complaints of constituents and local party members, and that I don’t have to read tortuous, sanctimonious emails from 38 Bloody Degrees (to give that organisation its full name). In short, I have my life back.
And although I have no intention (for now) of resigning my membership, if Labour is ever to recover from its summer, autumn and winter of madness, it will have to do it without my help.