I literally slept through the Labour breakaway this morning, so the first question I wanted answered when I woke up was whether this would be a formal new political party with a name, logo, colours, whip, paid membership and so on, or whether it would be just a ragtag of independents for the time being. I was dismayed to discover it's the latter, because I do wonder if this could make the fall of the Tory government less likely in the short-term. Having skimmed through a fair bit of the reporting on the breakaway, I haven't yet found any sign of the MPs being asked whether they would vote with the opposition parties in any no confidence vote. You can imagine they won't be overly-keen on a general election until they have a formal organisation behind them. (Presumably the 'Independent Group' is a proto-party in the same way that the Council for Social Democracy preceded the formal launch of the SDP in 1981 - nothing else would make any sense, because the rule of thumb with independent MPs is that they lose their seats at general elections, and a general election can't be avoided forever.) If by any chance the MPs start acting like "crossbenchers", and abstain on no confidence votes "to prevent Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister", as the odious John Woodcock has done, the government would be safe even if it lost the support of the DUP. But with a bit of luck, Umunna, Berger and co will see the political risk attached to looking like Tory enablers, and will reluctantly carry on voting to bring the government down.
I would guess that, other than not being quite ready, there are a couple of reasons why they've held off from launching a formal party just yet: a) to leave the door just about ajar to reverse their defections if there is an unexpected change of direction within Labour, and b) to make it easier for their former "Labour moderate" colleagues to avoid attacking them in the way that would be inevitable if they had officially made themselves electoral opponents. Right on cue, the likes of Kezia Dugdale and Blair McDougall seized the opportunity to attack their own party leadership rather than the splitters, which is nevertheless an extraordinary thing for them to do, because it makes clear that their instinctive first loyalty is to people who are trying to destroy their own party from the outside. And although I suspect both Dugdale and McDougall know full well that a Labour split in Scotland would be electoral suicide for both the new party and whatever is left behind, their statements today will make it very difficult for them not to make the jump if they see the bulk of their fellow travellers in England defect in the long run.
In particular, some of McDougall's tweets today have been mind-bogglingly disloyal to "his party". Here are a couple -
"Well done. You’ve spent two years desperately trying to make Labour smaller. You’ve succeeded. Now you can spend two years moaning that the MPs and voters you’ve driven away mean Labour can’t get elected. As if you care about getting into government. A terrible day for my party."
"I’m in a party that Luciana Berger can’t stay in and that Jim Sheridan can’t get thrown out of. What a s*** show."
The Scottish media are going to look pretty silly if they continue trying to push their "SNP civil war" narrative with all this going on. The face of Mr Blair McDougall is what a real civil war looks like.
What is the biggest threat to SNP hegemony in Scotland? It sure as hell isn't the Tories, in spite of the most cherished dreams of the commentariat. There still appears to be a natural ceiling of around 30% on Scottish Tory support, and they'll struggle to even reach that at the next election. No, the real threat is the enduring cultural and tribal affinity to the Labour brand among working-class and "working-class-minded" voters in the central belt. We thought briefly that we'd slayed that beast in 2015, but both the local elections and the general election two years ago showed yet again just how unthinkingly some voters, including many pro-independence voters, default back to Labour, even when it appears to most people that the game is up.
But Labour is about providing an alternative to Tory rule at Westminster, or it is nothing. Dugdale and McDougall could be killing their own party, while failing to replace it with an alternative force that is remotely viable in Scotland. If this breakaway eventually swells to the point where Labour no longer looks like a credible opposition, the SNP may start to feel like the only game in town for the traditional Labour vote, and at last we'll have a reliable, united, stable, pro-indy, centre-left vote at both Westminster and Holyrood elections, with a huge in-built lead over the Tories, which can only make independence a somewhat more probable outcome.