This could be the greatest political crisis that Scottish Labour has ever faced. In fact, knowing Scottish Labour, it probably is. Yesterday it was revealed that the leader of the party, Jim Murphy, had last year claimed two cans of Irn-Bru (worth £1.30) on parliamentary expenses. MPs staying outside of London are allowed to claim up to £25 per night on food and (non-alcoholic) drinks purchases, and it was commonly felt that Murphy had claimed an excessive proportion of this total. In claiming two cans of his “favourite” drink over the whole year.
WordPress statistics show that more than half of Tychy’s readers are from America, and so to keep this important demographic in the country, I’d better explain what Irn-Bru is and what UK parliamentary expenses are.
Irn-Bru is a carbonated, luminous, rust-coloured cola substitute. The Scots flatter themselves that Irn-Bru is macho and industrial; that it’s made from “irn [iron]” and “girders.” In truth it tastes like a kind of ineptly-made Fanta, or like an overly sugary orange fizz with a bit of HP Sauce mixed into it. Murphy is teetotal but he’s evidently anxious to avoid the unflattering, limp-wristed connotations of teetotalism. Hence his choice of a supposedly manly non-alcoholic drink. Far from blithely toasting the Labour party with tap water, unafraid of not being one of the boys, Murphy has carefully selected for his favourite drink the nearest thing to alcohol which is not alcohol. With Irn-Bru, therefore, he overcompensates and advertises how uneasy he really is about teetotalism.
When it comes to our parliamentary expenses system, it’s necessary to explain that the UK is a utopia in which political corruption is altogether unthinkable. Our political representatives are like monks, nibbling on stale crackers and resigned to lives of virtuous poverty. This is the context in which claiming £1.30 for a yearly drinks allowance has caused universal scandal.
There’s something profoundly unnerving, almost eerie, about teetotalism. Alcohol reduces your inhibitions and it makes you more social and even more human. To put this in terms that Murphy would understand, without alcohol you are like Irn-Bru without the bubbles. That cool, sexy, fun person who always appears whenever you’re drink… well, with Murphy nobody has been ever allowed to meet this person. His enriched, alcoholised doppelgänger is kept chained up in a mental dungeon, detained without charge. And so on those two fateful occasions last year when Murphy had wanted to celebrate (I’m guessing his birthday and Christmas) a normal person would have opted for alcohol, but the parliamentary authorities were inclined to give solace to the wretched minority who can’t or won’t indulge. Irn-Bru was therefore eligible for parliamentary expenses. It’s the source of all Murphy’s troubles.
Murphy should renounce Irn-Bru – indeed this would be a huge step forward for the political and cultural life of our country. We would mature as a people. The non-alcoholic upstart Irn-Bru, this little squirt, this imposter which tries to mingle with real manly drinks when it’s actually the most pathetic drip, would finally get its comeuppance. Rather than standing on an Irn-Bru crate Murphy should stamp on the thing. Tearfully, he should prostrate himself before the Scottish people and then repent of his freakish, deeply foolish lifestyle choice. The Arabs had a saying that the sun rises with the cupbearer and sets in the open mouth. They were talking about wine, not Irn-Bru, and Murphy should plunge headlong into Enlightenment.
Incidentally, within the tinpot world of Scottish politics Murphy is more of a Hawk than a Dove on the topic of alcohol. In December he argued that drinking alcohol should be legalised at Scottish football matches – a liberal concession which gets an unmistakable edge over the SNP’s authoritarianism. Wings Over Scotland, Scottish Nationalism’s leading Somerset-based attack blog, responded that “Jim Murphy may be the only person alive who wants to see MORE alcohol drunk in Scotland and MORE sectarian songs sung at football matches.” The Reverend Stuart Campbell, the Wings writer, added for good measure that “it’s apparently Scottish Labour policy to have the two sets of fans get smashed and attempt to provoke each other with songs about IRA murderers and being up to your knees in Fenian blood.” It’s clear who is Labour here and who the Tories: Murphy trusts ordinary people with freedom of speech and a few pints at a football match; Campbell shares the Thatcherite view of football fans as rabid animals, a bigotry which had once led to the crowd-control strategies at Hillsborough. On the ideological front, maybe there’s something to be said for sobriety.