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Six things Labour should not say about Scottish independence

We’ve already argued that Unionism will not win back Scottish Labour voters. That unfortunately has not dissuaded Labour’s front bench in Westminster. It’s time then for specifics. It’s not just about the future of the Union. It is also about whether the SNP repeat their trouncing of Labour in local and Westminster elections.  YouGov yesterday showed the SNP ahead of Labour for the first time on Westminster voting intention — 37% to 35%, with Tories and LibDems trailing on 16% & 7%. That compares with 28% and 44% (same YouGov question) just before the SNP beat Labour by 45% to 32% last May. Council elections next May could see Labour losing their only two councils including Glasgow, and the SNP gaining control in a few others.

So here are some things which Labour at Westminster should not be saying (and Scottish Labour MPs would do well to remember that they are seen as having a particular interest in stopping independence):

  1. Scottish independence will be disastrous for Labour in England: Firstly, it would be a major challenge but not a disaster. “What if” speculation would have to take consider, for example, whether Northern Ireland would have featured in a UK without Scotland. Looking at the table below, for various scenarios with or without Wales and Northern Ireland, the main differences look like: Atlee would have lost a year earlier; Douglas-Home would still not have won a majority in 1964 in a parliament with 5 Liberals in England and Wales (although he would have won a tiny one in a UK consisting only of England and Northern Ireland), and Wilson would have gone on to win a big majority soon after; Heath would have lost his majority anyway in February 1974 (with 11 Liberals in England and Wales, 2 Plaid and 2 independent Labour) so the Lib-Lab pact would have started sooner. Who knows how Thatcher’s subsequent victory might been affected. The worst outcome would have been that the Lib Dems would not have exposed their true selves in 2010, with the Tories. And the way things have been going for the SNP, Scotland may even become a barrier to a Labour victory in the future UK Parliament.
  2. Table: Labour ‘Majorities’ without Scotland

    Election_year England Eng + Wales E,W+NI E+NI
    1945 76 84 78 70
    1950 -20 -11 -17 -26
    1951 -2 7 1 -8
    1955 -39 -30 -36 -45
    1959 -62 -53 -59 -68
    1964 -9 1 -5 -15
    1966 30 44 38 24
    1970 -39 -30 -36 -45
    1974 Feb -21 -15 -21 -27
    1974 Oct -3 2 -4 -9
    1979 -55 -52 -58 -61
    1983 -113 -112 -121 -122
    1987 -106 -101 -110 -115
    1992 -67 -59 -67 -75
    1997 64 78 69 55
    2001 59 73 64 50
    2005 22 31 22 13
    2010 -75 -69 -78 -84

    Secondly, and more importantly, all this is besides the point. The best way to alienate Scottish voters and assist Alex Salmond is to even begin to address the issue of “what is best for England”. This will be, and should be, a debate about what is best for the people of Scotland. The people that live there, that is. Not Scots living in England. Not even for the people of Berwick-upon-Tweed (though perhaps they deserve a plebiscite if Scotland votes for independence). Labour is the party that brought devolution to Scotland and should stand true to its belief in and obligation to uphold the principle of self-determination.

  3. There needs to be a three-party campaign against Scottish independence: So says Jim Murphy: “There needs to be a three-party campaign, ourselves, the Liberal Democrats and the Tories.” But the last thing that will help either Labour or, for that matter, unionism is to link up in any way with Tories and Liberals who have the support of only 1 in 5 Scottish voters and have spent the last 18 months wreaking terrible damage on the economy of Scotland.
  4. There should only be one question on the ballot: Jim Murphy implies this too, only more offensively when he says that devo-max is a meaningless “advertiser’s slogan”. Of course it needs defining. The biggest problem with referenda is that so much depends on the question(s) asked. There should be broad agreement on the question(s) asked, butLabour should surely favour giving voters the full range of options open to Scotland. If devo-max is ill-defined, it may be a reason to defer seeking public endorsement now, but it’s not a reason for rejection. As the party that brought Scotland devolution, how can we be opposed to any version of it, in principle?
  5. Scotland would be forced to join the Euro/couldn’t stay in Sterling: Osborne’s said the former, we shouldn’t. Even the EU is surely unlikely to be foolish enough to insist that Scotland joins the Euro, but if it does, Labour in Westminster should argue that Scotand should be free to choose the Euro, Pound or its own currency (the Pund?). Alistair Darling was right to argue that the choice between one’s own currency and a currency union (Euro or Sterling) means balancing risks and comparing influence. The reality is that there’s no such thing as independence in a global economy. Its a tough choice and the Scottish people are entitled to make it — scaremongering is counter-productive. The SNP, however, do have to prove their case. And they need to be asked (by Scottish Labour) to explain how currency union without some level of political union would work in either Europe or Britain.
  6. Scotland could not have afforded to bail out RBS and HBoS but an independent Scotland will have to pay the cost of doing so: the division of assets and debt between Scotland and England plus will be difficult, there’s no doubt. Just how Scottish were RBS and HBoS and in whose alleged interests were they bailed out? Alex Salmond would argue for all of the assets  and none of the debt. And so would Johann Lamont if she was charged with the task. Labour in London does not yet have the responsibility to negotiate. But the difficulty of the task does not take away the right of self-determination; and UK Labour surely seeks no more than a “just settlement”.
  7. The Union has yielded so much for the English and the Scots/served both countries well for 300 years: Both sides can play counter-factual historical assertions. As Gerry Hassan says:
    Alex Salmond makes the point that Scotland had the highest GDP per head in the world in 1900 and that this should be our modern aspiration. What he doesn’t mention is that the Scotland of 1900 didn’t exactly share its wealth and was a bitterly divided society, impoverished and harsh place.
    There was no golden age, not for the Scottish working class. If Scotland had won independence in the nineteenth century, it would have followed in the footsteps of Hungary, seeking a division of the spoils of the Empire to be shared out amongst Scotland’s ruling class.

    And today in Scotland, that section of the “business community” like fund-manager Angus Tulloch and transport operator, Brian Souter, who fund the SNP, do so not because they want to raise Glasgow’s life expectancy from the lowest in Britain, but because they believe that Scotland’s super-rich will benefit. Labour will win Scotland again, not by failing to speak for Scotland but by putting its class politics first.


  1. Paul Leslie says:

    Such a good defence of the reasons for moving to self- management and a new political order in Scotland. Good economic points – debt is piling up with the various PPI PFI projects that will have to be paid back over 20-30 years or more (This evidenced in the NHS Trusts in England). Unionism is not winning back Conservative votes either. Best wishes for a new fairer society.

  2. Jennifer Beaton says:

    Would it be possible to do a graphic with the information about election results? I didn’t quite follow it as is so could you improve on it? Were these all years that Labour won/lost? When did Scottish Labour MP’s make a difference to the result etc. Colour coding for the numerically challenged, (myself), perhaps!

  3. Robert says:

    Where’s Scotland…..

  4. George McManus says:

    Robert asks ‘Where’s Scotland?’

    Straight ahead and turn left at the end of the rainbow.

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