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Unionism will not win back Scottish Labour voters

In the battle between Scotland and Westminster independence, win or lose, Alex Salmond speaks for Scotland. And speaking for Scotland is what has brought the SNP core Labour voters by the coachload in every Labour seat. Labour is out of power both sides of the border so the one thing of which we can be certain is that it won’t win the battle. But it can surely lose it. Its best course is to keep its distance from the (other) unionist parties, show tolerance of those who back independence — including in its own ranks — and make sure the SNP answers the hard questions.

I am not so clear about independence as is David Osler. Government, like identity, is complex and exists on many different levels. I’m in favour of devolution max for the reasons Malcolm Chisholm argued here, and not only for Scotland — the Wales and London assemblies should have more powers and we’ve got to return to the thorny problem of the other English regions.

But we need more democracy at the higher levels of government too: in the EU, regulation and spending should be approved by the European parliament, to which Commissioners should be fully accountable. Alongside devolution max must go democracy max. At every level. Democratising the UN, IMF, WTO etc is a major challenge but at least in the EU and UK we have parliaments. The SNP are clear that they seek independence within the EU. What do they envisage will be the new relationship within the island of Britain?

A crucial question in the absence of surviving Celtic tigers is about currency? It’s a funny time to be thinking about joining the Euro. But if Scotland stayed with Sterling, what sense does opting out of the UK parliament make? This is the sort of question Labour should be asking.

I do not buy the business case against Scottish independence. There are several successful small economies within the EU. But independence begs more questions than it answers and some of the wrong answers would certainly hurt the Scottish economy. So where do the SNP stand on those?

Scottish Labour should be campaigning for devolution max and remain collectively neutral on independence. Some members will not be restrained from campaiging against independence. Some may wish to back it. Let the SNP prove their case if they can. Who knows? Indifference may win the day.


  1. GarryK99 says:

    I agree that devomax seems the best option. Any Westminster party trying to put the Scottish genie back in the bottle will fail.

  2. Stephen says:

    Unionism – which usually a mounts to trying to say that “Your Scottish nationalism is bad – but my British patriotism is good” and failing to see the irony probably won’t help.

    So all in all it’s about as helpful a means of tackling the SNP as ‘Devo max’

    It’s a readily observable fact of political debate here that the the people keenest to talk up ‘DEVO Max’ as a concept and get into the referendum are the SNP. Whilst it’s occasionally floated as an idea by others No other party has suggested or campaigned for it.

    Given that the SNP are also the only party that wanted an independence referendum – the fact that they are so keen to have this option put to people can only stem from a deep insecurity about winning a straight vote on independence / separation.
    The SNP didn’t become the Government in Edinburgh because they stood for independence – quite the reverse – this SNP developed their referendum strategy Precisely to allow people to vote for them WITHOUT having to worry that Scotland would necessarily become independent- “vote for us now – but you’ll have a choice about independence later” The SNP won in 2007 because they looked energetic whilst Labour looked tired unimaginative and too tied to the, failing even by then politics of new labour.
    The SNP won in 2011 because they looked like they would do a better job in protecting people from a Tory Govt (The SNP had done badly in the westminster General election in 2010 – where by contrast Labour gained votes and seats )

    Jon appears unaware that a Bill considerably extending the powers of the Scottish parliament is currently going through Westminster – this was the result of the calman commission – are we to go through all that again? Just to throw a bone to a party whose leader argues that even the minimal bank regulation of the Blair Brown era was more than was needed for Scottish institutions who didn’t need the ‘gold plated regulation’ of the city of London’ ‘silver plated’ regulation would be good enough for Scottish banks. I really hope not.

    By all means advance new and differing powers for Holyrood – I’d like to stop the way they have centralised power up the way from Local Government in Scotland for example – but lets keep that notion separate from what people were promised would be a referendum on independence – In the referendum context ‘Devo max’ isn’t a policy , it’s a get out of jail free card fror the SNP. A party whose leader whose first political demand upon being reelected – during the speech he made at the declaration at the count in his own constituency was the right to cut corporation tax -not control – ‘cut’
    It is not the role of the Left to make life easier for a party who are , as Eric Hobsbawm accurately and unimprovably put it “a classical petty-bourgeois nationalist party of the provincial right”

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      The SNP may or may not be “a classical petty-bourgeois nationalist party of the provincial right” but the fact is that it currently has the support of the majority of working class voters in Scotland – of council/housing association tenants and of people who live in the most deprived areas according to Ipsos-MORI,whilst the two government parties have the combined support of as few as one in five. Alex Salmond is, in policy terms, not so far from Ed Miliband, but, in terms of public perception, has far fewer negatives. So it’s not about making life easier for the SNP, but about ensuring that Labour shows its determination to stand up for Scotland and demand whatever powers are necessary to deliver what Scotland needs.

  3. Stephen says:

    We’ve done the Standing up for Scotland by demanding (and btw getting) more powers for the parliament thing for the last four years – it didn’t win anyone back. Because , and I accept this might be difficult for people who don’t live here to grasp – that wasn’t the problem. The problem was far more on the ‘delivering what Scotland needs side ‘ – we failed to make a break with new labour.. and suffered accordingly. (although working class people in all areas voted in far larger numbers for labour in the 2010 election than they did for the SNP in the Scottish parliament elections)

    Meanwhile since 2007 – not only have the SNP (like the Lib Lab coalition they replaced) not only failed to use all of the existing powers of the Scottish parliament – they even, through ineptitude, allowed the Income tax gathering power to lapse. So what’s holding the people of Scotland back isn’t that Govt’s in Edinburgh have been stymied by the cruel limitations of devolution arrangements. It’s been a (largely cross party) neo liberal consensus.. Labour are taking tentative staps away from that. The SNP – occasional populist flourish notwithstanding – aren’t.

    You may think that in policy terms there isn’t much to choose between Ed and Eck – but I’ve never heard Ed (either of them) suggest our tax regime should be based on Laffer curves. Much more significantly Ed leads a (nominally) Social Democratic party – with organic links to the Trade Unions – which organises across the UK – and is concerned with the well being of people across the UK. Alex Salmond leads a nationalist party, whose response – in theory and practice – to unemployment in Clydeside is to say that it is the fault of constitutional arrangements and whose response to unemployment in Tyneside is to say “not my problem pal”.

    Pursuing “devo max” will provide a get out for the SNP in what would other wise be a straight yes/no on independence (that’s why they are promoting it). This is undeniable. It would inevitably also detract from examining who will benefit (or not) from the SNP’s brand of indpendence and their claims that they can run Scandinavian Social services on an Irish tax base. But more seriously than that arguing “Devo Max” in the referendum context is to encourage , not discourage, a nationalist take on politics -our problems are the result of the hegemony of britain rather than the hegemony of capital. Holyrood will be getting more powers next year – maybe it should get more in the future – but the task at hand is replacing a petit bourgeois nationalist frame of scottish politics with (at least) a social democratic one. That task is best served by a straight question in the referendum – not by trying to construct a third way.

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