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Scotland: at least Labour could oppose independence independently

In a part of Britain in which the population still gets overly excited about the ideological alignments of its football clubs, the British flag is not just a neutral patriotic symbol.

Thirteen-year-old Lee Heron was earlier this year sent home from his high school in Newton Stewart, Wigtownshire, for wearing a Union Jack T-shirt his mum had bought him at Primark. This attire, his teacher deemed, was likely to inflame sectarian tension among the pupils.

I do not know enough to pass any comment on the merits of that particular case. But in the local context, the reported decision of some Scottish university Labour clubs to hand out Union Jacks as a freshers’ week recruitment incentive is probably sending the wrong message to an entire section of the population.

Yet even before David Cameron and Alex Salmond agreed the terms of a referendum on Scottish independence – likely to be held in 2014 – Labour has been remarkably anxious to position itself as plus unioniste que les unionistes on this issue.

So it is that former chancellor Alistair Darling – who would no doubt have strongly supported a Nairn thesis-style break-up of Britain at the time when Neil Kinnock famously branded him a ‘bearded Trot’ – has ended up heading Better Together, the main anti-independence campaign.

At least he is likely to end up on the winning side. In the terms in which the argument is currently framed, the Scottish National Party looks set to come a cropper.

After dropping his earlier insistence that Scottish residents be given a chance to tick a box in favour of further devolution, Salmond faces resounding defeat, at least if the opinion polls are anything to go by.

While I personally favour outright Scottish independence – for reasons I have set out elsewhere – this remains a minority outlook on the English left.

Officially, reluctance is expressed as opposition to ‘breaking up the historically constituted unity of the British working class’. Unofficially, the very real fear is that if Scotland leaves us, the parliament of what remains of the UK will be handed to the Tories in perpetuity.

Given that Labour’s heritage is support for Scottish home rule rather than independence proper, let us accept that progressive Sassenach opinion can reasonably differ. What does worry me is the tactical ineptness of Labour’s apparent determination to do the Tories’ heavy lifting for them.

As the joke went after China gifted a couple of pandas to Edinburgh zoo, Scotland now has twice as many ailuropoda melanoleuca than Conservative MPs. If Better Together was reliant on a Tory figurehead, the referendum would be another ballgame altogether.

By entering a formal alliance with the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, Labour is selling itself short, and reinforcing the impression north of the border that little separates the three London-based mainstream parties.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont should think twice about ramping up the quasi-Thatcherite rhetoric in a bid to attack the SNP from the right.

A far better choice would be to oppose independence independently, while pushing for the combination of greater autonomy and greater social justice that most Scots seem to want.


  1. Stephen says:

    Dave is right about the “Better Together” campaign, although wrong about Independence (without rehearsing the whole thing.. it’s Rupert Murdoch’s favoured option which should give decent human beings pause for thought).

    In fairness to Al D – when he’s been wheeled out for the meeja, he’s generally been pretty good at picking apart some of the Indy contradictions … but that’s all he can do . The nature of the campaign he leads prevents the articulation of a an agenda other than one which is also nationalist.. just British rather than Scottish.

    Scottish Independence (partic on the neo liberal Laffer curve economics driven terms that the SNP are offering) would be a step backward for working people, throughout these islands. Labour’s campaign so far hasn’t been based on either the historic home rule agenda of the labour movement or a class agenda. But this is beginning to be turned round inside the LP and the wider movement

    being the most obvious sign.

  2. In the month since this was written New Labour’s Scottish region has cut both its wrists and is not far off cutting its own throat. The STUC has stated it will not support the Better Together campaign. Unison and the Jimmy Reid Foundation have both produced reports indicating Westminster policy will endanger Scotland’s traditional social and political belief in universal welfare provision.

    The real debate going on in Scotland is not about independence perse but the sort of Scotland we wish and how best to secure it. The left’s fixation with Salmond and the SNP is blinding them to what the ‘Yes Campaign’ has become over the last six months since the rally in Princes Street Gardens. The ‘Yes Campaign’ is becoming a campaign for social justice in Scotland where New Labour are now seen as just more Westminster Tories and part of the problem. Scottish Socialism has always had ‘home rule’ at its heart and away from the ‘intelectuals’ and New Labour apparatchiks is rediscovering itself and what it sees in its future is something far better than Milliband and his New Labour plutocrats have on offer.

    Do you not consider it surprising that the SSP, Greens and Scottish Labour for Independence find little or no problem sharing a platform with the SNP?

    Lamont is already condemned as a ‘toom tabard’, Darling is routinely referred to as the abomiable noman – BBC Scotland and STV journalists routinely mix up Johanna with the Tory’s Ruth because there is so little difference between them. Better Together is loosing the campaign by their own political actions and constant negativity. Scottish Labour voters apparently prefer Wee Eck as a leader (+38%) over Milliband (-40%) or Cameron (-42%). 60% of Scots’ trust Holyrood above Westminster to do the best for Scotland. If the Tories look like winning in 2015 51% of Scots will be likely to vote ‘yes in 2014, if it is New Labour the figure drops to 42% voting ‘yes’.

    ‘Jam tomorrow’ is not going to work in 2014, too many Scots still remember how that worked in 1979. The failure of Westminster to bring forward a White Paper on fiscal autonomy for Scotland played into the SNP’s hands. The problem for Westminster is that Full Fiscal Autonomy is beyond its legal and constitutional remit as it will fundamentally alter the Treaty of Union (Lord Cooper 1953). Fundamental alterations and ammendments to the treaty can only be undertaken by negotiation between the sovereign parliaments of Scotland and England. Better Together can only constitutionally offer the status quo, the very thing the majority of Scots do not want as it repesents the privatisation and destruction of the welfare state whether it is Ed BAlls or Osbourne who is chancellor at Westminster.

  3. Derick Tulloch says:

    It is a complete myth that the Tories will be in power indefinitely in England if Scotland becomes Independent. The English left should have more confidence in their ability to win!

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