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Scotland: the villains of the piece

Thatcher Blair and CameronI take no pleasure in seeing an enthusiastic mass movement thwarted when it came down to it, but there is a consolation for disappointed Yes people as they woke up this morning. The Scottish referendum has changed politics forever. In order to save the union, they almost had to kill it. The new constitutional settlement for Scotland has to be followed by more powers for Wales, Northern Ireland and, yes, England too. It goes without saying that local government should get more clout and that the centralised farce of the jerry-rigged UK be replaced by a federal state befitting a family of nations.

For years the 55/45 outcome of the Scottish referendum will be debated. Was the early triumphalism of Yes Salmond’s “Sheffield moment“? Did the Project Fear of no have the desired effect? And can Gordon Brown add ‘saving Better Together’s bacon’ to his CV? I want to get away from the proximate causes of the result and take a step back. I want to point fingers. As far as I’m concerned there are three political villains of the piece mainly responsible for almost breaking this island in two. These are more responsible than anyone else for fuelling independence.

Our first villain is Margaret Thatcher. Heralded as one of Britain’s greatest peace time prime ministers by Westminster pygmydom, perception of her legacy depends very much on whether you won or lost during the 1980s. Our class didn’t win. We might have emerged from the decade with the right to buy our council housing and enjoy cheap consumer durables, but the price paid was the smashing of our communities, the evisceration of our industries, and the brutal beating of our movement.

The Scottish working class experienced this along with dozens of English and Welsh cities and towns. But to rub it in, Thatcher experimented with the Poll Tax in Scotland a full year before its introduction in the rest of Britain. If that wasn’t bad enough, tax receipts from Scottish oil wealth went down south to subsidise the obscenely rich. Well done that woman for giving Scottish nationalism legs. Well done for thinking that it would have no consequences.

Our second villain is Tony Blair. This isn’t because his government delivered the Scottish parliament as part of a package of measures aiming to modernise the British state which, in typical Labour fashion, didn’t go far enough. His neoliberalism with a smiley face didn’t repair the damage done to Scotland, but even that by itself was less significant than the third facet of his premiership: Iraq. Let me clarify. Scotland was no more opposed to invading Iraq as anywhere else. On the day a couple of million people marched in London, 100,000 or so took to the streets of Edinburgh. Yet this huge movement wasn’t enough to derail the war locomotive.

Blair blithely ignored public opinion and went ahead. The result wasn’t popular revolt, but a collapse into despondency. If masses of people can be safely ignored, then what’s the point in conventional politics? What Blair did was do the spadework for cynicism, powerlessness, and anti-politics. His premiership more than any other cut Westminster adrift and set it against the electorate, it’s them vs us. This is fecund soil for populism, which Scottish nationalism has since proven adept tapping into.

The final wrong ‘un is David Cameron – who else? Asked why he wanted to be Prime Minister, he reportedly replied “I thought I’d be rather good at it”. What pish. Dave will go down in political history as the worst leader ever to grace Number 10, and this time his incompetence almost split this island in two. To keep devo max off the paper in defiance of SNP wishes and then, in blind panic, conceding no effectively means devo max beggars belief. Yet Dave’s villainy lies not in his incompetence but his complacency. As soon as the Tories and their LibDem bag carriers got their feet under the table the same old Thatcherite crap returned.

Unlike Thatcher, Dave has made no bones about his government being the most sectional, most backward administration to have blighted these lands in modern times. As he has shovelled gold into the maws of his base, he has pinched pennies from the poorest and most vulnerable. Every time an opportunity has come to shore up the narrow interests of his class, he’s used it. If an occasion has passed to kick working class people, he has done it. Small wonder a million and a half Scots jumped at the chance of kicking against this nonsense. And the price almost exacted for the obscene transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich was the country his party professes to love. If he had any decency, rather than oversee his ‘English votes for English laws’ wheeze, he should resign.


  1. James Martin says:

    Phil, you deliberately or otherwise also miss out significant sections of the Scottish left (and their cheerleaders in the sects south of the border) who collapsed into what was at heart reactionary nationalism and who are also in part responsible for the working class in this country nearly suffering a terrible split – although much damage has been done regardless of the vote last night.

  2. Sandra Crawford says:

    The only item I would add to this accurate critic is the right to buy being a dubious gain. Now that house prices have become an economic bubble, this has become the road to serfdom for the young.
    A life time of debt to the financial classes the new rentiers.
    It is one of the most important jobs for the left to reduce the value of housing, increase wages, and control the banks. Also build more council houses.

  3. swatantra says:

    You could add Brown Darling and Farage to that set of villans.

  4. Judicature says:

    Isn’t the BBC also missing? Probably played a bigger part in this than they did in either Thatcher campaign or the crushing of the miners.
    Please credit where it’s due.

  5. John Reid says:

    Swatantra, Farage wouldn’t mind Scottish independence, he would be more popular in England alone
    Let me see Mrs Thatcher came to power after the SNP voted down labour in a vote of no confidence, and then she kept the Barnett formula, MR Blair had the referendum to have a Scottish parliament, and Cameron gave the go ahead for the referndum.

  6. Alex Gordon says:

    Given that Cameron is reneging already, plus ca change. labour acted in defence of the sinecures which MPs are handing to their children like so much inherited wealth.
    John you are correct that labour were voted down but that was because they would not proceed with Devolution. During that Devolution campaign Scottish Labour MPs shard platforms with Conservative MPs. Which is the greater treachery.
    brown, the clunking fist, has made promises which Ralph’s son and Cameron are backing away from. (Enjoy your seat in the Lords, Gordon).
    Farage has not only made it clear he wants the UK to remain intact but has unveiled plans for Scotland which sound very similar to Ian Davidson’s desire to “gut the Scottish Parliament”.
    At the Euro elections I saw former Labour comrades who were jubilant that UKip won a seat.

  7. Robert says:

    Every thing will change labour loves to use that one, after the Financial crash the market ideology was dead, sadly it only died for ten minutes, now we are told Scotland will change everything we will devolve, yes but Parliament will hold the purse strings and that is the problem nothing will change we will have more people earning better wages while working in new super councils getting AM wages. In other words sod all will change except bureaucracy will grow.

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