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Referendum fallout: what next for politics?

2qt8isgIt’s been a huge week, a profound week for British politics. What does it all mean for the parties and movements jostling for position in the referendum’s aftermath?

As far as Westminster is concerned, a bullet has been dodged. There is a cloying desire for a return to business as usual, and just as many determined to carry on as if it has. Not least among them is our old pal Dan Hodges. With the referendum done he’s turned in one of the worst, most complacent articles I’ve seen.

On the basis of Dave hitting the TV cameras yesterday morning to announce he’s tying further Scottish powers up with English votes on English laws, the election next year is all wrapped up. Slam dunk. Unfortunately for Dan, good speeches don’t win elections.

As confident as Dave appeared let’s not pretend his position is anything but precarious. His panicky sojourns to Scotland exposed him – again – as weak. This is the Prime Minister reduced to saying “please, please, please, please, please vote no“; who referred to his own party as the ‘effing Tories’. Is this behaviour of a man secure in both party and parliament? Is a leader bounced by backbench revolts into promising a two-speed Westminster someone in control? Dave and Crosby think hitching English votes to Scottish powers is a trap waiting for Labour, forcing them to renege on promises made, but most people will see it for what it is: a cynical wheeze to buy off restive MPs. Unlucky for him, the path to the new Scotland Act is not entirely in Dave’s hands. The renegacy is all Dave’s should he try and delay it.

The only good thing Dave did in this campaign was to concede the referendum in the first place. In true Tory fashion, the No campaign was outsourced to an alternative provider: the Labour Party. It was they who held the line in Scotland, provided the energy and activism, knocked on the doors and got out the vote. Dave absented himself from the field while Alistair Darling and a resurgent Gordon Brown made the case.

Not only was Labour effectively alone on Scotland’s streets defending the union, they were seen to be the only party batting for it too. That most stubborn of breeds, the Scottish Tory, saw their party vanish. Don’t be surprised if a few of them punt on Labour next time. Similarly in England, centrist pro-union voters will have noted the same thing. And don’t expect Ed Miliband to be too quiet about it. His One Nation scrapped with ‘two-nationism’ and the ‘one state solution’ emerged the winner. He’d be crackers not to try and capitalise on it over the coming months.

Not all is rosy though. Many comrades who headed north were shocked by the decrepit state of Scottish Labour. Hardly surprising when you think positioning yourself to the right of the SNP’s soft social democracy is the best thing a centre left party can do. Yet while the organisation isn’t in the rudest of health, one shouldn’t automatically suppose big Yes votes in Labour areas means its support has collapsed. According to Lord Ashcroft, 40% of Labour and LibDem voters supported Yes. Similarly, 14% of SNP voters said no. Are they going to suddenly switch? When it comes to May next year, I suspect too much is being read into Labour’s “collapse”.

I think everyone can agree how blissful it has been to have had a politics mostly free of Nigel Farage and his squalid little band. But now the referendum is done, they’re determined to make the most of the constitutional opening. Yesterday he was out posting letters to Scottish MPs to ask them not to vote on “England-only” issues. Yet, for once, the media aren’t entirely biting. Crosby and Dave we’ll cheery toasting a few into thinking they’ve headed UKIP off at the pass – on this issue at least it’s the Tory leadership who’ll be doing the running. However, their clever clever silver lining comes with a big dark cloud.

English votes for English laws is all about embedding Tory party influence in England. It has hijacked “fairness” to ensure its legacy in England cannot be repealed should they retain a majority here. Dave wants to log jam future governments in the belief Tories will benefit electorally from inevitable crises. What this silly man doesn’t realise is it could end up helping his UKIP nemesis.

In next year’s tight election, the message is a clear “vote UKIP, get Labour”. But the fixation on England betrays his thinking that this is safe Tory territory. The more Dave intimates that the Tories will get in in England, the more he undermines his line of attack against UKIP and the less likely Tory/UKIP switchers sympathetic to that message will break his way. It also emboldens those Tory MPs excited by the fantasy of a Tory-UKIP pact, if they think such a lash up would thwart Labour in perpetuity.

Last night’s ugly scenes in George Square were depressing as they were predictable. Had Yes won out I have no doubt this repulsive mix of loyalists, assorted fascists and EDL/SDL/Britain First scum would have done the same to “remind” Scotland that they’re staying put. But in terms of more significant political shifts in the bowels of Scottish society, it’s what’s going to happen to the Yes movement that could have greater repercussions.

Much has been made of its class character, but noted here earlier in the week, the movement was under the SNP’s thumb and as such would probably demobilise, leaving our movement, the workers’ movement, no stronger. On cue Nicola Sturgeon has reported that the SNP recruited 4,000 people in 36 hours. A soft left nationalist movement led by a bourgeois nationalist party ends up strengthening that bourgeois nationalist party – didn’t see that coming. Still, we can take comfort that Socialist Party Scotland signed someone up too. Okay, I am being a bit naughty. The strong relationships and weak ties forged between different camps will, I hope, feed into more left and socialist activism over the longer term. But it hasn’t got off to the most encouraging of starts.

Twitter regulars will have seen thousands of Yes’ers rebadge themselves as ‘the 45’. So named after the 45% who gave independence the thumbs up, you can understand the desire to hang onto the camaraderie forged in the heat of political struggle. Yet all this is achieving is identifying themselves with a large “enlightened” minority against the forelock-tugging drudges who filed into the polling booths to vote no. It’s an internalisation of division, the logical culmination of a nationalist project. While some, a small minority it has to be said, are trying to move the emerging sentiment toward an internationalist perspective, they are outnumbered by those for whom the 55% were scabs and traitors. So much for Yes’s sublimated class politics. Bugger the 99%.

After the referendum, what now? For Scotland, it’s to make sure the promises made last week are delivered as per the promised timetable. For the rest of the UK, and England particularly, it’s to ensure a new UK-wide constitutional settlement fires the imagination and engages masses of people. Yes to a democratic convention, no to the narrow nobbling of parliament.

This post first appeared on All that is Solid

2 Comments

  1. James Martin says:

    I’m not at all sure it is easy to dismiss Cameron in the way you do Phil. He has certainly come out of the immediate aftermath with a clear policy after all (whether or not it can be pushed through is an entirely different question), but compared to the weak and muddled sounding Miliband who no one has a clue what he is or is not proposing Dodgy Dave appears to be streets ahead here.

    But away from party leaders of course there will be wider fallout lower down. Whatever the benefits of greater political engagement in Scotland, there is clearly a big risk of increased English nationalist thinking as a response to Scottish nationalism, and that is a concern.

    For the fake lefts who put nationalism at the top of the agenda there will be some difficult questions to answer, but among British workers there is no inevitability that nationalism will come to the fore in a meaningful way in terms of class. One reason for this is that most trade unions stayed neutral in the separatist debate, and this was more than the recognition that their Scottish members were often split down the middle. It was and is a recognition that regardless of whether you were born in Govan or Golders Green, if you are a shelf stacker in Tesco, a call centre worker or a bus driver you will have fundamentally the same concerns, the same issues and the same relationship to both other workers and to your bosses.

    And it is that economic interest, that relationship to Capital, that socialists must not only see as primary (hard as it apparently is for the left sects to do so given their recent nationalist cheerleading), but as the way in which we are going to be able to deal politically with both Cameron and Farage.

    1. Robert says:

      Interesting view of the Tories.

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