Sunday, September 7, 2014

How Labour dropped the ball on Scottish independence


Whoever devised the hardline Labour party stance on Scottish independence was clearly a strategic novice. In this article I'm going to explain why it was such a poor strategic error for Labour to openly side with the extremely unpopular Coalition government and the desperately endangered political species that is the Scottish Conservative Party. Then I will go on to explain what I think the Labour leadership could have done differently.

How Labour dropped the ball

The debate over greater autonomy for Scotland could have been a great opportunity for Labour to showcase their differences from the Tory party. Instead they have chosen to "dance with the devil" by openly siding with the Tory party in order to oppose greater autonomy for the Scottish people.

It's not like this is the first time that Ed Miliband has decided to openly collude with the Tories either. Back in March 2013 Miliband allowed Iain Duncan Smith to table a vile piece of retroactive legislation as "emergency legislation" so that it could be passed through parliament in a single day, and then ordered his MPs to abstain from the vote, in order to allow Iain Duncan Smith to retroactively cover up the fact that through his sheer incompetence he had unlawfully forced thousands of people onto unpaid labour schemes. In July 2014 Miliband and the Labour leadership sided with the Tories once again by ordering Labour MPs to vote in favour of a Tory bill to allow the security services to continue dredging the private communications data of millions of innocent people.

One of the clearest illustrations of the stupidity of choosing to sing from the Tory hymnsheet is the way that Labour have been forced to present two completely different narratives on the NHS either side of the border. Down in England the Labour Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has warned that "NHS privatisation is being forced through at pace and scale" and called for a halt to NHS privatisations until the 2015 General Election. Meanwhile, north of the border Alistair Darling (who like all Scottish Labour MPs is a man who is fighting desperately for his job not to be abolished) has tried to ridicule people's concerns over NHS privatisation as "scaremongering". The hopelessness of Labour's mixed messages on the NHS are a direct consequence of their decision to side so closely with the Tory party.


The Labour decision to unify with the Tories and Lib-Dems in a battle against greater autonomy for Scotland has also strongly reinforced the the impression that there is essentially no difference between the three Westminster establishment parties. Whichever one you vote for, you'll get virtually the same policies. The only difference being the colour of the tie of the politician who is voting to sell off your public services on the cheap to their corporate mates, voting in favour of new draconian legislation to restrict the freedoms of the public in order to protect the interests of the establishment class, and all the while fiddling their expenses to make sure they make as much money as possible out of the Westminster gravy train.

The vision of Labour MPs like Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown sharing a political platform with the Tories is appalling enough for those of us who live in the rest of the UK, but to the people of Scotland it's much, much worse. The Tory party is widely despised in Scotland for many reasons, most notably 
the pilfering of Scottish oil revenues in order to hand out huge tax breaks to their wealthy backers in the City of London, Maggie Thatcher's Scottish Poll Tax experiment, the deliberate ideological attacks on Scottish workers and Scottish industry, the privatisation of so many Scottish services against the will of the Scottish public, and more recently the hated "Bedroom Tax". For Labour to ally themselves so closely with a toxic brand like the Tories like this is a huge mistake that the Scottish Labour party may never live down.

The fact is that should Scotland achieve independence, the SNP would lose their raison d'etre, but due to Labour's ridiculous hard line stance against greater autonomy for Scotland, surely nobody could consider them suitable rulers of an independent state that they have been so fervently opposed to?

So what should Labour have done differently?


The decision to share a political platform with the politically toxic Tory party was an extremely poor one for the reasons outlined above, but what could the Labour party have done differently?

In my view, the biggest mistake the Labour party made was the decision to continue backing the Tories, even after David Cameron ruled out a Devo Max option on the referendum.

Devo Max would have transferred more political powers to Scotland, but kept the Union in tact when it came to defence policy and foreign affairs. The evidence is absolutely clear that Devo Max would have been the preferred option of the Scottish electorate. When asked to choose between Devo Max and full independence, the Devo Max option won 61% to 39%. When asked to choose between Devo Max and continuation of the status quo, Devo Max won by 62% to 38%.

When David Cameron ruled out Devo Max in order to hold a gun to the heads of the Scottish electorate in a "with us or against us" binary choice, he ruled out the option that the overwhelming majority of Scottish people would have preferred.

The Labour stance should have been to continue arguing in favour of Devo Max, instead of siding so closely with the Tories. This would have allowed Labour to preface every single pronouncement on the independence issue with a strong attack on the Tory party for ruling out the option that the majority of Scottish people actually support.

The Labour message should have been "we want what the clear majority of Scottish people want, but David Cameron is forcing Scotland to choose between the two less popular options".


Adopting this stance would have given the Labour party the platform to talk up the achievements of the Scottish Parliament, and their own role in its creation. They could have spoken of how greater autonomy for Scotland has protected the Scottish NHS and the Scottish education system from the appalling mass privatisations of the English NHS and thousands of English schools. The narrative that devolution of power has been great for Scotland is one that would have resonated strongly with the Scottish electorate, and built the foundation of the argument for further devolution of political power.


If Labour wanted to show their support for the Union they could still have done so, but without sharing a political platform with the Tories. The Labour party could have made a commitment to offering the Scottish people the Devo Max referendum that they actually want the next time they come to power in Westminster, or in the Scottish parliament. This Devo Max stance would have established three important things.
  1. It would have demonstrated to the Scottish people that Labour is "in tune" with what the majority of Scottish people actually want. 
  2. It would have put clear distance between the Labour party and the Tory party.
  3. It would have given the majority of Scottish people a strong reason to vote for the Labour party.
In deciding to side with the Tories, the Labour party has done a very large amount of damage to their reputation. In my view a much more sensible option would have been to steer well clear of the Tories and the "Better Together" fearmongering campaign, and to adopt a political stance that set them clearly apart from the Tories, and actually represented the will of the clear majority of the Scottish electorate.
  

Conclusion

I've tried to keep my strongly pro-independence views out of the above analysis in order to provide some reasonably balanced strategic analysis of Labour's woeful decision to jump into bed with the Tories, instead of carefully spelling out their own vision for the future of Scotland.

Had Devo Max been an option on the Scottish referendum ballot, I would have been forced to make a very difficult decision between supporting greater autonomy for Scotland or supporting full autonomy for Scotland. The fact that David Cameron decided to play a ridiculous "all-or-nothing" gamble with the constitutional future of Scotland by ruling out Devo Max has left me with a very easy decision indeed, to favour full autonomy for Scotland over the continuation of the unacceptable status quo.


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