JAMIE GLACKIN suggests that now might be a good time for both sides in the referendum campaign to accept there are no deliveries of sweetened fruit preserve expected imminently
Moments of clarity in the Indy debate happen all too infrequently for my liking. Mostly, the Scottish Public, (of which I count myself a paid-up member) are subjected to varying degrees of wishful thinking and fantasy. Unbridled optimism even. To others, this is countered by scaremongering, dourness and a pessimism that the Rev I. M. Jolly would find dry. So when will we actually start to get to grips with the issues that actually matter to the Scottish electorate rather than the trickery and guesswork we’ve had up until now?
Well, from a Labour perspective that probably happened last Friday night thanks to Douglas Alexander. His speech at Edinburgh University should be required reading for Scottish Labour as it sets the tone for how the referendum campaign and its aftermath can be a vehicle for the change that Scotland so desperately needs, but all within a context that there is so much that we share with our friends and family south of the border that ditching the Union through some sense of “national insecurity” would be a mistake.
For me, the most important parts of Douglas’s speech focussed on the “kind” of Scotland he wants to see. Though stopping short of a “MacAskillesque” sermon, the ambition and hopes he shares are surely something that unites both the Yes and No camps? A Scotland where our identity is built on inclusivity, not exclusivity? A Scotland where in meeting our neighbours’ needs we find our own met as well? Only the truly sour-faced could disagree with that.
That these hopes can be realised within the security of the United Kingdom is, I believe, a powerful argument to remain within it.
As many of you will know, the debate on social media surrounding independence is very rarely illuminating, but it does give a snapshot of where we are 17 months out from the biggest decision that Scotland will ever take. People have, in the main, already decided how they will vote. Speaking to ordinary people (you know, those non-politico types that exist in the real world), they have already decided too. It’s spelled out pretty clearly in the polls. The appetite for independence just isn’t shared by anything close to a majority.
But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a desire for meaningful change. I have previously argued that Scotland does need more control over its “fiscal levers”. But it also needs a Government prepared to use them. The “Independence or Bust” approach from the SNP has boxed them into a corner that it will be difficult to manoeuvre out of, especially when there is a feeling that change is necessary but that irreversible constitutional upheaval is not. The opportunity is there for Scottish Labour to help deliver change, but in a way consistent with its history and founding principles. And in preparing to deliver that change we help to redefine the purpose of Scottish Labour Party in the 21st century, something the voters noticed was somewhat diluted by 2011.
That familiar cry of “jam tomorrow” is wheeled out in response to such hope and optimism. And its true that the promises made in the 1979 referendum took 18 years to deliver on. So let’s not make that mistake again. We have to be seen as the party that doesn’t just promise change but will actually deliver it.
In speaking with my Labour colleagues I believe that there is a desire to again become the party of communities and, as Douglas puts it, building up ordinary working class people to make those communities stronger with good jobs, prospects for the future, higher wages, better education for our young and honour for our old. That means working across the Labour movement with our colleagues in the trade unions and with wider society to realise that ambition in delivering more power and accountability to the people who actually need it. Not the political classes in Edinburgh but local people. But we do so in the context of a family of nations where in delivering prosperity for one we do so for all. A lofty ideal perhaps but one we surely must strive for.
So lets be honest about this. We can’t fulfil everything on the Yes campaign’s shopping list for independence, but nor can they. People aren’t daft and know that we have to be realistic on what we can deliver. What we can do is build on the foundations that we already have within the Labour Party and go that step further. It means saying that we can’t have a low tax economy whilst delivering Scandanavian style public services. It means saying that health and educational inequalities caused by low wages and scandalous housing can’t continue. It means saying that progressive taxation where the poor don’t subsidise the lifestyles of the wealthy has to the way forward. The time for endless posturing is over. It’s time for the real debate on the future and how we shape it to start. Not jam tomorrow, but the change we need that unites us all.
Jamie Glackin is former parliamentary candidate and a member of Labour’s Scottish Executive Committee. Follow Jamie on Twitter at @Jamie4Glackin.