Nathaniel Blondel, a young Scottish Labour activist, says the argument that Scottish Labour must capitulate over independence is both simplistic and wrong.
Various ‘Labour’ commentators, including prolific blogger Éoin Clarke, have fully come round to the view that Scottish Labour ‘betrayed the Scottish people’ when it campaigned for a No vote during the referendum. Scottish Labour has made many mistakes, but advocating for the union isn’t one of them.
The solutions presented – such as those in Clarke’s “six point plan” – are enviable in their simplicity: apologise to the Scottish people, split from the Labour Party (‘London Labour’), and take a neutral line on independence.
There are a lot of Yes voters in Scottish Labour, and I particularly appreciate the fact they’ve stayed put when so many others felt they no longer could. However, our bitter defeat at the polls shouldn’t mean we abandon the union. The case against independence has only become stronger since September 2014.
Despite the claims of Alex Bell, one of the wonks who drafted it, the SNP’s White Paper was not a total fantasy. The prospect of tax cuts and deregulation were real enough. This sort of thing is hardwired into the SNP, and given that highly disciplined, triumphant nationalist parties tend to dominate the politics of newly independent countries, it would have been implemented. This sort of clientelist centrism is their bread and butter, as a glance at their record in government would show you.
Given a plunge in oil prices, and a growth strategy focused on tax cuts and ‘slashing red tape’, the economic straitjacket would be even tighter than it is presently. If a currency union had been implemented, the Scottish Government would not even have had control over its monetary policy – exactly the problem that is currently plaguing the Eurozone.
The SNP are political cowards in the face of the wealthy, and the price for this cowardice would be paid by ordinary people. Redistribution has very little place in a nation full of ‘hope, expectation, and aspiration’, and a government low on cash.
Then there is the other side of the coin: the idea that the British state, out of all capitalist states, is uniquely awful. This sort of view, ironically, doesn’t carry much weight without a heavy dose of Britocentrism. Britain has its own particular problems – as do France, Germany, and Sweden. However, either Britain is utterly salvageable, or nowhere is. And in an age when public power is being sliced, diced, and sold to the highest bidder, it seems absurd to weaken the state even further by dividing it.
Labour cannot ignore the constitution. It needs a serious plan for federalism across the UK – not vague appeals to the memory of Donald Dewar. But that doesn’t justify the prescription from Éoin and others of outright capitulation.
Splitting from the Labour Party would be an even greater surrender than taking a neutral line on independence. This movement was built by working class people from all over the British Isles, because they shared a common interest in redistributing wealth and power, through organised industrial action and a Labour government.
And what is being proposed, exactly? That Scottish Labour splits itself off and engages in decades of self-flagellation? Scottish Labour needs to build up a cohesive ideology, with a clear framework for federalism; but we also need to show that we have answers for the big problems of wealth and power faced by Scottish workers – exactly the same ones encountered by all workers across the UK.
We have tried draping ourselves in a flag and it doesn’t work. Presenting ourselves as a ‘patriotic socialist’ party at the last election convinced precisely no one. If people want a party which feeds off grievance and wrongs done against the nation of Scotland, they will vote SNP. We have to show that Labour can succeed where the SNP have failed.
It’s true that Better Together did not produce many left-wing arguments. It ended up being quite reactive, and the Yes campaign definitely set the agenda. That agenda was an instrumentalist one, based on what would keep your taxes lower, and protect your pension. Did the Yes campaign similarly ‘betray’ the Scottish People by failing to present a socialist vision for a new Scotland? Of course not.
There is no need for me to recount the numerous criticisms of Better Together – others have done so better than I could. But there remains a left-wing case for staying in the union. Keir Hardie once called the British state a ‘useful donkey’, and for many of us that’s the major point. It is not about chest-beating patriotism, it’s about the union as an instrument for social and economic change, and the belief that Scottish independence would only make that harder, in Scotland and in the rest of the UK. It may not have been well articulated, but it is still supported by the vast majority of the Scottish Labour party, and in good faith too.
There is no quick fix, but Scottish Labour should not go gentle into that good night, falling over itself to please every nationalist commentator. Éoin Clarke expected ‘some’ Scottish Labour members to be less than pleased with his 6-point programme, and he was right. It seems unfair though, to single out Éoin, when he is merely the latest in a long line of ‘comrades’ who, like a nationalist Dan Hodges, regurgitate the attack lines of our opponents, craving their acceptance.
They are representative of a whole mode of thinking which could hardly be described as ‘comradely’. It shows an utter disdain for Scottish Labour members. It offers no sort of solution. It is advice to be utterly rejected.