Devolution and independence in the spotlight

Paul Devlin says Scottish Labour has urgent thinking to do as support for independence grows and the party of devolution risks being painted as the party which doesn’t care what the Tories do.

There is a rather amusing Twitter account called Is Sir John Curtice on TV? which in the midst of the pandemic seemed to suggest that the well-known pollster appearing on television would in some way indicate a return to political normality. This week has perhaps proved the account correct, with Professor Curtice warning that whether or not Scotland will be in the union in the next four years is now less certain than it ever has been in the past.

All of us who campaigned for a No vote in 2014 should sit up and take notice. As an aside I vividly remember Professor Curtice having to justify his exit poll methods at the 2017 general election when he predicted the Conservatives losing their majority, to fellow pollster Peter Kellner who a year earlier had confidently predicted a Remain victory of ten points. I say this to highlight that of all the various pollsters and analyses available, John Curtice is among the most reliable.

His point on Times Radio, explaining how former No/Remain voters are moving into the Yes camp in far greater numbers than Yes/Leavers moving in the other direction, was concerning enough. But he also highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on devolution as never before, specifically with health being a devolved matter. This came shortly after Nicola Sturgeon’s exhortation for SNP members and activists to “show not tell”.

I have written previously on this site about how the SNP’s veneer of competency led to their landslide victory in 2011 and it seems clear that the First Minster’s strategy is to repeat this ahead of next year’s Scottish Parliament elections. It also brings into sharp focus the repeated argument that the Scottish Government has handled the pandemic better than the UK Government, no matter how low that bar is set and the scandalous number of deaths in care homes notwithstanding.

So, we are where we are, and Scottish Labour, the party of devolution, has to articulate how that process (not event) can be taken forward in a post-lockdown and post-Brexit UK. Simply sticking the word ‘radical’ in front of any proposal doesn’t magically make it so, nor does it in anyway guarantee support from those people inclining to vote for independence.

Moreover, as I have also previously argued, we need to be far more switched onto the political reality. Attempting to portray the SNP as a party of grievance yet at the same time being oblivious to what may appear a legitimate grievance to many voters harms us politically. An example would be this week’s issue of state aid once the UK leaves the EU. Given that the Scotland Act of 1998 doesn’t specify which matters are devolved, the political reality is that many people will be sympathetic to Scottish Government pleas that such power should be devolved. And of course state aid was the basis for many arguments in favour of ‘Lexit’.

In summary, we as a party have to answer the question as it is to voters, not as we would wish the question to be. For a start, we need to show far more empathy with those who see themselves as potential Labour voters, progressives, centre-left and so on, who not unreasonably consider Scottish independence an option when they look at the Prime Minister, his chief adviser and utterly mediocre cabinet who appear to be taking us out of the EU with no deal.

While the economic case for independence is at best unproven, any hint of another Project Fear could simply send many voters into the SNP’s arms. These issues and questions are what the party of devolution has to begin grappling with, and urgently.

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12 thoughts on “Devolution and independence in the spotlight

  1. Latest poll suggests that 41% of those who identify as Labour supporters would back independence in a second referendum. I wonder what difference it would make to the leadership of the Labour Party in Scotland if that 41% became a majority? At which point will the Labour Party reconsider its Unionist approach to Scotland’s constitutional future?

    The SNP government needs to have a proper and credible opposition party that could become an alternative government – what better alternative could there be than a pro-independence Labour Party?

  2. So what is Labour’s current offer to Scotland? Federalism, no less – as long as England agrees to it.

    Sounds like a vote winner……..

  3. Last sentence says it all. Labour in Scotland is rudderless.
    Paul Devlin articulates the position Labour is in precisely. He knows the score. He understands exactly where Scotland is at this moment in time and where his party is within that context. Covid19, deep recession looming, Sir Keir, Brexit, Scottish elections.
    But when it comes to solutions Paul Devlin gives the game away. He doesn’t have any. He realises ‘Project Fear’ wont work a second time.
    Pauls best is, ‘the party of devolution must grapple with the issues and questions’. Well good luck with that Paul.

  4. “The party of Devolution” You might as well label yourselves the party of Homer Simpson. Devolution hasnt done anything Labour wanted it to do. Doh! No wonder Labour wanted to Devolve less powers and responsibilities than any other party during the Calman and Smith commission farces.
    Scotland never actually became Devolved until 2007 when Scotland elected an actual Devolved Government for the first time. Prior to that we had what was described at the time as an “Administration” by the very people who were running it and they were right to do so. You cant have Devolved Government when you have 3 Parliaments being run by the same political party and party leader. Wales only became Devolved in 2010 and it was the Tories who Devolved it by default when they took over Westminster.
    How can Labour ever claim to be the party of Devolution when their goal is to run all the “Administrations” at the same time under one party and one leader?
    Are there any members of the Labour party not indulging in howling levels of self denial in order to remain loyal to the party who have given up on reality since 1997.

  5. “Paul Devlin says Scottish Labour has urgent thinking to do as support for independence grows and the party of devolution risks being painted as the party which doesn’t care what the Tories do”.
    Better Together. DOH

  6. If Labour ever ceases to be a Unionist party, I will join the Conservatives

    1. Its attitudes like that have made it easy for people to turn their backs on Labour. When a Labour guy explicitly declares he would rather live in a Tory UK than a Labour Scotland ….. its all over for them.

  7. Well-argued. While opposing a referendum going into the 2021 elections, we have to be aware of the possible context in May – a no-deal Brexit, which would suit the SNP down to the ground, but, perhaps more optimistically, a split in the SNP over the Salmond shenanigans. Things look bleak at the moment, but there’s still a long way to go.

  8. The reason Scots think the Scottish government had a “good” pandemic is that, after a dreadful start, it left the 4nations approach and has done noticeably better—care home excess deaths included.

    “The party of devolution”? Well, are you? It really doesn’t seem like it, with Ian Murray calling the shots.

    There will be a row over Westminster oversight coming up. Where will Scottish Labour stand? Should a quango of beaurocrats in London decide Scottish (and Welsh) priorities? Welsh Labour are making lots more noise than Scottish Labour. Split? No policy? Don’t care? What?

    In politics, there is no hiding place. The perception of Scottish Labour in recent years is as an echo-chamber for, first Ruth Davidson, now Boris Johnson. Not in so many words, but silence over Tory policies as they impact on Scotland ( and Wales) speaks pretty loud.

    The clock is ticking. Leonard is invisible. Murray is too visible. No policies ( well one, though no one believes “federalism” is real, or practicable,or attainable–given England). No relevance. No traction with the public.
    Brexit? Independence? Federalism? Devolution? Scottish Labour is totally void on every issue.
    When you cease to be relevant, you cease to exist. Look at the Lib Dems.

  9. Why not admit the obvious, labour or “scottish” labour has nothing to offer Scotland, and Scotland has told you that time after time, election after election.

    you have one Scottish MP, your yet again third in the Scottish parliament and looking at the polling figures you’ll be lucky to hold on to that.

    The only out you have is to back Scottish independence, everything else you have suggested Scotland has rejected, the figures don’t lie.

    Time for labour to grow up or bugger off, we don’t need you.

  10. At the last indyref I voted No because the Yes side had no sensible economic position. The joke at the time was about cars with an SNP dipstick which always said the oil tank is full.

    Post Brexit, the economic case is very different. Starting with the decision to leave the Single Market, the second largest consumer market in the world, which will severely damage many industries will other types of business (such as some of Edinburgh’s financial services) being banned completely. The HM Treasury website still says that Scotland would have a 7% GDP boost if we remained in the Single Market.

    Then we have the demographic time bomb hitting Scotland which has an aging population worse than England’s. The decision to end free movement of people not only hit our skill base badly but could massively worsen that hit which is probably even bigger than the Single Market, although over a longer period.

    Next up, Scotland currently has the best trade deals of any country in the world, including the USA and China. That is going to change to a very bad position in January. Only a quarter of the trade deals have been replaced and not a single deal is better with many much worse. An independent Scotland competing with England for high value manufacturing could be 15% cheaper just on the basis of trade deals. In total about 20% of Scottish GDP is exposed to trade outside the EU under some form of EU trade deal.

    Thanks to Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings the SNP now has a very strong economic case indeed.

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