Alastair Osborne warns against the folly of Scottish Labour reacting to last week’s bad election result with ill-considered support for a second independence referendum.

We used to joke that Ayr Constituency Labour Party had been responsible for the Poll Tax, not Maggie Thatcher. Back in 1984 we won a by-election in the solid Tory Regional Council seat of North Kyle (including Troon) at the height of the grassroots Tory rebellion against their rates revaluation. In a panicked response the Tory government came up with the hated Poll Tax and the rest is history.

OK, that story may be slightly apocryphal but there is a lesson there: never react to a crisis with something that is going to turn out even worse. That’s my advice to those in Scottish Labour who have been so quick to embrace a second independence referendum as the answer to our miserable performance in the general election.

There may come a time when we support such a referendum, if it is the clear will of a substantial majority of Scots. But we are guilty of very sloppy thinking if we go along with the SNP’s mantra that this election was a clear mandate for IndyRef2.

The SNP secured 45% of the vote on a platform of ‘Lock Boris out of No 10 and Stop Brexit’. The SNP clearly smashed it in terms of winning here in Scotland and have a mandate and responsibility to do everything in their power to stand up for Scottish interests at Westminster and resist Tory policies that would be devastating for ordinary people across the UK. However, as I have argued many times before, referendums are not there to break a deadlock, like cutting a pack of cards. They are only appropriate to ratify what has become the clear will of the people in relation to a burning social, political or constitutional issue, like divorce reform in Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement or Scottish devolution.

We keep falling into the traps set by the SNP. They were never going to welcome all the new powers delivered by the Smith Commission. According to them we had broken ‘the Vow’. We helped them secure a General Election when it wasn’t in Labour’s interest to face the electorate at that time. They never wanted a Labour government elected for the UK because only a Tory government serves their cause. Now we are in danger of allowing them to turn the result of Scottish votes into a mandate for a second independence referendum when that wasn’t the key issue on which people were voting.

The message of the election result for Scottish Labour should be: ‘Don’t react, resist’.

If you want to draw any immediate conclusions from the election it should be to seize on the near 75% of the Scottish electorate who voted against the Tories. Now that is a mandate to oppose and resist the Tory government. Scottish Labour should be calling for those who oppose the Tories to join in a Scottish resistance, determined to use all the powers of the Scottish Parliament (and more where needed) and to work in partnership with our local authorities to make Scotland different and to protect people from the impact of Tory policies.

But in truth the SNP have never really wanted devolution to work, because that doesn’t serve their cause or add to their politics of grievance. We should be shaming them into taking up the challenge to make devolution work to deliver a progressive agenda, stand as a bulwark against the Tories and as a beacon for the disillusioned Labour heartlands in England that lent the Tories their votes.

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11 thoughts on “Don’t react ‒ resist

  1. Alistair

    If Labour was standing firm on core principles isolated from all parties I could agree. However in many council areas the perception is that Labour prefer working with the Tories or LibDems to working with the SNP.

    The legacy of 2014 BT lingers on. I am not suggesting commit to the SNP on every topic but I would prefer Labour helped lock out the Tories from the council.

    When you can build on a position of “Control”/”power” at local council level you have a stronger base for a GE. Look at Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire – who has benefited most from the council deal – the Tories. The NE in general went from SNP to Tory or marginal Tory/SNP – How did Labour benefit?

    The Scottish Tory vote went down marginally (not at all when you look at Christine Jardine seat in Edinburgh) LibDem vote up 10percent but note Tory vote down 10 – the Tories just voted tactically.
    The Labour vote went down across the country – where did it go – the SNP

    One area I would expect to see discussed is how to focus on getting more second votes at the Scottish elections as a back-up. More MSPs Direct or list.


    1. Not in North Ayrshire. Minority Council leadership delivering socialist policies

  2. Alistair, I’m sure all literature from the SNP in this election had Inderef2 on it–their manifesto certainly had, and it was on debates, party politicals etc( I thought they overdid independence–what do I know?). The Scottish Tories again fought, for the third election on one issue—stop indeyref2–indeed some had it as “the last chance” to stop it. Did Scottish Labour reference it? If it did, then it “owns” the result.
    Cameron held a referendum on 37% of the vote. The SNP have earned a second go—and if Labour think the polling is on their side to stop independence they should INSIST on a referendum. Dont know if the Vow was broken, but Scotland never got the promises made to it in 2014—equality, Home Rule, Federalism, Devo Max, entrenchment of powers etc. I have personally thought a federal solution could have worked but no one would believe it now.
    Boris could be out in a couple of years, or he could be there for many years. At what point would labour have enough credibility to win an election? Who will be the leader? Left wing, right wing or centre? Pro Trident–anti? Look to Europe, or look to Trump?
    “politics of grievance”—why are you using a meme from the Mail/Telegraph/Express—all right wing Tory rags?
    Labour has found a reason to vote against any “progressive agenda” for years–how could you leverage “shaming” against your foe?

  3. A disappointing analysis that misses the central point: The Conservatives won 345 MPs from England alone which means we would still face a majority Conservative government whatever the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland voted. The people of Scotland – yet again – face a Conservative government we actually rejected at the ballot box.

    So the choice for Scottish Labour is this: are they so pro-union that they are prepared to accept Scotland repeatedly getting Tory governments we don’t elect, or are they willing to actually stand up and put the wishes of Scottish voters as their first priority?

  4. “There may come a time when we support such a referendum, if it is the clear will of a substantial majority of Scots.”

    Alistair if you think that there is currently no support for a referendum then why not support having another referendum for the reason being that those who do not support a referendum would more than likely vote against an Independent Scotland. Denying the folk’s of Scotland a referendum will more than likely increase support for an Independent Scotland.

  5. The central problem for Scottish Labour is that demographic which is left-wing in Scotland supports independence and the demographic which supports Unionism is either centre or right-wing and put off by the current policy position.

    Scottish Labour went into the election in a terrible position and came out much, much worse.

    One obvious move would be to become legally independent (which worked incredibly well for the old Unionist Party who then failed completely when they became the Scottish Conservative & Unionists). That would also eliminate the “branch office” criticism.

    Another move would be drop the Unionist position and become neutral on the issue. There’s been many times in the past where Labour has taken this approach to constitutional issues which I think would be a reasonable approach.

    In any case, if the party’s vote shares much more then it really be calling into question the survival of the party in Scotland. The time for something radical to be done must be now.

  6. I genuinely don’t understand why folk like Alastair cleave so faithfully to the concept of the UK/NI state given that the possibility of a left wing/socialist government being voted in by the English super-majority is so small. Is Alastair content to wait it out for the happy constellation of circumstances that will occasion a left wing Westminster (which may be decades away) because his belief in the union trumps any desire for the practical establishment of a fairer society in Scotland? If so then better he is just honest and admit unionism as an act of British patriotic faith is what is the bottom line for him.
    What is clear though is that more and more labour former voters have given up on the perpetual wait and imagined solidarity with the English working class and have had enough of the dinosaurs such as Alastair and Frank McAveety.
    Time to move on Alastair!

  7. Interesting point in the Sunday Times in order to carry out his big spending promises Boris will have to increase immigration

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