Alasdair Clark, who joined Scottish Labour in 2015 after voting Yes in the independence referendum, says that choosing to work with the Tories again on the constitutional question would be a fatal error.
I voted Yes. At the time the idea of me becoming a member of Scottish Labour within a year was laughable. I only became interested in party politics in 2014 and my reasons for voting Yes were summed by the negative opinion I had of Scottish Labour during the referendum.
I was wrong; and after the referendum it became clear that Scottish Labour was the only party which presented the bold and radical vision Scotland needed to go forward. It became clear that only Scottish Labour would be using the powers of our parliament and challenging the failed economic agenda of our country that had let down my generation so devastatingly. It became clear that only Scottish Labour was going to bring Scotland back together again after we made the decision we did in the referendum.
I don’t understand how anyone could argue that the constitutional question is so simplistic as to be separate to the very fundamental issues facing Scots. It isn’t just a question about the currency we use or the stamp on our passports; it’s a question which goes deep into the roots of Scotland and a politicians answer to it must at its heart contain their vision for Scotland in a way that encompasses so much more than something about flags.
That’s why the 2014 referendum was always about more than a dogmatic debate about independence versus the union; it was instead a robust debate about the future vision for our country, from the NHS to the economy covering education in between. A conversation about currency just as much as it was about opportunities to achieve social justice.
So many people like me voted Yes even though we were natural Labour voters – the Yes campaign’s progressive and radical visions for a different country appealed strongly to us against the arguments heard from Better Together. These are the same Scots that we must win back to start a recovery for our party.
Scottish Labour’s views on what Scotland’s future should look like is very rightly diametrically opposed to the Tories. They have a vision for a Scotland which punishes the most vulnerable acting only in the interests of the few. That’s not a vision I have and neither should anyone in Scottish Labour.
In any future referendum Scottish Labour has a duty to present our own vision for Scotland’s future. We must be clear that the answer is neither unionism nor nationalism, but is instead socialism. We must present a vision which is true to our core beliefs as Labour members, with our policy of federalism at its heart.
Proudly arguing for the pooling and sharing of resources across the UK, from each according to their ability to each according to their need. Standing together whether a ship builder on the Clyde or a steel worker in Port Talbot. In favour of socialism and against any form of narrow-minded nationalism whether British or Scottish. Knowing that in Shetland and in London we have far more in common than that which divides us.
This is a vision which stands opposed to the independence-at-any-cost argument from the SNP as well as the right wing, inward looking future promised to us by the Tories and the mess they like to call Brexit.
And apart from any of this, our position in Scotland is devastating. Where we used to be the dominant political force we now have one sole Member of Parliament and we are the third party in the Scottish Parliament. Public trust in our party is at an all time low and only looks to fall further if that is possible. Our party stands teetering on the edge the abyss, in danger of falling into irrelevance, and we so desperately need to stop that.
None of this is of course entirely the fault of the Better Together project, but poll after poll and door knocking session after door knocking session tell us that the electorate are deeply critical of the decision Scottish Labour took to work hand in glove with the Tory party. Most felt it a betrayal to their loyalty to the Labour Party and the ideals we stood for. Many found it a gross insult after the damage the Tories have wreaked on our communities.
One older man told me in April 2016 that although he’d voted No and for the Labour Party all of his working life, he could never again support our party after Better Together. He’d fought as a striking Miner against Thatcher’s closures and seen communities decimated by Conservative government actions. He said that for him to watch Labour politicians work with the Tories so closely in 2014 quite simply broke his heart.
Our party must change. We must work night and day to regain the trust and again be the hope of the majority in Scotland. We’ll start that vital work by saying loudly and clearly that never again will Scottish Labour work with the Tory party. That we refuse the choice of nationalism versus unionism and instead once again stand for socialism, solidarity and equality.
If not then I fear we will suffer one last fatal defeat.