If this is where we are, then this is where we must fight

DH cropDuncan Hothersall, Editor of Labour Hame, says Scottish politics desperately needs to move on from constitutional debate, but we must also play the cards we’re dealt.


“Those who know how to win are much more numerous than those who know how to make proper use of their victories.”


I am regularly reminded of when I get things wrong. It is one of the many kind services my Twitter feed provides for me, alongside frequent unsolicited advice on facial expressions.

In summer 2014 I predicted a post-No bounce for Labour, after our activists had done the lion’s share of canvassing work. I based this on the assumption that once the independence referendum was finished, after three years of examination of every argument, the whole of Scottish politics would be keen to get back to what our everyday politics should be about – using the powers of government to improve lives.

But Scottish politics has not moved on. It has polarised almost entirely along referendum lines. Positions have not relaxed, they have entrenched.

Jim Murphy has spent his first few months as leader putting forward a raft of progressive policies which could deliver real change for folk the length and breadth of Scotland. Kezia Dugdale has exposed SNP failings from NHS funding to teacher numbers to policing incompetence.

The centre of gravity of Scottish politics is unmoved. The only question is about powers – where they lie, how we can get more. The – far more significant – conversation about what we actually want to do with those powers, and how we hold their exercising to account, has found no resonance.

The SNP exists to fight for independence, so it can be no shock that they persist in prioritising the question of powers over everything else. The Tories are the archetypal unionists, so they are happy to maintain the fight. Labour’s referendum stance, by contrast, was always pragmatic – based on what was in the best interests of the most people – and as I wrote in my first ever Labour Hame article, unionism is not a Labour value.

In fairness the Greens and the Liberal Democrats were also pragmatic backers of the referendum sides they took, but they too are victims of this polarising post-September politics. The Greens are being (unfairly, in my view) left out of debates with many on the Yes side quietly pleased at the marginalisation. And the Lib Dems are retreating into Scotland Office arguments from last year.

We are all stuck in September, and the only people it helps is the SNP.

It certainly doesn’t help the people of Scotland, who are being exhorted to vote for MPs who will “stand up for Scotland” – as if decision-making at Westminster was based on geographic blocs. It isn’t. It’s based on MPs from across the UK coming together to form a government for the whole UK.

But if this is where we are, then this is where we must fight.

Scottish Labour should continue to champion progressive policies, and to hold the SNP to account for their failures in government. But we must also be the party that stands as a bulwark against the splitting up of the UK, and also against the neverendum which is now being threatened.

No voters are not the only ones who don’t want to see a rerun. There are plenty of folk who voted Yes who also see the folly of an endless focus on the constitution.

Scottish Labour needs to be the voice of those who want the locations of government to remain as they are but the actions of government to radically change. We need to be proud of the role we played in preserving the solidarity of the United Kingdom, and reaffirm that stance.

As the recent GERS figures have shown, Scotland’s relationship with the UK is not one of subsidy but of shared risk and shared reward. In bumper years for Scotland, we help contribute to the pooled resources which maintain our NHS, our education system and our welfare state. In tougher years, like the last few, the rest of the UK makes its contribution to ensure Scots do not lose out.

Retaining that system of sharing is critical to the welfare of everyone in the UK. Throwing it away with demands for fiscal autonomy means threatening the wellbeing of millions of our most vulnerable. Labour cannot let that happen.

If the SNP is determined to make this election about where powers lie, then let us be abundantly clear:

  • Labour will not do any deals with a party whose policy is to break up the UK.
  • Labour will stand up for the democratic vote of the majority last September, and not allow it to be traduced.

We must keep trying to move the political debate on to what we do with powers not where they lie. But when we are setting out Labour’s radical plans, we need to be very clear on one point.

Labour’s positive, progressive, anti-austerity programme for the whole of the UK cannot be delivered on an SNP vote. It can only be delivered if Scots vote Labour.

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14 thoughts on “If this is where we are, then this is where we must fight

  1. I will keep this short. I know Duncan dislikes my posts. How do I know this? He never prints them.
    Duncan thinks that Scottish politics has not moved on from September 2014. It is now March 2015, 52 days away from the GE. Scotland has moved on. On May 7th Labour will find out just how far it has moved.
    It would be easy for me to give you my theory of where Labour has gone wrong in Scotland, but what would the point be, you wouldn’t listen. It would be far to difficult for Labour supporters like Duncan to read such a long critique. Labour has to work this one out for themselves. And if this article is an example of Labour’s present understanding of its place in Scottish politics well their situation is desperate.
    However, if you genuinely want to try and analyse the reasons why Labour is in such a mess in Scotland start by asking yourself this question Duncan, why is it that on May 8th the handful of seats Labour will be left with are in Scotland’s wealthiest constituencies?
    Stop blaming it all on the enemy.

    1. I can’t help noticing, Richard, that you haven’t actually addressed any of my points.

      The fight is still over powers, is it not? Despite Calman not even having been tested yet, despite Smith having been agreed but not put into practice yet.

      It is clear that the SNP has always, and will always, act for a single purpose – independence. And it is clear that Labour’s pragmatic, settled view is that solidarity trumps nationalism.

      I would dearly love this election in Scotland to be about redistributive policies, investment in public services, ending Tory austerity and using the powers of government at every level to improve people’s lives. But the SNP is focused on separation. The SNP will always be focused on separation.

      You pose an interesting question yourself. Why are the SNP doing best in the places which have suffered most from Tory austerity? Because they have lied to those people, and promised them an SNP vote can help them. In fact an SNP vote dooms them to five more years of the Tories. But the SNP don’t care about that, because five more years of the Tories helps them argue for independence.

      Stop pretending the SNP aren’t all about separation. It isn’t credible.

      1. But surely it’s not what the SNP wants that is is important, it’s what the voters want. You are so busy listening the the SNP, you are forgetting to listen the the people that really count. Many of us became politicised and radicalised for the first time during the referendum campaign, and we are no longer going to vote for a party that thinks it is its job to tell *us* what to do.

        To improve lives all over Britain, we need to sort out the constitution, returning sovereignty to the four nations, and thence devolving significant power to local communities. You need to grab this bull by the horns, because the era of Westminster centralism and New Labour managerialism is over. Devolution has proved that the ordinary people of Scotland can govern themselves more effectively than Westminster can. Imagine how much further we can take this.

        Scottish voters are interested in considering the notion of full fiscal autonomy. We want to see a roadmap that would make this possible in say 15 years, and then we want to set off down this road, tentatively, within a federal UK, to see if we can make it work. Or if we can find a degree of fiscal autonomy that we are comfortable with, short of full fiscal autonomy. Labour should be drafting this roadmap.

        p.s. If you are really interested in redistribution, increase taxes and abolish Trident. It’s not rocket science.

        1. “Returning sovereignty to the four nations”? You mean your answer is independence or nothing? You want to ride roughshod over the democratic will of the Scottish people – not to mention the clearly expressed views of folk across the UK – and disband the UK unilaterally?

          Fiscal autonomy is throwing away the precise thing that is good about the union – our collective action, our pooling and sharing of resources, our cross-subsidies when parts of the UK have tough times. Fiscal autonomy means Austerity Max for Scotland. It would be criminally destructive.

          We are really interested in redistribution. We have a track record of delivering it. We lifted over a million children out of poverty between 1997 and 2010. And our plans for the mansion tax and the bankers bonus tax and the increased higher rate go further than our main rivals on redistribution. Which bit of this do you not believe?

          1. Not a lot, to tell you the truth. I wonder how many of those children remain ‘out of poverty’ in 2015. Did you really improve their life chances? Or just throw money at them when money was cheap and it was the easy thing to do? Before pulling the rug out from under their feet after the financial crisis?

            The Mansion Tax is not the answer. It’s just a way of giving more money to Ed Balls in Westminster. Rather than to local councils where it belongs. It’s ad hoc and it’s stupid, and it needlessly complicates an already Byzantine tax system. If you are serious about tackling inequality, you need to raise income tax rates for everyone earning more than the average, say £30K. And then reduce the rate of VAT. If you really really want my vote, I want to hear you talk about Basic (citizen’s) Income. You could abolish poverty at a stroke. Or if you think it is not worth it, tell us why.

          2. Labour developed Working Families Tax Credits, and the New Deal, and implemented the National Minimum Wage, not because it was “easy” – it wasn’t. Our opponents cried foul at every turn. We did it because economic justice is our mission.

            We did not pull the rug out from anybody. The financial crisis was a global phenomenon, and Gordon Brown ensured far fewer were impacted directly by it than could have been.

            We are planning to raise income tax for the most well off. The Mansion Tax will work and help deliver NHS improvements. And sure, I want to see us go further and look at replacing Council Tax with a Land Value Tax, and a Basic Citizen’s Income isn’t a terrible idea but it would require a long lead-in and a lot of collaborative work.

            But your initial response shows why such radical plans rarely see the light of day. You dismissed the major, serious achievements of Labour in government. And you did so because it suits you, not because your criticisms are fair.

            Maybe you should look again at Labour’s record and Labour’s plans.

      2. You’re still not listening Duncan because frankly you don’t care. All Labour is to you is a forum and a way to act out your own personal self gratification of being a name within an organisation which has access to media exposure. All you care about is being seen and heard.

        Nobody with an ounce of genuine concern about anything other than what’s in it for them would blatantly ignore Labour’s present horrendous failings and its outright criminal past present and future intent.

        Ive witnessed you promote the worst levels of ludicrous excuses and bare faced lies to try and justify the worst excesses of political corruption deceit and transparent political corruption.

        Sadly within Labour you’re the norm relative to the fringe.

  2. I totally agree that the debate needs to move on to policy and how Labour can best use existing powers to bring out radical change.

    Where I disagree is that I don’t think it is in our interest (I’m a Labour Party member) to rule out any kind of informal agreement with the SNP before a single vote has been cast. There are definitely areas we can work with them on (political reform, green policies and welfare all come to mind) and areas we can challenge them to back us on (50p tax, higher minimum wage, scrapping the Tory NHS reforms)

    The odds of us getting an outright majority are not great at the moment – not great for any party – so it is likely that if we win we will need their votes (and possibly those of the Lib Dems) to pursue the policies we want to bring in.

  3. I feel uncomfortable communicating with you Duncan. I worry that while discussing Labour’s present predicament that the penny finally drops with some of the few remaining Labour diehards and the realisation of where Labour is in Scotland and more importantly how they got to where they are eventually dawns on them. I worry because it is only after Labour gets to that point that it can do something about it. And as you know I don’t want that to happen. The sinking boat metaphor might help. I prefer to watch Labour’s wasted efforts at baling out rather than find and repair the hole.
    However I think I worry unnecessarily; so I will repeat, don’t blame it all on the enemy. Consequently look within. Don’t expect the answers to come from those on the Westminster gravy train. Why, because maybe their in it for their own good. Look at the quality of Labour’s representatives in Scotland. Be honest with yourself. Don’t jump up in blind support when you hear toe curling speeches at conferences. Sycophants and nepotism are part of the problem. Listen to the last words of your last leader. Listen to what your new leader says. Is the NHS in Scotland in such a crisis? Are you comfortable with Scotland’s A&E departments getting rubbished by Jim Murphy on a daily basis? Be honest are you comfortable with your new leader? Read his CV.

    1. Still not addressing my points. Ah well.

      I recognise that Labour has failed in a number of areas, and also that our electoral success is down to us making a positive offer that meets the needs of the people we seek to represent.

      I reinforce in my piece that Labour must continue to champion the kinds of progressive policies – taxing mansions to fund nurses, taxing bankers to fund jobs – that we have been doing.

      But your response is little more than a smear. You suggest Labour politicians are all in it for themselves. It’s clear you don’t know any. You pretend that speeches at conference are all awful. You clearly didn’t listen to the powerful words spoken by so many.

      And you, rather desperately, cling to Sturgeon’s shameful response on the NHS, pretending, outrageously, that in fighting for better funding for our NHS Labour is somehow “rubbishing” its work. Labour pays tribute to NHS workers every day. It’s calling for them to be properly supported by their government. That you see fit to spin that into Labour rubbishing the NHS says more about you than anything else.

      1. “I reinforce in my piece that Labour must continue to champion the kinds of progressive policies”

        This level of delusional garbage is exactly what Im on about! The total and absolute denial of who and what the Labour party have become.
        Labour have not championed any progressive policies since 1997 when Tony Blair swung the whole party off to the ideological grazing fields of the Conservative party. Welfare is now “Something for nothing” and “Freebies”
        Privatisation of everything is now the call. WMDs War austerity fracking.
        These are not progressive ideals.

        There is no criminal low Labour can stoop to you wont go out of your way to excuse or promote. You and this Labour party belong together.

        1. “Labour have not championed any progressive policies since 1997”

          Since 1997, Labour:
          – Set up the winter fuel allowance
          – Created SureStart
          – Created the New Deal
          – Implemented the Disability Discrimination Act
          – Set up the devolved Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly
          – Equalised the age of consent, introduced anti-discrimination law and created civil partnerships
          – Implemented the Social Chapter
          – Lifted a million children out of poverty
          – Created the National Minimum Wage
          – Improved maternity pay and set up paternity leave
          – Cancelled Third World Debt
          – Passed the first ever Climate Change Act
          – Tripled overseas aid

          You can say this isn’t enough (it never will be) but you cannot deny the reality. You are doing precisely what you accuse me of. Spewing delusional garbage.

          And Labour’s plans for our next government are just as bold. Jobs guarantee. Mansion tax. Bankers bonus tax. But you’ll ignore all that because you long ago decided “Labour bad” and you long ago stopped listening.

  4. Come on Duncan, print my last comment. Lets keep this going and let readers decide. If you don’t you make my point far better than I can. Refusing to publish and therefore refusing to discuss with the opposition so that followers of Labour Hame can decide for themselves reinforces my belief that Labour’s problems are self inflicted. You exemplify all that is wrong with Labour in Scotland. You are part of the problem Labour finds itself in rather than part of the solution.
    Don’t blame it on the SNP. Don’t blame on moonlight. Don’t blame it on the good times. Blame it on Duncan.

    1. What an odd thing to post *after* your previous comment was published. You might want to apologise.

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