Robert Hoskins (@hoski67) of Cathcart CLP says after years of the SNP driving wedges, one of the biggest benefits of electing Labour MPs and MSPs will be to heal the unnecessary rifts between the Holyrood and Westminster parliaments, and between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Despite the loss of the 2014 referendum on Scottish Independence, the SNP-led Scottish Government often acts as if Scotland is already an independent country.
It delivers this charade through the adoption of three long term aims with regards to Scotland’s relationship with the UK. It tries firstly to amplify to Scots every difference it can find from England. Second, it seeks to sever as many cultural and financial ties as possible with the rest of the UK. Third, and most importantly, it attempts to erase the British identity of its citizens in favour of a solely Scottish one. These aims have been implemented differently at home and abroad.
In Scotland, demonstrating difference and exceptionalism has taken three main forms. Firstly there is an emphasis on promoting linguistic differences. Well over £26 million has been spent on translating every motorway destination sign, every railway station name, every underground station name and every emergency service name into a language which only 1% of the Scottish population can understand and far fewer use on a daily basis.
Second is the widespread application of high visibility Scottish branding – the Saltire plastered all over every public service logo – and insisting that the word ‘Scotland’ is used as a suffix for every public service. While this is designed to remind Scots and our visitors that Scotland is a separate nation, the apparently obsessive need to emphasise difference might instead suggest a government which knows that the country at large is in fact not entirely comfortable with the pretence of independence.
Third, it has been a hallmark of the last 16 years of this Scottish Government that successive First Ministers have avoided acknowledging UK projects or financial investments which benefit Scotland. The £45 million contract awarded to Babcock at Rosyth to maintain the UK’s research vessels in January of this year, and the first 200 of an estimated 22,000 civil service jobs which will now be relocated from London to a new HQ in Aberdeen, are just two examples.
In fact it seems the only time that SNP First Ministers ever mention UK investment or UK-created jobs is in the form of a grievance – when they perceive that Westminster is withdrawing job contracts or relocating jobs to the rest of the UK. The ideological grievance of beastly Britain abusing Scotland is so hardwired into nationalist thinking that two of their MPs recently took to Twitter to voice their confected outrage at Westminster for having the audacity to relocate civil service jobs from East Kilbride. Needless to say when the they realised that the jobs weren’t being relocated to England but 18 miles up the road to Glasgow instead, their knee-jerk tweets were deleted pretty quickly.
The attempt to eradicate British branding from every UK-wide service is another essential plank in erasing what is seen by the Scottish Government as the intrusive presence of Britain in Scotland. The long, drawn-out and ultimately botched attempt at getting rid of the British Transport Police by merging its Scottish element with Police Scotland is a prime example of this.
The determination of the Scottish Government to have separate initiatives even when it makes no sense led, for the first time since 1801, to Scotland not being part of the UK-wide census in 2021. While the UK census delivered a 97% response rate, nationalist hubris determined that Scotland would run a separate census the following year resulting in an inferior response rate of 88%, failing to reach the 94% threshold set by the ONS at an additional cost of £140 million. The quality of the data collected from the most deprived areas of Scotland with the poorest census return rates could result in less well-targeted public services being delivered to those areas.
The Scottish Government’s aim of promoting Scotland abroad as an independent country with different (and of course “better”) values than the rest of the UK has proven to be far more controversial to implement than its approach at home. The Scottish Government has used the Reservation of International Relations section of the 1998 Scotland Act to act as its wrecking ball of choice to meddle in ultra vires UK foreign affairs which are the exclusive reserve of the Foreign Office.
The intent is to demonstrate a discrete Scottish “foreign policy” which, of course, will be different to that of “Westminster” because it will reflect “Scottish priorities”. These are, in reality, SNP priorities which, because they actually have no power in those areas, can champion simplistic populism over practical reality,
In fact the Scottish Government’s pseudo Foreign Office, its “External Affairs Directorate“, engages in foreign policy development by means of the political equivalent of cuckooing. It has spent over £9 million running seven offices in the premises of British embassies, in Germany, China, Denmark, Ireland, Canada, France and the USA. Despite foreign policy being reserved, Scottish Ministers and officials are not prevented from communicating with other countries, regions or institutions as long as they do not speak for the United Kingdom or reach agreements which commit the UK.
We know now that the First Minister, on his recent trip to COP 28 as an uninvited attendee, has been caught discussing ultra vires Foreign Office business and holding not one but five separate meetings with world leaders, including the President of Turkey, Prime Minister of Lebanon, Acting Prime Minister of Pakistan, President of the European Commission and President of the European Council, without any FCDO representative being present.
We have watched for sixteen years as Scottish politics has been consumed in this never-ending cycle of conflict and confrontation with Westminster. So what can be done to repair the damage to the integrity of the union? Well for the first time in a long time it is now possible to imagine a future where the majority of Scottish MPs and MSPs are not nationalists, where the next Prime Minister is a Labour Prime Minister and the next First Minister is a Labour First Minister. It’s therefore now possible to imagine a future where Scotland can repair its damaged relationship with the rest of the UK at home and abroad.
As the Holyrood election is more than 3 years away, we cannot predict what policies will be in the manifesto on which Scottish Labour will fight it. But what we can be certain about is this. If Labour is indeed the largest party at the next election, Holyrood’s relationship with Westminster can change overnight.
Gone will be the grievance-led constant drone of whinging, whining and whimpering about Scotland’s position in the Union. Amen to that. Britain’s status in Scotland will be rehabilitated. Its profile raised. What has been presented since the rise of the SNP as an unwelcome maleficent presence will be reframed as an essential positive. Ties which bind us to the rest of the UK may well be renewed again. UK investment in Scotland for the first time in 20 years can be welcomed, not ignored or downplayed. A Labour First Minister will be championing Labour-led Westminster’s involvement from the dispatch box when he announces a new publicly-owned UK wide energy company, GB Energy, which will be located in Aberdeen.
And what is Labour going to do about the SNP’s ultra vires mission-creep regarding making clandestine preparations for an independent Scotland abroad? Rumour has it that Labour has had enough of their clandestine shenanigans and, once in office, Labour will ensure that FCDO rules are adhered to at all times.
And what to make of Anas Sarwar? He has achieved a miracle in two years of rehabilitating the fortunes of the Scottish Labour Party from being a distant third behind the Tories to being ahead of the SNP with regards voting intention in Westminster, and neck and neck with the SNP on Holyrood constituency and list vote polling. He has also shown enough resilience, political nous and independence of mind to defy his close ally and friend Keir Starmer by taking a conflicting position to the official party line on Gaza. I think we can now safely say that the old SNP trope of Scottish Labour being just a ‘branch office’ which cow-tows to UK Labour has been blown well and truly out of the water.
Anas Sarwar has proven to be both a strong advocate for the union and willing to take opposing views under pressure on issues which he believes important. If the current polling trends are accurate and the forthcoming elections deliver Labour governments at Westminster and Holyrood, I think we can say with a degree of certainty that the union will indeed be in safe hands.