Ronnie McGowan says the Labour party should shed its defensive constitutional posture and vigorously promote its much-needed progressive policies.
When a combative Ruth Davidson probed the First Minister in the recent televised leaders’ debate about the timing of a second independence referendum it was a cautious Nicola Sturgeon, with tension etched on her face, who sidestepped the issue, preferring to put the onus squarely onto the shoulders of the people of Scotland. All of a sudden her deft leadership skills were absent.
Long gone, it seems, are the days when a string of good opinion polls would trigger the ensuing fervour; instead Ms Sturgeon made a barely noticeable repositioning of her promise from the “once in a generation opportunity” to hopefully achieving independence within her lifetime, a pretty vacuous ambition. The time scale was now off the scale. There was no finger on the trigger in her response to Davidson, merely a realisation that indyref2 was disappearing faster than a rabbit down a hole.
Her circumspect response was not without good reason. In a recent detailed Scottish Social Attitudes survey Professor John Curtice’s polling think tank put support for independence at 39% in 2015, down from 45% in the actual poll just one year previously. This represents a reduction of 13% of the YES vote. Based on the same 2014 voter turnout that amounts to a fall of support for independence in the region of 215,000 folk; meanwhile the survey also showed 55% still wished to remain within the United Kingdom. This is bad news for those who believe there is an appetite for a second referendum: the surge is in the wrong direction.
In today’s echo chamber politics where sections of the press falsely claim that 39% is the highest ever support for independence, the electorate is already kicking any demand for a second referendum into the long grass. The highly regarded Professor Curtice’s poll shows disillusioned voters deserting the independence cause in droves and sounding the death knell for any campaign; Nicola Sturgeon would never admit this to her supporters for fears of accusations of betrayal. It does, though, explain her retreat in pursuing a second referendum. She already faces ridicule for being a fully paid up member of another Better Together campaign, standing shoulder to shoulder with David Cameron. How the tide turns.
Given the reversal in support for independence it is all the more surprising then that the Labour party continues to get itself tangled up in what looks like unnecessary prevarication; and it is not just the leader Kezia Dugdale who is guilty of this. During a twenty minute speech to the spring conference in Glasgow , deputy leader Alex Rowley name-checked “Scotland” eighty five times while referring only four times to education – thus sending out the wrong message. It really is time to reassert the aspirational social democratic principles that made the Labour Party an effective mass political movement in government and opposition.
Nicola Sturgeon is no social democrat; during that television debate she placed herself firmly alongside the Tories on tax, which just about sums up where she stands, the same old Tory she always was. The SNP will point to recent elections, reminding everyone of how satisfied voters are in the SNP’s performance in government. There is a kernel of truth in that assertion but this hard shell of propaganda conceals what the SNP have been doing in power since 2007 (apart from being propped up by the Tories for four years). They have been cynically living off seven decades of social democratic gains made by the Labour party and the Labour movement.
But time is running out for the SNP – they are like someone who borrows some cash for tokens to feed the electricity meter then sits back in blissful complacency, blindly watching as the credit runs out, knowing that the neighbourly Barnetts will help them out once again – but not for ever.
Ruth Davidson was bold and correct to question the First Minister in the manner she did – the Labour party should shed its defensive constitutional posture, dismiss any talk of a future referendum, and vigorously re-establish and promote those progressive policies that are needed now more than they ever have been.