Let the Scottish people decide, says JUDITH FISHER
We’re going to have a referendum on independence. The SNP won the election, and at some point in this parliament, they will hold a referendum. What Scottish Labour needs to do is decide, rationally, what our line on the referendum is going to be.
We’ve been fighting the SNP for so long and so bitterly, yet this is not a question that ever seems to be considered.
Bear with me here.
The referendum is the SNP’s game, and you can’t ever win by playing someone else’s game.
I suspect I can say with confidence that the Scottish Labour Party will not be campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote, but can we win by campaigning for a ‘no’?
One of our key weaknesses as a Party is the perception that the SNP are more patriotic, more confident in how they view our nation’s future. We are also perceived as negative, and, at times, as ‘talking Scotland down’. Some of this has been our own fault.
If we campaign for a ‘no’ vote, then whatever the outcome of the referendum, does that not entrench those perceptions which led to such a sound defeat in the recent election?
The two scenarios are: we campaign for a ‘no’ vote, we lose, and Labour becomes a political irrelevance, a dinosaur, the Tories, in a future independent Scotland; we campaign for a ‘no’ vote, we win, but our associations with negativity and lack of patriotism become more deeply ingrained with the electorate, and they punish us at the next Scottish elections. A negative campaign may resonate, but the electorate will not thank us for playing to their own fears.
There are, I admit, other scenarios, we could run a positive campaign extolling the benefits of the Union, if after decades of negative campaigning we could shake off our bad habits, but that still places us on the nationalists’ stage, positioning us a Unionist party.
And we’re not, in case we’ve forgotten.
The criticism which we have levelled at the SNP since time immemorial, in the main because it’s true, is that their concern is not really with improving the lives of the people of Scotland, about more jobs, better health and education systems, but instead has just one goal, separation.
Aren’t we in danger of becoming the opposite, obsessed with the continuation of the Union at any cost, even the continuation of our own party as a force for the common good? If we spend the next couple of years fretting over a referendum, the timing or wording of which we have no real control over, what reason are we giving the Scottish people to support us?
So, what’s the alternative? We could spend the next parliament in two ways: firstly, innovating within our own party to create a coherent, dynamic approach to improving the lives of the people of Scotland and communicating those ideas to the electorate; secondly, holding the SNP Government to account on the issues the Scottish Parliament was created to have responsibility for.
When the referendum comes, we leave it to the Scottish people to decide, then we work with the outcome.
It’s a gamble, I’d be the first to admit that, but we need to stop and think about what we’re doing, about what our real priorities are as a movement, before we blunder our way into the very role that the nationalists would like to cast us in. Instead of the bluster, let’s caw canny.
Judith Fisher is a member of Glasgow North-West CLP, the Scottish Convenor of LGBT Labour and was a candidate on the Glasgow list in the last Scottish Parliament elections. This post was originally published at Progress Online.