Progressive politics when there’s no money left

With continuing economic gloom PROFESSOR TREVOR DAVIES outlines how we can change our society and economy with few resources.


We’ve been struggling through financial crisis for three years now. And we will, economists seem to agree, live with reducing living standards and significantly constrained public expenditure for a further decade, perhaps two.  That prospect significantly weakens the main left and centre policy tool of the past fifty years:  using public expenditure to  address social problems. So what does progressive politics do in a time of no money?

All parts of the left need to address that question.  (And ‘left’ encompasses at least parts of Liberal Democrat, SNP, even Conservative parties – though their own pre-occupations may regrettably prove more diverting).  For Labour, that question, daunting though it is, should be welcomed with open arms.  It means big thinking – thinking through ways to change the rules of the game, change some of the ways in which our society and economy work.

Let me begin an agenda for that thinking. Here are four things:

Create new work. The fundamental issue in a time of no money is to open more opportunities for more work for more people. Shopping and banking are our two key industries right now, propped up by high property prices. All are in decline. And their revival is no way to build a better economy in which there’s good work for everyone. We’ve tried things – selling our companies to big foreign investors, bringing in the Chinese, special business tax breaks, bonfires of regulations and straight subsidies from the taxpayer to business. They haven’t worked well and the more of the same isn’t good enough. The New Economics Foundation ( has been looking for better ways.  With most new work created in small enterprises, they place emphasis on renewing the local economy, creating and retaining wealth close to home and stopping its extraction by national and international interests and monopolies. That will support sustainable and the long-term prosperity, as will changes in public procurement to create new local markets and changes in taxation to favour long-term productive investment, not predatory short-term gambles.

Break down vested interests. Our economy is hidebound because our society is hidebound.  Rigid powerful interests defend their own wealth rather than the good of us all.  They entrench inequality and prevent innovation; both drain and hinder our economy. If sustainable prosperity for all is to be achieved, progressive politics must dare to devise a focussed and deliberate programme of challenge and open reform for the City of London, our far-from-free foreign-owned Press, the Private Schools, many of the Professions, big business, even the Civil Service.

Reform our constitution (No, cybernats, that’s not what you think. It’s much more important than ‘barbed-wire-at-Berwick’.) Breaking open the vested interests will allow reform of the ways in which our society and economy are constituted, allow room for legislative reforms which promote equality, enhance freedoms and underpin social cohesion. We can devise legal changes to the way large companies are constituted to give workers and customers an equal say with that of shareholders, changes to give us  all more control over the money which banks hold and lend on our behalf, changes to the courts to give access to justice to the poor as well as the rich, changes to the governance of press and media so they serve everyone’s interests, changes to constitute and guarantee the independence of local government.

Make public services personal and local. All governments endeavour to make public services more relevant and more cost effective.  For the left, I suggest there are two governing principles. First, public services are public and they must be shaped by public interest rather than market practice. And, second, because all public services except social security transfers are delivered locally, they should be governed locally – both as a way to ensure public accountability and, by removing a tier of government and relating services to each other as well as the real needs of real people, to deliver better value for money.  That means health run locally, education run locally, police run locally, social care run locally – creating the situation where it is a promotion to rise from MSP or MP to the local leadership of a city. Audit should be to the community not to professional auditors (with their own vested interests).

In a time of no money, it is deep structural and cultural reform to change the way we do things, which will provide the bedrock prosperity for the future.  And provide a coherent political platform to counter the nay-sayers and blame-layers.

(Johann – Perhaps, before it becomes set, the key posts in your shadow cabinet should be re-drawn to follow that big agenda, or something like it, turning it into a leadership group for the new Scotland and your next government rather than letting the pedestrian priorities of the SNP determine what you appoint people to do.)

Of course – there could be more money in the public purse than there is if everyone paid the tax appropriate to their means.  We need a common European level of business taxation to prevent the absurd dutch auction in corporation tax which Ireland indulged in to its detriment and which the Scottish government now propose.  It doesn’t create new jobs – simply poaches them from elsewhere – and excuses business from engaging with the public good.  The yet more blatant forms of tax haven must be closed down through wider international action.  And, one more constitutional change, the outdated defence of ‘tax-payer confidentiality’ at home must be removed from all except basic rate PAYE payers – paying tax is a legal contract to society which should be open to scrutiny just as any other legal obligation.

Trevor Davies is an honorary professor of urban studies at the University of Glasgow and a former Labour councillor in Edinburgh.

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84 thoughts on “Progressive politics when there’s no money left

  1. Reform our constitution (No, cybernats, that’s not what you think. It’s much more important than ‘barbed-wire-at-Berwick’.)

    What constitution? Were is it written down? How can one have a constitution when one lives in an Elective dictatorship?

    1. I think most people would recognise that the UK has a constitution even though it isn’t written down in one document labeled “Constitution” through all the constitutional laws that have been written – from the Scotland Act and the Human Rights Act onwards

  2. Should we not wait until the GERS figures are out for 2010-11 before saying ‘There is no money left’? Its just that bar peak recession (09-10), figures have been quite healthy with a net surplus in general. Combine forthcoming large cuts to the government budget, strong/stable oil prices, reasonable exports (whisky, fish, meat and dairy, power…) and ongoing investments (e.g. renewables, new oil fields such as BP Clair) I’d have thought things would continue to look fairly healthy over the next decade. Apparently we’re currently the sixth wealthiest country in the world and compare very favourably with the powerhouse of SE England in terms of economic output.

    Why all the doom and gloom. Maybe I’m missing something?

    1. It’s realism, not doom and gloom.

      We are indeed still a wealthy nation. But the UK government is cutting public expenditure and plans to cut if further. Austerity programmes, comparable to those of our government, in parts of Europe seem to have the effect of reducing taxable output leading to yet further reductions in public expenditure. Compared with what we were all used to I don’t think there is any doubt that public money will be in very short supply, especially when an increasing proportion of it must be spent on supporting the growing number of unemployed. If we want to promote social change, then we will have to find ways to do it without using increased public expenditure as a mean to do so.

      1. “We are indeed still a wealthy nation.”
        Agreed. As shown in GERS figures and OECD reports.
        “But the UK government is cutting public expenditure and plans to cut if further”
        And there’s the problem. Rich by resourses, running at a surplus, yet subject to horrendous cuts by a government with no electoral mandate in our country.

  3. Couldn’t agree more. Crying shame this comes along as a bolt from the blue type of idea after 13 years of Labour Government has come to an end, rather than before but hey ho. Lovely to see you playing catch up I guess.

    1. I’m pleased you agree.

      I’m also pleased that you think that I am/we are catching up with you.

      It would be great if you could give me some references where I can read your own earlier writings on these matters, the ones I’m catching up with. Or if not your own writings, then those which you admire.


  4. The issue of ‘no money’ is a total red herring! Are you really saying that countries can only move towards socialism once they are rich enough? I believe in a Scotland that is a much more egalitarian society – this is more to do with the distribution of income and wealth as it is to do with the absolute level of national income and national wealth.

    1. Well, I’m really not sure that anyone can say that the massive reductions in the money available to public spending is a red herring!

      And I’m saying the opposite of “countries can only move towards socialism once they are rich enough”. I’m saying that there are still radical ways forward towards an egalitarian society in a time when the old reliance on public expenditure is no longer available.

      1. Thanks for replying. My point was that the cuts to public spending are a ‘red herring’ if used to suggest that we can’t move towards socialism. I am glad that you appear to agree with this point, though your suggested ideas appear to not provide movement in that direction.

        Be honest, is there any political party that could disagree with goals like ‘Create new work’, ‘Break down vested interests’, ‘Reform our constitution’ and ‘Make public services personal and local’ – even David Cameron could sign up to those!

        1. Of course, the goals I have set out are shared by many. I said that there is a task here for the whole of the ‘left’. But I am really not sure that David Cameron would talk to much about breaking down vested interests – his whole fake veto think in Brussels was about protecting the biggest vested interest of all: the city of London.

          If my ideas don’t provide movement – which of course I don’t accept – then what about ideas from you that will, ideas that might be relevant in a time when we don’t have the extra public spending to fall back on?

        2. Hi Trevor – happy to share some ideas.

          Time to get rid of the unfair Council Tax. I accept that the income would have to be raised from some other source, but moving to fairer taxation must be a key policy of any party that believes in social justice.

          Time to tackle health inequality head on – a free NHS is not sufficient in itself as that only deals with consequences. We should be addressing the causes of illhealth. This need not require public expenditure but may require legislation to, for example, further restrict smoking/ease of purchasing tobacco products. In addition, a policy of free, healthy school meals for all, paid for by a tax on unhealthy foodstuffs could make a major difference to the obesity timebomb that is otherwise going to tick away.

          Time to scrap the planned replacement for our nuclear defence system. At a time of major cuts in public spending, to not consider this option is a disgrace.

          That’s just three ideas…

          1. Thanks – I agree

            The Council Tax is broken and needs serious reform. To my mind there are two principles to inform any replacement. First, any new form of taxation must be based on wealth, not on income. Income is easy to move or disguise, especially for the rich. Wealth is more fixed. At the local level the obvious place to look first is the wealth contained in property and land. Second, any new form of taxation should be capable of automatic updating year by year. One of the reasons the Council Tax is so unfair and unpopular is that the house price bands on which it is based have not been uprated since it was established. The reason for this is that it requires a political decision to do so and politicians of all parties have shied away from that.

            Health Inequality is crucial and very difficult to address – because its roots are in the much wider inequality that pervades our society. You may be interested in a paper which Dr Richard Simpson MSP and I wrote (it has been summarised on Labour Hame)

            But I’m not sure that these good ideas are really enough to get at the root of what the ‘left’ needs to do in order to rethink how we create a fairer society in a time when there’s less public money about. That’s the challenge.

  5. I was finding this quite interesting, even to the point that you appear to encourage those of ‘left’ within all parties (including the SNP) to address the issue. Unfortunately you couldn’t help yourself with your stupid ‘barbed wire at Berwick’ comment!
    So you just lost any goodwill from this ‘cybernat’…and you’re a university lecturer as well…dear, oh dear!

    1. I assume Trevor Davies believes that an independent Scotland would require barded wire at the border to keep out economic refugees trying to move north!

    2. So tell me why strengthening an old boundary line has any relevance to the objectives I was trying to outline?

      I have noticed that this is the only issue that seems to get people engaged and I just don’t see the relevance of it

      1. Borders are important as they define the areas within which political systems operate. More powers being transferred to the Scottish Parliament increases our ability to take policy decisions in line with the priorities of the people of Scotland. When those powers are retained at UK level, the people of Scotland have to rely on voters in England sharing their political priorities for them to become a reality. If you accept that Scotland generally votes to the left of England – which elections results would seem to substantiate – Scotland will have greater ability to move in a progressive direction if it has control of more of those powers.

        1. You see, Lewis, I think that in a world where economic power in particular is widespread and diffuse, I think that buy retreating behind Scottish boundaries we relinquish our grip, shared with others, on those levers of economic power. And that reduces our ability to shape our own destiny, it doesn’t strengthen it. It’s the same mistake that the Eurosceptics in the Tory party make.

          1. I take it, Trevor, you’re a glass half empty type of guy. See, to most aspiring Scots, independence wouldn’t be “retreating behind Scottish boundaries”, it would be breaking out from the boundaries set by Westminster. But then, positivity has never been Scottish Labour’s strong suite

  6. I don’t believe that things need be this bad, so lets get the distribution on a level playing field

    A Barnet allowance for all four countries or Fiscal Automnomy for all four countries.

    Allowing the Treasury to control everything isn’t working.

  7. So, you are proposing exactly the opposite of everything the Blair/Brown gov’ts did between 1997 and 2010, except for the initial short burst of reformist zeal that led to the Scottish Parliament.

  8. There are in Scotland a group of people who are entrepreneurial but caring, deeply embedded in the local economy, hard working exploited and ignored. Large numbers live in substandard houses and are almost slaves to their Lairds. The rural community has been ignored by the Labour party for decades and is still being ignored. Articles like this do not offer much hope of change but perhaps Johann might give some thought to rural affairs?

    1. I don’t believe you are right. One of the first Acts of the Scottish Parliament, under Donald Dewar, was to provide the means for rural communities to buy the land they lived on from the ‘lairds’.

      But supposing that you are right – what would you suggest, in a time when additional public expenditure will be unavailable, as a set of policies that will meet your objective of ‘not ignoring’ rural communities?

      1. Right to buy for individual tenant farmers would be a start. (Dewars law requires “community” groups). This issue is an open wound in every rural area. Houses are boarded up, land is abandoned yet tenants who have families cannot expand and most are forced into emigration. Without the right to buy the land market is moribund. I suggest you read the Scottish Farmer letters page. You will see cries from the heart of Scotland every week. Yet you have never heard of it before. A process of engagement with the rural community is clearly vital. There is no functioning Labour party outside the Central belt. Words can make great changes but so far we do not even have those from you.

        1. OK. That’s an interesting idea. I don’t know the pros and cons of it and I don’t know why we haven’t seen it on the agenda of other parties, not just Labour.

          (I think we could all debate whether it is the cities or the rural areas which are, as you describe it, the ‘heart’ of Scotland.)

          1. It is on the SNP and NFUS agenda. Richard Lochhead (Ag Minister in case you did not know) is well aware of it. It is an issue vital to rural Scotland’s future. A passionately debated one, ripe for Labour to exploit to its advantage. But Labour is blind to anything off tarmac as Johann’s Rural Affairs appointment shows.

  9. The only hope of introducing and sustaining a long-term left wing agenda as proposed by Prof Davis is to have a Labour manifesto which proposes these changes, then a clear Labour victory to provide the mandate. This would need to be followed by several consecutive full term Labour governments in Westminster to achieve the aims. Since Labour must look to Middle England to achieve electoral victory, it knows that it needs to keep a right of centre element along with its traditional “democratic socialist” values. I think we experienced the results of this right leaning agenda during the Blair/Brown administrations. In short, I’m saying that Prof Davis’s proposals are unrealistic in a Westminster setting.

    Now what about Scotland? And what of “the new Scotland” that you refer to? In “the new Scotland” the electorate have decided that the traditional left-right politics are no longer valued. Scottish politics is currently dominated by a left of centre SNP, and a Labour Party (no evidence yet of a Scottish Labour Party emerging) that tries to appeal to its traditional left yet needs to capture the Middle England vote. Yet we are governed from Westminster by a right wing Tory Party coalition that is completely opposed to the type of proposals put forward by Prof Davis. There is no guarantee that the Tories will be removed in the next election, and every likelihood that the appalling Boris will follow Cameron as leader.

    Like many others, I have come to the conclusion that Scotland now needs to become independent in order to remove the democratic deficit that devolution has failed to address. I think the Labour Party (in Scotland) should allow itself to consider the merits of independence and be open to such a future for Scotland.

    [On the rather foolish sarcasm (but regrettably routine in Labour commentary these days) on “barbed wire”, I refer the Prof to The Border Line Solway Firth to the North Sea by James Logan Mack, 1924, where you will find that this ancient border has never required barbed wire, unlike the border between the UK and Ireland.]

  10. Aye! Richt! Let’s be quite clear about this, shall we? There really is no great shortage of wealth – just a shortage of public funds. The truth is the entire (dis)United Kingdom – which is NOT a country but is a (failed)Political Union of four countries – is awash with both money and wealth. Trouble is that wealth is in a very few pockets and within a very limited area of the dis-United Kingdom. We have had a succession of governments, all headed by the same small elite of very rich ex-public school children who have no knowledge of the real World that the rest of us live in. Then we have the ‘Celeb classes of unproductive sports-persons, play-actors, would-be entertainers and those who have just had any form of TV exposure. All overpaid, overprotected and who all engage in tax evasions and other fiddles. For example my own Member of the Wastemonster Club, a certain Dr. James Gordon Brown is paid to represent me, and my fellow Fife residents, in the House of Commons. He has made but two visits to the house since the election. One to bleat about his families exposure in the media and another to mention the Dalgety Bay radiation scandal that he made no efforts to face while still PM. Yet this public funded lay-about has, “Earned”, over a million pound in extra-curricular activities. So the real problem is the unequal division of the wealth and the unequal percentage share of that wealth paid in tax to the Dis-United Kingdom. By the way, if the World’s countries are all in debt, who holds their I.O.Us?

    1. “By the way, if the World’s countries are all in debt, who holds their I.O.Us?”

      Mostly China

  11. You see I don’t think what I am proposing appeals only to the ‘left-wing’. I think people across the political spectrum in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as Scotland, will find something positive in them.

    Therefore, I do not I think that the view, so prevalent in SNP circles, that Labour has to look to a (reactionary) Middle England to get elected and must therefore be fatally compromised, is any more than a convenient myth. It’s also a myth, to my mind, that somehow once ‘free’ of England’s dead hand Scotland will flower into the perfect socialist state.

    Many of the ideas I was beginning to collect in what I wrote can be brought about by the Scottish Parliament. Will the ‘left-of-centre’ SNP pick up on them, rather than dismiss them because they come from a Labour source? The evidence is they are too focused on the border issue – barbed with wire or not – to do very much that’s real.

  12. Please tell me! Is the main purpose of the Labour Party in Scotland to maintain fifty odd MP`s at Westminster irrespective of the overall welfare of the People of Scotland. Any possibility of an honest answer?

    1. Of course you are not interested in understanding the purpose and aims of the Scottish Labour Party, merely in promoting your opinions about the party. Nevertheless, for your information the Scottish Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

    2. First of all I think I must ask you – any possibility of any kind of answer from you to my question over your claims about ‘destructive opposition’ in your responses to Duncan Hothersall’s piece about the Council Tax freeze?

  13. Well as a former Labour Party Member at the Castlemilk Branch I find your accusation out of order. I may well be promoting my opinions of the present Labour Party which are at variance with the Party of which I was once a member along with many others who harbour similar opinions. If however you feel that it is possible to live in harmony “in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect” with Westminster as presently constituted bearing in mind the welfare of the People of Scotland that you wish to support then, good luck.

    1. Sorry, you find the accusation that you were actually promoting your own views out of order, then you subsequently confirm that it is true? Quite clearly not out of order at all then! You’ve made your point, for the umpteenth time. You’ve also made your decision, to leave the party rather than work within it. So perhaps you don’t believe in solidarity or common endeavour quite so much as you used to?

  14. Trevor – It is great to see you taking the time to read and respond to comments on your article; I would like to see more of this on Labourhame. I also thank mods for once again being more relaxed about what comments are permitted.

    My question is do you support Devo Max/FFA as per ~70% of the Scottish electorate do?

    For simplicity, let’s say this means Scotland is fully autonomous fiscally, managing all its tax income streams/natural resources within its territorial extent; only defence, border controls, foreign affairs etc being reserved for a new central UK ‘Federal’ type parliament.

    I feel Labour have a unique opportunity here to define an FFA set-up as an alternative to independence which maintains the Union, but in a new, modern form which is attractive to the Scots electorate. I imagine the SNP would support this move given they have stated they would support adding such an option to the ballot. A bill could be passed at Holyrood and the case presented to the Westminster coalition. With such huge cross-party support (SNP + Labour, even maybe Libs + Greens too?), it would be very difficult for the UK government not to agree to it lest they be seen to be acting against the will of the Scottish electorate and so encouraging a full independence vote.

    At the moment, with no Devo Max/FFA option, there is very high probability that that a straight Y/N question will get a majority (if you look at straight Y/N polling data where the Devo Max/FFA option is not muddying the waters, a Yes vote is looking increasingly favoured). If the economy does improve (much as that may be due to external factors rather than George O.) and the Conservatives are riding high in the UK polls come the time referendum, the chances of a Yes are even higher; I can’t see the Scottish electorate living under another conservative majority again (or taking that risk), certainly not under the current status quo devolution which offers little protection from them.

    1. Sorry, no Mr Skier, I’m not going to get involved in a discussion about that. Others may wish to. I wrote what I hoped was a serious article about what might be done to begin to create a fairer society in a time when public resources are limited. I believe that to be a crucial discussion. I wrote about the need to create new work, to challenge vested interests, to reform parts of the constitution (not the border) and to make public services local.

      I don’t see debates about various forms of ‘independence-lite’ to be relevant to that most important discussion

  15. Trevor – I for one do not wish for a ‘perfect socialist state’ and I guess that puts me along side most New Labour politicians recently past and present don’t you think? I also don’t think of Scotland being ‘free’ from England, but certainly want it to be free from the dead hand of the union. The implied hint of anti-English sentiment is one all too often suggested by unionists.
    Scotland may flower or not, but I for one believe it will. The sad thing is many of my labour supporting friends are increasingly frustrated with the lack of clear political direction given by the current new labour leadership. They desperately wait for something positive for Scotland coming from their new labour Scottish MSP’s (and MP’s for that matter).
    Its also ironic that you suggest the left of centre SNP would dismiss an idea simply because it comes from a labour source. That’s appears to be labours role in the Scottish parliament – you really are you having a laugh with that one!
    To pick up on your last comment and my previous post – I have read more about the border ‘issue’ from unionists that anyone else recently, which includes your crass ‘barbed wire’ comment.

    Duncan – Nice speech but it sounds like an awful lot of scripted stuff I hear from new labour – but no action! Get your party to provide some sound, realistic (i.e. within the limits of our westminster pocket money) policies for Scotland and you may just be surprised how much support you do get from nationalists. I cant help but quote your new depute, “I will never define my politics by allegiance to the Scottish flag but rather to the values and principles of the Labour movement’. You really new to start being clear exactly what these are!
    Finally….I don’t think there is an entity called the ‘Scottish Labour Party’ is there?

  16. Very fancy words Duncan,but your belief in what the Scottish Labour Party (that fictional beastie ) believes is surely outweighed by the evidence of the actions of the representatives of that “Party”. We have constituences that are among Northern Europes poorest communities which have had 50,70,100 years of Labour MPs who have done the absolute minimum for the people they are suppost to represent. I have no doubt there are many good people in Labour working their backsides of to get these clowns re-elected time after time, but its time for you to clean house.

  17. Let me get this right ? Scotland’s population needs to be increased ? England (according to the UK Government) has a problem regarding future demands on its services due to an increase in its population -right so far ? Who then will want border controls ?

  18. Please, Prof Davies, you know we will check the facts!

    1. Your statement “the view, so prevalent in SNP circles, that Labour has to look to a (reactionary) Middle England” is contradicted by Labour’s own John Cruddas in the New ‘Statesman: “The party must speak the language of disaffected Middle England to make its comeback”.

    2. “It’s also a myth, to my mind, that somehow once ‘free’ of England’s dead hand Scotland will flower into the perfect socialist state.” Who’s myth? Your own I think. I never heard of anyone believing we (or any other country) can form a perfect socialist state. A strawman argument indeed!

      1. In a democracy you have to appeal to a wide spectrum of opinion, including “Middle England” to get elected.

        After all the SNP has constructed its vote by appealing to Tory Scotland…the evidence being that, as the Tory vote has collapsed, Tory voters have gone to the party that appeals to them…the SNP.

        Is that a crime? Or is making a broad appeal only reprehensible if it’s done by a non-nationalist party?

        1. This is sort of correct, but is misleading with respect to Scottish politics.

          Before 1964, there was no ‘Conservative Party’ in Scotland; the closest equivalent was the ‘Scottish Unionists’ (ScoU). At the same time, the British [sic English] Conservatives were not the same party we know today; while they were more ‘right’ they were generally not against the post war consensus developments such as the welfare state, NHS etc. The ScoU of this time would be best described as modestly right of centre but relatively liberal. The main difference between them and the Liberals was the latter were more home rule orientated etc, while the ScoU were staunch unionist.

          The 1960’s saw things change, notably in 1964 when the ScoU joined with the English Conservatives to form the British Conservative and Unionist Party. At the same time, the Conservatives were edging further towards neoliberalism. Many ScoU were proudly Scottish (e.g. ScoU John Buchan: “I believe every Scotsman should be a Scottish nationalist”) and these were not keen on the English influence on their once independent Scottish party. Combine this with the fact they were not strongly neo-liberal (their conservatism often related to religion, namely Protestantism), and their vote fell from 51% (1955) to 25% (1974, 1st GE). They lost votes primarily to the SNP (and to a lesser extent the Libs), with this further fuelled by increasing support for home rule. Labour lost 13% of it’s vote to the SNP over the same period, showing how the rise in support for the SNP at this time was coming from all sides of the political spectrum and this ultimately led to the 1979 referendum on home rule which passed with a majority of 52% Yes but was overruled on an undemocratic technicality introduced to ensure Scotland’s oil remained under Westminster control.

          Then Maggie swept to power in 1979… After making promises to Scots to revisit the home rule question, she swept it off the table and took the Conservatives on a right-wing rampage. This betrayal, combined with Maggie’s neo-liberal ideals which were too unpalatable (e.g. Sermon on the Mound) even for those on the moderately right in Scotland saw the ‘Conservative’ (Old Scots Unionist) vote steadily collapse to wipeout in 1997. At the same time, the SNP went more left (1979 Group led by AS) as they felt ‘not being left enough’ had hampered their support in the run up to the 1979 referendum. As Scots voters abandoned the Conservatives, they went to the SNP and Liberals in generally equal numbers while the Labour vote stayed relatively steady at just shy of 40%. Scots were not going to be persuaded to move from their traditionally overall close to centrist liberal to left standing and adopt rampant neo-liberalism. Likewise, they still wanted more home rule.

          So yes, the SNP did historically take votes from the Scottish Unionists/Con & U Party, but this was because Scots voters of the latter were not Thatcherites; the more centrist/slightly left/Liberal stance of the SNP and Libs was more attractive, as was these parties position on the home rule question. In 1997, the offer of devolution by Labour helped them grab the home rule vote of course, hence the spike in Scots support at that GE. The decline in the Labour vote since 1999 in Scots Elections was due to Scots returning to the SNP/Libs as New Labour seemed not the Labour that Scots remembered of old. When the Libs went orange book neoliberal and joined with the Tories in 2010, Scots Lib voters again returned to the centre/modestly left and so straight to the SNP.

          SNP = Tartan Tories? Sort of pre-1979/Maggie Tories it could be argued to an extent. More Tartan Liberals (but more centrist-left) since then.

          So how could Labour combat the SNP? Well, the SNP are offering something radical, which is ingrained in the Scots mindset; self governance. This in addition to being centrist-left. Fight fire with fire…..Labour need to do this too: form an independent Scottish Labour party and become the party of Devo Max/FFA as per my earlier post. The move for ever more home rule in Scotland is over 60 years old now (taking the peak of unionism as the 1950s-60s post war consensus) and has come to a head; it is not going to go away and requires radical solutions lest Scotland votes itself out of the union in a few years time; something which is a distinct possibility.

        2. Alex, I think you are missing the point that the central SNP charge is indeed true:that Labour has to appeal to middle England if they hope to win power.

          Of course, what this means for Scotland is that if Scotland rejects that Tories, and England supports them – as happened in 2010 – we end up with a Tory government we rejected.

          What I want labour to explain is why they would prefer to be part of a Tory UK than go for an independent, non-Tory Scotland.

    1. Now Look Mr Farrochie. If you’re going to quote me at least finish the sentence. I wrote about the myth that “Labour has to look to a (reactionary) Middle England to get elected and must therefore be fatally compromised.” It is the idea, prevalent in these pages, that Labour can’t do the proper ”left thing because it is compromised by having to secure Middle England votes that is the myth. Not that it, like every party, has to secure support from the centre ground. I suppose even your SNP has to seek to secure support from “Middle Scotland”.

      And don’t you read what other cybernats say on these pages – read some of the comments above. Many are about Scotland securing its own progressive destiny free of the dead hand of (England dominated) Union. What else is there?

      1. Just read the two articles cited by Alex Gallagher and CynicalHighlander. I hold no torch for Brown, but when the chips are down he was simply extending the traditional courtesies. Salmond was explicitly — I would argue cynically! — backing Tory economics to hoover up Scottish Tory voters with nowhere to go, though he hedged his bets (in that lovable, ‘detail-light’ way he does) by detaching the ‘social’ from the ‘economic’. Always a tricky line to take; didn’t Lenin say that everything was connected to everything else?

  19. ‘barbed-wire-at-Berwick’

    Why destroy an interesting and constuctive post by this silly and offensive remark?

    It is an age old and disreputable political tactic to paint you opponents in colours they never use or ascribe to them views they do not hold and then proceed to mount campaigns against them on the basis of these distortions.

    It usually means you are loosing the arguments and of course when the keystone comes out – i.e. the distortion is exposed – not only does the argument collapse but anything else you say is treated with well merited suspicion as well.

    This is where the united unionists are at the moment.
    I look forward to the day in which we can sensibly debate the choice Scotland is about to make – whether to take a big step to joining the rest of the wide world which awaits us with welcoming arms or to heed the scarmongering of the unionist separatists who would keep us away from our natural place in all the councils of the world

    1. If you think the post was interesting and constructive apart from 4 words, then why not comment on the interesting and constructive part rather than the four words? Nothing, in fact, was “destroyed” by the inclusion of those words. What you are trying to do is set aside the bulk of the piece and focus solely on the tiny phrase you didn’t like. So who is losing the argument here? It’s clear that you would prefer to rant about what divides us rather than engage on what unites us. So again I ask, why? Why is your comment and so many like it on here determined to close down debate rather than find it? Why are constructive articles greeted with a chorus of “you should have done something about it when you were in power then”, and debates diminished to point-scoring repetition? Time for you to take a good look at yourself and your compatriots and start engaging in the spirit of constructive criticism rather than narrow bickering. Otherwise don’t be surprised if empty naysaying like this, which does not contribute to debate in any way, is moderated out in future.

      1. Duncan, a number of us found the “barbed-wire-at-Berwick” remark, in McE Hills words “silly and offensive” and yes, I found them offensive. I think it is for Prof Davies to explain why he wanted to use these specific words, guaranteed to provoke and not at all helpful to the discussion. Why threaten to moderate-out this aspect?

        1. “Because I have the POWER” is how every classroom bully justifies their actions and Duncan is no different here. Difficult point made that you can’t argue against? Just delete it.

          1. I have never deleted a constructive comment on the topic of an article, however difficult the point made. If you want to talk about independence endlessly and slag off Labour endlessly there are plenty of other places to do it. And as I’ve said before, several different people moderate comments here, and you should see some of the abuse that gets removed. If you’re reduced to calling me a bully perhaps it’s time for you to move on.

    2. Mr McEwan Hill

      I think my humorous characterisation is far less silly and offensive in both quality and quantity than the torrent of rants which cybernats sometimes put onto these pages.

      And it has one serious function – it divides those so committed to a single cause that they are offended by such characterisation from those who are willing to enter into a serious debate about our common future. What side are you on?

      1. “What side are you on?”

        The Scottish Electorate are very much ‘on side’ when it comes to creating a more egalitarian/left society; that includes SNP, Labour, Green and traditionally Lib voters (plus various minor parties). This has been the case for much of the last century and shows no signs of changing.

        The people that need to be brought on side are the large proportion of the Electorate in England that wish a centre-right country. It is these people that are ‘not on side’. Scots can’t decide the UK government nor persuade an electorate 10 x its size what to vote; history shows us this very clearly.

        Oh, and thank you for answering my earlier question on FFA etc and I see your point. Yes, your article could apply to an independent Scotland as much as a united GB, ergo I appreciate the constitutional question is not necessarily relevant. Although I might note that the Scottish and RUK Economies are very different and so require different solutions.

  20. If Alex Gallacher could post the actual words in which Alex Salmond praises Mrs Thatcher’s economic policies we’d all be very obliged to him.

    He can’t – because AS didn’t – but why spoil a good distortion for the sake of serious and honest debate.

  21. Duncan – Dave’s point is exactly correct – it’s Trevor’s snide dig about the border that, unfortunately gets everyone back up and, therefore we all get dragged into a bit of a slanging match. Did you really think we would let that one go past with a challenge? Come on!
    The reason you are challenged with the question why you did nothing about a number of issues while you were in power is a fair one – if you cant answer that who would trust anything you say now? Especially if there is no clear direction given by your leadership. ‘Same old’ come to mind – just vote us back into power and we will fix everything – Honest! This challenge is not a dig its reverent because your answer, should you choose to give one, might just tell us if you are moving away from your London masters and are really serious in becoming a Scottish party – or at least a party the puts Scotland first.

    Constructive debate is e4xactly what we are all looking for but have you read recent posts by your compatriots Harris and Kelly for example – nasty and bitter comes to mind.

    Your ironic ending threat to moderate out debate is hardly going to help matters is it? I actually thought you were getting a bit better in accepting criticism on this site, and sometimes on occasions giving (nearly) as good as you get.

    1. How about commenting on the piece then, if you are looking for constructive debate? There are many people, on this site and elsewhere, putting forward considered ideas which are all about making Scotland a better, fairer place. From the evidence here very few SNP supporters are interested in those ideas – they are merely rolling up to criticise Labour for its past and pick fights over independence. My point about moderation is simple: engage on the topic, however opposed you might be, and together we can generate a great debate. Indulge in petty sideswipes or fulminations about your entrenched dislike of the Labour party or the panacea of independence and you are less likely to have your comment published.

      1. Duncan,

        There are no doubt some ‘nasty’ nationalists as there are nasty unionists. Such is the nature of the web and the Trolls that appear on it. However, the majority of people favouring independence are not nasty, just as the majority of people favouring to remain within the union are not either. If people want to use the term ‘cybernats’, then they should also use the term ‘cyberbrits’ or the like. I think both are petty and should be left out of educated debate.

        I, like others who have taken to posting on this site, currently favour independence or a more autonomous Scotland within the UK. We all have our own reasons for this. However, rather than spending all my political debate time on a pro-nationalist site in some warm, happy, back-slapping environment, I prefer to engage with those of opposing views to see their side of the argument and hopefully make them see mine. Most of all, I would like to see both sides empathise with the other, even if they do not necessarily agree. We are after all living in the same society.

        I understand and empathise with people who feel British and want to keep the union. At the same time I appreciate why many Scots feel Scottish and don’t feel British (either never did or don’t particularly anymore); hence are keen on independence. I also understand how this relates to UK politics; the two being intricately intertwined. While I have my day job, politics has always been very important to me and something I have spent many long hours researching, particularly the history behind where we are today.

        I’m not sure if Labourhame intended to be a site where people of other political views could enter the discussion. It seems it has begun to become so. I welcome this and hope that this continues.

        All the best,


  22. It is disappointing that Prof Davies article fails to address a Scottish dimension in any of his chosen topics. he must be aware of the differences and the variations in industry. I cannot believe that he is unaware of the variation in opportunities. For instance does he acknowledge the fundamental importance of the devolution of the Crown Estates to Edinburgh. I believe that the Scottish Bill Committee in Edinburgh were unanimous in their support for such a move. Does he understand the importance to Scottish Renewable intentions or does he think they are not important? Does he think that planning should be returned to Westminster thus allowing the establishment of nuclear power stations on the Scottish coast line?

    1. As I said, many of my broad ideas as set out in my original article are capable of being implemented by the Scottish Parliament taking into account particular Scottish circumstances. Surely you must be read what I said?

      I don’t understand how your other questions relate to the question I was trying to ask and answer – how does the ”left” create policies that help lead towards a fairer society in a time when public resources are going to be limited. If you can explain how they do, then I will attempt to answer.

  23. Infact, does he think that Scottish Devolution has any bearing on the points he was making?

    1. Please see my earlier post on extending devolution. You will see it fits with the broad thrust of the arguments I made I this post. I see an extension of devolution to the local as far more relevant to dealing with deep seated issues in Scotland and elsewhere as being far more important than re-erecting an old boundary between two countries.

      And I ask you once again (I think perhaps for the fourth time) please answer the questions I put to you asking you to explain what I saw as an unjustified comment on Duncan Hothersall’s post about the Council Tax. Or is your silence a realisation that your comments are unable to be substantiated?

  24. Given that the SNP have been running the show for 5 or 6 years now, I must say I have not noticed any radical changes. Indeed, the SNP themselves say that they are happy to govern ‘competently’. Therefore, there appears to be a consensus that radical change is not easy to implement.

    Yet the enthusiastic supporters of ‘competence’, keep popping up to tell us that [New] Labour should have radically changed Scotland & Britain, even Europe or the entire world.

    SNP supporters, your own Party has made ‘competence’ their watchword & benchmark. Why have they taken that approach, if radical change is what the people really want?

    Duncan, I am fairly new here. I hope you will make allowances & permit me to make this general point & I will focus specifically on the current topic hereafter.

  25. Amber Star, you didn’t notice too many radical changes, apart from competence itself in the last session, due to it being a minority administration. Things are different now ….. But I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the competence to disappear.
    Independence itself, of course is the “enabling technology” that will allow change, radical where necessary. I hope present members of the Labour Party will join with us in ensuring that radical change is made in the best interests of all of the people of Scotland. I will say nothing at this time about the radical changes proposed by the Tories under a Westminster administration lest I am accused of petty nationalism.

    1. I am all in favour of radical change, but surely the case for independence would be better made if the current administration had fully utilised ALL its existing powers, and not, as it appears to have done, not bothered because it simply beleives they are not enough.

      What are you waiting for?

      What if (and I am not pre-judging the outcome) the referendum results in a “No” vote. Does the SNP simply not do anything for a couple of years further? Or does it get on with the job of using everything at its disposal (regardless of how limited it might think that is) to make Scotland better? And if so, why wait until AFTER the referendum?

      The cynic in me might suggest it was doing so in order to make life worse for Scots now, in order to make them more likely to vote yes, but surely they cant be doing that?

  26. Prof. Davis, Pity you didnt get a chance to reply to my post. For some reason it was removed? My point was no more than a request for a comment on any potential problems caused by the geo political differences between Scotland and the south east of England by an academic with your particular expertise.
    Maybe I’ll get the chance in the future?
    In the mean time I am left with this image of ‘The Moderator’ as a wee girl with her fingers in her ears, screaming la,la la, di da.

    1. Why don’t you explain to me first what your question has to do with the issues I raised in my post? And try not to make your answer la, la, la, di, da eh?

  27. Why is Labour behaving lilke lemmings?Why is Labour supporting David Cameron’s undemocratic interference in Scottish affairs? When is Johann Lamont, the Labour leader in Scotland, going to, with “one big step forward”,
    lead Labour off the cliff into oblivion. How is Ed Miliband feeling today about the stupidity of Ms Lamont? Why aren’t Labour in Scotland planning now for a post independence role in Scottish politics instead of supporting the Tories? Any answers? Ex-Labour supporter.

  28. As today’s statement from Michael Moore and the subsequent questions show. there is now a clear Tory/Labour coalition against independence. Kier Hardie turns in his grave.

  29. Richard MacKinnon

    Exactly. I have no idea by what set of criteria the moderation here works. My last post on this post disappeared then re-appeared and has disappeared again.

  30. Oh it’s all gone quiet over there,
    Oh it’s all gone quiet over there,
    Oh it’s all gone quiet, all gone quiet,
    All gone quiet over there,

    C’mon Duncan, wake up!

    1. Actually it all went rather quiet from you lot didn’t it when Amber Star quietly asked what of significance to Scotland SNP had actually done in 6 years in government?

      Sensible answers anyone?

      1. Sorry Trevor,Just noticed this, I’ve been on duty over on the DT site. A cybernats work is never done….. I promise a reasoned response tomorrow. It will be a relief to deal with proper intellects after that mince. Cybernat central has allowed me to skip the night shift so I’m off for some well-earned kip.

      2. Trev – “what of significance to Scotland SNP had actually done in 6 years in government” , well uniting a country to product the first majority parliament, inspite of an labour designed election system to ensure this could not happen ever. Seems a biggie to me.

      3. Free tuition, free prescriptions, the council-tax freeze, no bridge tolls, the binning of many stupid PFI contracts, and many of the hospitals Labour wanted to close are still open. On top of this they really will get rid of nuclear weapons and are phasing out nuclear power. I also think they will help win our independence from the UK.

      4. The SNP may well run Scotland’s affairs with the watchword of “competence” and this obviously gave many people the confidence to vote for them in May 2011.

        We clearly remember a recent time when the UK was being run with the watchword of “prudence”. Prudence turned out to include “light touch” regulation of the banks and the eventual near-collapse of the banking system.

        The recent statements by Jim Murphy and Ed Balls, both saying that Labour needed to be more up-front about spending cuts gives a hint that radicalism is not going to be a priority for Labour.

  31. From today’s PMQ, it seems that the Tories and Labour and in “100% agreement” that Scotland is better off in the UK. And this is before any evidence was presented, other than a brief comment on defence, the NHS and the BBC by Ed Milliband.

    Scottish Labour members should be standing up for the right of the Scottish people, expressed through our Parliament in Holyrood, to determine the referendum process, and to select an internationally acceptable commission to manage the referendum.

    Instead it seems that Scottish Labour members are seemingly prepared to accept that Westminster is best placed to judge what the Scottish people want.

  32. Dear Prof Davies,
    Thanks for taking the time to respond to our comments, it is appreciated.
    James Parker

Comments are closed.