Mick Watson responds to AR Brown’s contentious and blunt article from last week with an equally blunt riposte which challenges the bulk of Brown’s arguments but does agree that we in Scottish Labour need to sort ourselves out.
I have to tell you – I am really bloody annoyed.
My entire way of life, my entire political outlook and my principles are under concerted attack, seemingly all over the world. A rise in right-wing populism threatens a death of the left. Our reaction, to retreat into our comfort zone, threatens to make us irrelevant for generations. Even worse than that, attacks come not only from our enemies but also from our so-called friends.
We are not in a good place. Which brings me to the almost-completely-utter-tripe article posted on Labour Hame just before New Year, Sort yourselves out, please. I say “almost” because the article had some good points which I’ll come to later, but they were unfortunately masked by a load of over-privileged, logically inconsistent, hypocritical, poorly conceived garbage.
Where to begin?
AR Brown appears to think that because he is “trained in academic research” and “builds financial models” that his vote is somehow more important than everyone else’s. Here’s the thing AR – it isn’t. The Labour Party isn’t about you and never has been. The Labour Party is about protecting the worker and looking after the poorest in society. Your vote and your opinion is not worth more than the sick person on an NHS waiting list, the men in Glasgow with a life expectancy of 54, or any one of the thousands of people working in the defence and nuclear industries that would be devastated by independence. My message to you AR is this: recognise your privilege, and start voting for policies that benefit people less fortunate than yourself.
Where next? How about “progressives need to stand together”? It is a little odd to sit in your ivory tower and hurl bricks at someone below whilst shouting at them “I’m trying to help you”. But that’s what your article is, AR, and that’s what is happening throughout the UK. We see the SNP, the Lib Dems, the Greens and Plaid Cymru all shouting at Labour, telling us what to do – telling us to co-operate but then offering nothing in return. If this is a negotiation, telling the party you wish to negotiate with how crap they are isn’t really a good starting point.
We keep hearing about a “progressive alliance”. Well, bring it. Let’s see your offering. What are you bringing to the table other than attacks and bile? Oh, and by the way, the SNP are not progressive, so there’s that.
AR goes on to ask why no-one listens to him. He didn’t vote for Labour in 2015 and campaigned against us in 2014, but expects us to listen to him. Well, see above. We’ll listen to the people we were created to represent, thank you very much. The poor, the needy, the workers. Looking at this another way – imagine you have two friends. One deserts you at the first sign of trouble; the other sticks with you through thick and thin. Which one do you trust? Which one do you ask for advice?
Denmark is held up as an example. Cool. Denmark has one of the highest rates of VAT at 25%. There is local income tax somewhere between 22% and 27% (depending on municipality). That’s in addition to income tax itself (5-15%), a state tax (8-15%), health contribution tax (1%) and a land tax (1-3%). Are you going to the voters with that AR? Are you? Because good luck with that. I look forward to seeing it in the next independence white paper.
Next we are presented with the utterly-lunatic argument that Labour should have traded with the Tories in 2014 over support for Scotland staying in the UK – “we will give you Scotland if you give us x/y/z”. Laughable. There is no evidence this could have worked. Indeed the Tories have just committed the biggest act of self harm in history in order to protect their own stupid ideology – the idea they would have given up one iota of power in 2014 in exchange for Scotland is bizarre. And this also assumes Labour could have done this, even if something was on offer. Here’s the thing AR – it isn’t Labour that rejected independence, it’s Scotland. The Scottish people. Try not to forget that.
We are next asked to consider Ireland, the only country that has left the union, as an example. A country that nearly went bankrupt and needed a €64 billion EU bailout. A country with one of the lowest corporation taxes in the EU, and which broke EU rules to welcome Apple, an American company, to avoid tax. A country with an unemployment rate almost twice as high as the UK, and whose youth unemployment rate stands at 19%, a whole 6% higher than the UK. A country where 30% of the population live in “enforced deprivation”. Once again, if this is your model, go sell it. It might work. Ireland is a more realistic model for an indy Scotland than Denmark, but how about you at least be honest with voters about it?
Then we get “There will be no place for moderates”! Sure, write off hundreds of MPs and millions of voters. Again, check your goddamn privilege. I agree that the radical conservatives of the right need to be fought, but enemies of those conservatives include liberals, include the centre and the centre-left, and we will all need to work together, with the left, to defeat them. Call moderates enemies if you like, dismiss them if you like, but that’ll put you squarely in the losing camp. Well done you. Why not instead come with something to offer? A coalition? An alliance? On what terms? How can you bring Labour to the table if all you do is attack them? Think, FFS!
So where does AR get it right? Well he is right that Scottish Labour does need to sort itself out. Scottish voters have resoundingly rejected us and there is no sign that will change. 2014 was a massive mistake – we should have run our own, separate campaign. Campaigning with the Tories was a huge error and many voters feel betrayed. He is also right that we need to put clear water between Scottish Labour and the rest of the party. There are many ways to achieve this, but we need to choose one and go for it.
We have to admit that we are being ritually slaughtered by the SNP and that we simply do not, at present, have anyone of the quality and calibre of Sturgeon, Salmond and Black. Yes I am aware of their issues as people and as MPs/MSPs, but at present I would kill to have just one of them on our side. They are credible, they are charismatic, they are relentless, they are on-message, they are disciplined and (perhaps most importantly) they are on the TV.
The SNP drive home a message better than anyone I have ever seen. They “stand up for Scotland”, they “get the best deal for Scotland”, they “will not see Scotland dragged out of the EU against its will”. No-one is unsure about what they stand for. My friends in England are in awe of them. They are incredible politicians and we have no-one close to performing at that level. The SNP are The Terminator. “It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop… ever.” We need our own Terminator. We need a response and currently we don’t have one.
The people of Scotland feel the establishment has ignored them for generations. Now all of a sudden Scottish politicians are going to 10 Downing Street, they are in Westminster, they are on the Andrew Marr show; they are demanding this and demanding that, they are shouting at the nasty Tories, they are “defending Scotland”, and people love it. Why would they not? Why weren’t Labour doing this? I’ve written before that it was Labour who delivered devolution but it was the SNP that delivered the most powerful devolved parliament in the world. Why wasn’t it us? We need to apologise for a massive missed opportunity, and then we need to tell Scotland how we will defend her interests as well as, or better than, the SNP.
Politics is not that hard. People want jobs. They want a good health service, and to know their kids will be educated well. They want good housing, good local services, and to know that they won’t be taxed too highly for the privilege. (The electorate hasn’t voted for tax increases for decades, and it isn’t about to start.) Most voters don’t recognise left or right; they vote for policies that will benefit them.
Will someone in Labour please talk about jobs? How will we bring jobs back to Scotland? Our core support, those communities would love to see factories re-opened, mines re-opened, manufacturing make a come-back. They will look at Trump promising to bring jobs back from Mexico and ask “why not here?”. SNP talk of “growing the economy”. What will we do? How do we invigorate the communities that used to vote for us?
With all that in mind, is our approach to fracking the right one? Fracking would create jobs and wealth. Isn’t that what Labour should be about? If not fracking, then what? How will we create jobs in Scotland? Who do we have working on economic policy? Do we even have a working group? SNP have the growth commission. What do we have?
AR Brown is catastrophically wrong about most things in his article, but he’s right that we need to sort ourselves out. We need to start fighting. Because at the minute the folk we’re trying to oppose don’t even have to try. We’ve not landed a blow for years, and we need to start. Soon it will be too late.