Mick Watson says Labour must learn a harsh lesson. The dividing line in Scottish politics isn’t the constitution; it’s who has delivered for Scotland.
A great many commentators now tell us that the major fault line in Scottish politics is the constitution; that we are divided only on the independence question, and that policy falls a distant second in terms of priority. I think that’s nonsense.
What the SNP have done, in a short space of time, is make the people of Scotland feel like they matter. They’ve made them feel like they count for something. The big question for Scottish Labour has to be: why wasn’t it us that did that?
The people of Scotland care about the same things everyone else does. They want jobs and prosperity. They want decent housing and a strong NHS. They care about education standards and they want good schools.
Over the last few decades, people in Scotland have voted Labour and they got Tories; then they voted Labour and got Labour; then they voted Labour and got a Tory/Lib Dem coalition. What changed for Scotland in that period? More importantly, when Scotland finally got the Labour government they voted for, what did that Labour government deliver? What was Scotland’s reward? You can point to the minimum wage, you can point to the fact Blair’s government raised millions of families out of poverty, but those were UK-wide policies. What did *Scotland* get for being so loyal all those years? Where were the jobs? The houses? The prosperity?
By now you’re screaming that Labour delivered a devolved parliament, and of course, they did. But even there, Labour have been out-witted by the SNP. Yes, Labour delivered a devolved parliament, but it was the SNP that delivered the most powerful devolved parliament in the World. It was the SNP that delivered Smith. It was the SNP that made Westminster sit up and take notice, made them panic and had all three leaders of the main political parties stand together, look north and make hasty promises.
Let me ask you: why wasn’t it Scottish Labour that did that?
I lived in England up until 2010, and I have to tell you at the time the vast majority of people in England wouldn’t have a clue who Donald Dewar, Henry McLeish or Jack McConnell were, let alone whether they achieved anything of note. They weren’t on TV or the radio. Even now, writing this article, I had to look them up. Fast forward to 2016 and I bet most people in England know who Alex Salmond is; they know who Nicola Sturgeon is too; she’s on Marr every damn week. Those two are now international politicians of note; they are Scottish, they are important and people are listening to them.
After decades of feeling ignored, the people of Scotland feel like they matter, and it was the SNP that did that, not Scottish Labour.
That is the major fault-line in Scottish politics.
So how do we move forward? It’s easier to say what we shouldn’t do than what we should. I’ll reiterate that the people of Scotland are no different to anyone else: they care about jobs, money, their family, education and the NHS. They don’t like tax rises, they don’t care about whether policies are progressive or not.
Therefore Scottish Labour must focus on what they are going to deliver for the people of Scotland. How are we going to make Scottish people matter? How are we going to make Scotland count? What are the positives of the Union and how are Scottish Labour going to make sure Scotland gets the maximum benefit from the UK without any of the risks of leaving? Can we deliver jobs? Housing? A better NHS? Better education? More teachers, more nurses? Can we build schools without the absolute disaster that is PFI?
Attacking the SNP record has to be part of our strategy, but only a small part. These people are heroes to many of the voters we want to win back, and we won’t win them back by attacking their heroes.
We must seek to inspire people. And they’re not going to be inspired by tax rises. They’re going to be inspired by bold, radical policies that deliver benefits to the people of Scotland.