Scottish Labour needs to set up a ‘No to Separation’ campaign independent of the Party leadership, claims JOHN RUDDY.
Labour’s front bench needs to concentrate on the things that matter. While the First Minister is on his speaking tour of the English regions – trying to tell them how much better off they’ll be without us (isn’t that talking Scotland down?), Johann Lamont and the shadow cabinet need to be holding the Scottish Government to account. That’s why I think Scottish Labour needs to set up its “No to separation” campaign now, and make it independent from the leadership.
A distinct campaign team would do two things. First, it would show that our team at Holyrood care about the bread and butter things that matter. It would show that we’re not the ones obsessed with the constitution (as it can sometimes appear) as instead of going to Johann or Ken for a quote, the media would go to whoever was heading up the Labour campaign. That might be Alastair Darling, or Jack McConnell – but the important thing is that it wouldn’t be a member of the current leadership team.
Secondly, it would allow us to concentrate on opposing the SNP Government in a constructive and critical way, without allowing the constitutional question to side-track things. There is a danger that we will lose focus now, in the run-up to the local government elections in May. The main focus of Scottish Labour in the coming months must be those elections – returning Labour councillors across Scotland to fight for our public services, services which have been put at threat by a combination of an SNP council tax freeze and Tory/Lib Dem benefit cuts.
A separate campaign could also revitalise the argument which Labour must make as devolutionists. We are not, as a rule, unionist – a term that for the majority of the last 300 years has applied to those who believe that Westminster should be the sole legislature for the country. That is a word which has applied best to the conservatives – indeed it is part of their name. That’s why they opposed devolution for so long. Nor are we separatists, wanting to divorce Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom, and to set up boundaries where none exist at present. Labour has a proud history of devolution – from Keir Hardies’ vision of Home Rule, through to Donald Dewar’s work to create the Scottish Parliament we know today. We should stand up for that, and proclaim ourselves devolutionists.
Originally from Devon, John Ruddy now lives in Angus. He was an agent for Scottish Labour at the Holyrood election and is a Unison shop steward. Follow John on Twitter at @jruddy99