The new Scotland Bill doesn’t go far enough, and Labour should say so, argues JAMIE GLACKIN

The Union isn’t all bad. Our political masters in the SNP take the opposite view. The Union is the source of all of Scotland’s woes. London has an agenda – to subjugate a nation and leave it in chains, broken and destitute. That’s a rather negative view, don’t you think? And one (ironically) spouted by the SNP at every opportunity. Our Union is stunting a people by starving them of their natural resources (continue ad infinitum..).

The challenge that we have in Scottish Labour is to offer a positive vision of Scotland’s future.  I for one don’t buy the dismal picture painted of Scotland by the SNP. But I’m realistic enough to know that not everything that they say has just been tweeted by their party  machine a minute before. There are indeed lessons for the Scottish Labour Party that we must learn, or risk becoming  irrelevant. When the referendum finally comes, the Tories and the Lib Dems will play their part in defending the Union. But it will be up to Scottish Labour to promote a better version of it. We cannot embrace the future by pretending that there is nothing wrong with the present.

In our worst election result since the 1930s, the SNP taught us three salutary lessons: don’t take the voters for granted, believe in a better future and lead from the front. In Alex Salmond, the SNP and Scotland have a leader who sincerely believes that his purpose in life is to lead Scotland, albeit incrementally, to full independence. Could Scotland be so bold as to follow him? The answer to that is almost certainly, unless Scottish Labour come up with a better alternative. The status quo is not an option.

So what could that alternative be? The strengthening of devolution is one answer. If we in the Scottish Labour Party are honest, we have never really come to terms with devolution and its full implications. Even Calman and its offspring, the Scotland Bill, doesn’t go far enough. The Scotland Bill is viewed by us a defence mechanism to prevent further calls for more powers for Scotland. But surely the reality is that they don’t go far enough? Why shouldn’t Scotland have control of its own natural resources? Why shouldn’t England, Wales and Northern Ireland have control of theirs? Surely we are mature enough to be able to set our own levels of corporation tax to balance a budget that includes free prescriptions and free university tuition if that’s what we choose? We should have the powers to control how Scotland is governed. I would argue that the exercise of those powers does not make separation more or less likely, but ignoring the question makes it substantially more likely.

There are definite benefits to being in the Union. The financial crisis was a reminder of that, regardless of how the SNP evoke their ‘arc of prosperity.’ In security, we are stronger as part of that Union than outside it. Even with Scotland’s enormous renewables potential, it needs a market to sell the electricity to. That market will most likely be England. And its not just energy; virtually all business done by Scottish companies is with counterparts south of the border. Independence probably wouldn’t change that, but it certainly wouldn’t make it any easier. Unionists have to make the case in a positive way. Just saying that we would be poorer as an independent country doesn’t cut it.

How about this? Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland all have their own parliaments, responsible for all devolved powers, including taxation. The UK government exists as a federal government with power devolved to it from the national parliaments. MPs become members of their own parliaments and assemblies and an agreed number are sent to the UK Parliament from their own jurisdiction. Seems fair to me and also negotiates the tricky West Lothian Question. The UK parliament can be balanced by the Council of Ministers. I accept that this won’t be the whole story but  surely its worth considering?

The SNP victory in May should not be allowed to define us. But again, in a moment of modesty, we should recognise that Scottish Labour perhaps lacked any definition at all. The UK Labour Party is going through a redefining phase. I believe that it has to take account of the differences in Scotland and start to be more radical in its constitutional outlook. By offering more of the same, voters (across the UK) will not be sufficiently inspired to cast their vote Labour’s way. The root and branch review underway in Scotland also has to be sufficiently robust. Merely addressing structural issues in the Scottish party will not add a single vote to our haul in either the council or the next Westminster election, by which time it may be too late anyway.

It’s time we offered a positive vision to the people all across the UK and in doing so, finally get to grips with the constitutional questions that won’t go away and re-connect us with the values that saw Labour born in the first place.

Jamie Glackin is a member of Labour’s Scottish Executive Committee. When not working free of charge on behalf of the party, he is the managing director of a renewable energy consultancy. He failed in his bid to become Member of Parliament for Perth & North Perthshire at the 2010 general election and is now addicted to Twitter. Follow him at @Jamie4Labour


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7 thoughts on “The Union isn’t all bad

  1. Yes. This. We badly need to have this debate within the party – what is Scottish Labour *for*.

  2. A nice solution to the “West Lothian Question” – which has actually been Liberal Democrat / Liberal Party policy since the 1980s at least. You are right, though, in that in the election campaign the Labour Party failed to put forward clearly any policies unique to Labour – the key ones were ones which all parties effectively filched from the SNP.

    Labour also has, I think, an image problem (and I do come to this from a Lib Dem standpoint, though I’m trying not to be biased!) Jeff Breslin touches on this in his post, as to why he’s never voted Labour. It does essentially hark back to the days of 1945 and ardent trade unionism, but this in itself causes Labour problems. It brings back memories of a Labour party whose members are in it for themselves, where things are done by patronage and where there’s a clear line of promotion from shop steward to councillor, council leader, MSP and MP.

    What the SNP managed to do was tap into the soft belly of Labour support – those aged under 50 and less enamoured with “the good old days.” They provided a positive vision for the future – although probably unsustainable – and in the current climate I can understand why that appealed.

    It may seem odd that a Lib Dem would like to see a stronger Labour Party in Scotland. In my view, there’s a good chance that, had there been a stronger Labour campaign, we would have held at least a few more seats such as NE Fife and in Aberdeenshire. The problem was that none of the opposition parties really exposed the SNP to any great extent, and as the biggest opposition party it was crucial that Labour did this. It hurt us more than the Tories because our support was more susceptible to independence and some of the SNP policies than the Tories are.

  3. It is not for Scottish Politicians of any hue and especially Scottish Labour to decide the future of England or for that matter to even have an opinion on it.

    England was and has been given no chance to voice their opinion of Scotlands future. Though given half a chance most English people would be glad to see the back of Scotland;

    Labour has done more to undermine and destroy England its history, its culture and the English than even Hitler could have believed possible.

    From your mass immigration imposed on England, well over 90% of all immigrants having been settled here by Labours Scottish Raj, to its trampling over the graves of millions of Englishman with its Lisbon Treachery.

    Labour is not fit for purpose and should be utterly destroyed.

  4. I am pleased to see a reasoned article and I would like to complement Mr. Glackin on his contribution. While I do not agree with all his points, I do think his approach is one that unionists should consider. Scots are not going to be taken in by threats or smears, but will support the vision that most closely mirrors their own. If all that is offered is the status quo, or minor tweaks, the nationlist will win the voter by a large margin. The days of Scots being afraid of the future are gone and if you want their support, you will have to earn it. This applies whether your are nationalist or unionist.

    I am disappointed in the response from Labour members and supporters to Mr. Glackin’s comments. Insults and accusations have proven worthless in promoting Labour’s cause and everyone should remember that.

    Mr. Glackin made the key point of reminding readers that you should not underestimate the nationsalists ability to connect with Scots and give them a message to support. Labour and other unionist supporters need to offer a better choice if they want to win the day.

  5. Mr Glackin’s comments are not without merit, but he is deluding himself if he thinks English politicians (even Labour ones) will be prepared to even think of going down the route of constitutional reform he proposes.

    It will never happen -at least not until the SNP are shown as just about to win an independence referendum 🙂

  6. A Labour person advocating an English parliament and a (con)federal UK: the times really are a-changing! But do you really think the blinkered denizens of Westminster will ever share the vision?

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