Labour has allowed itself to be painted as the UK’s guys in Scotland, says DUNCAN HOTHERSALL


Unionism is not a Labour value.

I say that not because I oppose the union – I don’t – but because in the coming independence debate I want us in the Labour party to engage on our terms rather than as the de-facto anti-SNP party. Labour values show how our close ties with our neighbours benefit us all, and we can construct a very strong argument for maintaining the union on that basis; but Labour values would be as important and applicable in an independent Scotland as they are in today’s devolved nation.

Labour values make us what we are. But one of the biggest problems facing Scottish Labour today is that we have allowed ourselves to be defined instead by what we are not. So when the SNP pick fights with the UK government our knee-jerk reaction is blanket opposition.

This is partly because too often the SNP fight-picking is deliberately misleading, like the idea that “English” courts are overruling Scots law. We must be robust in our dismissal of such barefaced distortions. But we are too often as robust in our dismissal of real bones of contention too.

This creates a damaging spiral. When genuine concerns arise about, for example, how representative of Scottish interests is the UK’s delegation to the Fisheries Department of the European Commission, we find ourselves appearing to argue against the interests of our fishing industry. When calls come for a Scottish Six, we find ourselves justifying the confusing and irritating London-centric media and their inability to identify anything below the nation level north of Hadrian’s Wall.

In order to challenge the SNP, we let ourselves be painted as the UK’s guys in Scotland. In reality nothing in Labour’s policies, ethos or membership makes us any such thing.

What makes this ridiculous is that we all know it is perfectly possible to be a unionist whilst at the same time being chippy about how Scotland is represented in the UK – because we all do it, all the time.

We need a sea-change in order to address this imbalance. In my view we need a devolved Scottish Labour Party, entire of itself, organised around the constituencies of the Scottish Parliament, and offering genuine opportunity in Scotland to the best in our party.

That new Scottish Labour Party needs to form itself according to Scottish needs – recognising rurality, focusing on the unique shape of Scotland’s challenges. It needs to reflect the concerns of Scots and offer a clear, positive image of the future for Scotland.

And most of all it needs to stop being the Westminster excuser party. Make ours the loudest voice for the Scottish Six, and against the paucity of Scottish political coverage. Let us stop holding back from criticism when UK institutions aren’t effective at representing Scots. But let us celebrate and acknowledge the benefits we accrue from the union too, and offer Scots the balanced, fair-minded option they have been denied for too long.

We’re not the defenders of Westminster – we’re the architects of a successful devolution which has given Scotland an optimism and an opportunity to thrive in a fairer United Kingdom. It’s a record we can be proud of. And if Scots, when given all the facts, want to choose separation from the UK, we can still be the Scottish Labour Party, fighting and winning elections on the basis of Labour values.

I believe the union offers Scotland the best of all possible worlds as a devolved nation. I believe Labour offers Scotland the best of all possible values on which to base the governance of our nation. But I don’t think those two things are, or need to be, linked.

Duncan Hothersall joined the Labour Party in April 2010. When he’s not arguing on Twitter or knocking doors in Edinburgh East, he spends his time running a distance education business in Edinburgh. He was the founding chair of Pride Scotland and a founding director of the Equality Network, and still retains a keen interest in LGBT rights. Follow Duncan on Twitter at @dhothersall.

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29 thoughts on “Unionism is not a Labour value

  1. “But let us celebrate and acknowledge the benefits we accrue from the union too, and offer Scots the balanced, fair-minded option they have been denied for too long.”

    Care to list some of these benefits? Let’s hear two, just two, good POSITIVE reasons for Scotland to remain in the Union.

    Duncan, probably not your decision, but I cannot let the name and design of this website go unchallenged. “LabourHame” with tartan lettering?!?!!? If I wanted the Beano, I’d have bought one. The sudden realisation amongst the Labour Party that they better start paying attention to Scots is welcome, but don’t you think that name and typescript could have done with a little more thought? You are wanting to be taken seriously, aren’t you ? Or is this those nasty cybernats at one of their infernal p***takes again?

    1. Davy, old bean, the name, logo and pattern were intended as a joke – irony, if you will – and therefore, by implication, not aimed at those of a nationalist bent.

    2. Positive reasons for staying in the union? I’ve always felt that there is one huge, overarching compulsion for it and that is that we continue to reap the benefits of our investments.

      The UK has been the brand and the geography into which Scots have invested our toil, our invention and our human capital, for centuries. The assets that we have created together include London, Manchester and all the other economic powerhouses of the UK – not just those in Scotland.

      Quite frankly the mentality that would hand these incredible assets over to someone else on the basis of a sentimental nationalism has always found me incredulous. I want to keep them. In the long term they are worth many times more than “Scotland’s oil”. 🙂

      1. “The UK has been the brand and the geography into which Scots have invested our toil, our invention and our human capital, for centuries. The assets that we have created together include London, Manchester and all the other economic powerhouses of the UK – not just those in Scotland.”

        That’s one of the weakest efforts at a positive case for the Union I’ve ever heard. As well as being entirely abstract – the “brand”? – it is entirely irrelevant to the question that was asked. If our toil, invention and human capital is so great, would it not provide far greater returns if focused on our own much smaller nation instead of being diluted?

        London draws wealth towards itself and retains as much of it as possible, to the detriment not only of Scotland but of the regions of England outwith the South-East too. It’s a leech, a parasite and a liability, and it has delivered the UK into the biggest economic mess in its history by destroying our manufacturing industries in favour of casino capitalism.

        If “we helped build London!” is the best you can do for a positive reason to keep Scotland in the Union, get ready for a very sobering day sometime in 2015.

          1. And you appear to be unfamiliar with the concept of throwing good money after bad. Which is applicable is a matter of opinion and interpretation, but if that’s the best justification you have for the Union I wouldn’t like to hear the weak ones.

        1. What’s with the ‘regions of England’? You only need to say ‘England’. England is just as much a nation as Scotland. It is not a bunch of phoney regions, which are a political construct and completely unwanted by the real people of England.

  2. Tom. old ex-votee, we know it is not aimed at those of us who eschew dependence. However by giving it the Bay City Rollers treatment, you demonstrate that this whole “Scottish” thing is something you are not treating seriously. I know you noticed what happened last month when you didn’t treat the Scots electorate seriously. If you can’t treat your enquiry as to where you went wrong seriously either, what hope is there for you?
    Lots of us want to vote for Labour values and ideas, it’s just the the Labour Party makes it so infuriatingly difficult. I want to vote for a healthy forward-looking Labour Party in an independent Scotland. So far, you are showing no signs of rising from the ashes and your “irony” merely reinforces that sad fact. Grow up, get your act together. We need a strong intelligent opposition to hold the SNP to account. As someone else said recently, if you don’t we can look forward to the Greens or a recently released Man with a Tan as the only credible opposition.

    Side note – if you really want a stick to beat Kenny MacAskill with, why not more noise about the shameful way TS was treated and the way the Scottish legal establishment rolled over for Murdoch to tickle its tummy? Or was Tommy’s demise just too convenient for those upholders of working-class values, the Labour Party in Scotland. If you are ever going to be taken seriously by the Scottish people, you need to change much of the old attitudes and behaviours and start unsaying a lot of the anti-working-class p*** that your party came away with in the 13 wasted years.

  3. Duncan, are you for real? Scotland’s “incredible assets” in London and Manchester? YOu are real cos “incredible” is exactly the right word there.
    UK as a brand? Listening to a wee bit too much of Tony’s “Cool Brittania” mince, there, I’m afraid. It’s a toxic brand, ask non-Brit what their opinion of the UK is. We’re well out of this failed Union experiment and for all your bluster, you know it is inevitable. Now go and build a Labour Party I can be proud to vote for after independence. There is no other role left for you.

    1. I find it quite interesting that a comment criticising bluster was itself constructed entirely of bluster. That would be because you have no argument against my point. I appreciate that.

  4. Duncan, as I said during the election campaign …. Keep saying sensible things and we might end up agreeing ….

    I’m so glad to see the LabourHame project take off and think that thoughtful opposition contributions, such as this, can only strengthen Scottish democracy.

    Yes – Scottish Labour needs to assert its identity, rather than allowing itself to defined by what it opposes. My fear is that the increasingly likely prospect of Baillie taking over the leadership will catapult the party back to mindless opposition and shameless, short-term, opportunism.

    I the meantime, I genuinely hope that thoughtful contributions such as this will be heard…. We may disgree on the conclusion, but I get the feeling that a lot of sensible heads in both our parties agree on a lot more than we’re willing to admit….

    1. Thanks Chris, I really appreciate that. I think hot heads prevail both in an election campaign and in the aftermath of an unexpected majority, but I too am hopeful that Scotland’s interests can begin to be better served by the finding of common ground. While we Labour folk have a job of work to do internally, folk in all parties have a duty to do the best we can for Scotland and her people. Perhaps it was too much to hope that a majority would put an end to the SNP’s picking of unnecessary fights. I do hope that we can inject a little more honesty into our discourse at any rate.

      Thanks again.

  5. While I accept that McCaskill used intemperate language which did not help his position re the UK Supreme Court issue, there is an important point at issue here.

    It was never intended or anticipated that this area would be contentious, but as with so much of the shambolic Blair’s actions it was inadequately thought through in its implications for Scotland.

    Explain to me why the highest court in England below the UK Supreme Court has to give leave for a case to go the Supreme Court but the same does not apply to the highest Scottish Court?
    It looks like the typical cavalier disregard of Scottish matters to which we have all been accustomed for generations.

    1. It doesnt. In England someone can appeal to the Supreme Court if leave is refused by the Court of Appeal. Theres no guarantee that the UK Supreme Court will allow the appeal, but thats a different matter.

      1. Not so. In England even if leave to appeal is not granted one can still appeal but the Court of Appeal must certify that the case raises a matter of general public importance. If there is no certification the refusal of leave cannot be over-ruled. In Scotland there is no such requirement so the arrangements are not equal as has been claimed.

  6. For John Ruddy:

    The BBC may be wrong, but they are reporting the following this very day about the convicted murderer Luke Mitchell’s failed appeal today to the Court of Appeal in Edinburgh:

    ‘His legal team can still make a direct application to the UK Supreme Court, an option that would not be available for similar cases in England and Wales.’

  7. Also Pauil McBride – not a nat – has said exactly the same thing. “the truth of the matter is-you can get to the Supreme Court in Scotland by-passing our Scottish courts, you can’t do that in England.” It’s not just Luke Mitchell that could go down this road. It is reported that both William Beggs and Imran Shahid are considering it. Could anyone think of anything better calculated to drive the anti-human rights brigade into a frenzy?

    This is actually an issue where unionist politicians are opposing the SNP for knee-jerk reasons. There’s a real issue here which they are ignoring by just focusing on trivia such as what kenny Macaskill said about judges going to the Edinburgh Festival.

  8. Just to respond to the several Supreme Court related postings, what I said was that the SNP has claimed that “English” courts are overriding Scots law. That is what I object to, because it is deliberately inflammatory and untrue.

    There may be procedural differences between English and Scots criminal appeals, but that does not justify the rhetoric Macaskill and Salmond have used. And it is the rhetoric which is the problem here.

    Incidentally, if people are genuinely concerned about appeal problems, surely the target for opprobrium should be those parties who have failed to do their jobs effectively in each case thereby giving grounds for appeal. It has to be better to try to address problems there rather than try to unpick the hugely important Human Rights Act from Scots law.

    1. “That is what I object to, because it is deliberately inflammatory and untrue.”

      Traditionally, when involved in a debate one explains WHY the other side’s claims are untrue rather than just stating it as a fact. There is no such thing as “UK” criminal law, so the Supreme Court as a body must be a facet of either Scots law or English law. Which is it?

      1. The problem is really the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights which cross legal jurisdictions. We therefore need such a transnational body to consider these issues at the state (ie UK) level.

        I know how much the nationalists wish the UK didnt exist, but it does, and its that body which has signed the Treaty.

      2. Nonsense. The Supreme Court is a UK body. On the rare occasions it addresses Scots criminal law it does so as a Scots criminal court, with the benefit of Scots judges. In contrast the ECHR in Strasbourg does not have the benefit of Scots judges; and it has a 50 year case backlog. That’s one of the main reasons the Supreme Court was formed the way it was, because justice delayed is justice denied.

        I say again, instead of picking constitutional fights why isn’t the Justice Secretary addressing the failings in his justice system which have caused these appeals to take place?

  9. “We therefore need such a transnational body to consider these issues at the state (ie UK) level.”

    Except there’s clearly no such thing as a “UK state” in this context, because the issues are unarguably being considered according to two different sets of rules for Scotland and England.

    So the question still stands – which of those does the Supreme Court belong to?

    1. But there is a UK state – it happens to have two distinct legal codes operating within its borders. And since that UK state is the body which has signed the treaty on the European Declaration of Human Rights (I know how much you nationalists like quoting Treaties!) it is the body which decides on matters affecting the human rights of UK citizens. As Duncan has said, it operates as a Scottish Court when commenting on Scots Law, an English court when commenting on English law and a Northern Irish court when commenting on Irish law.

    1. Hi Andrew.

      Is it a cop-out to assert that unionism isn’t a Labour value? Personally I think we can have a far more effective debate on unionism if we extract it from party politics. Not least because there are unionists who vote SNP and independence-supporters who vote Labour.

      Is that such a bad thing?

      1. Agreed, Duncan. I feel that if we let ourselves be defined too much as a unionist party, we are heading for a fall. If the referndum passes, we will be seen as being on the losing side, and even if it fails, then we risk being seen too much as a single issue party, with nothing to say for the ordinary Scot worried about Jobs, Housing etc and the bread-and-butter issues that DO form part of our core values.

        Its about recognising those core values, and doing them well. Our position on independence should be “we remain to be convinced by independence, but further powers are needed by the Scottish Parliament”.

        1. Hi john

          I think your proposed position “we remain to be convinced by independence, but further powers are needed by the Scottish Parliament” would be a much more positive stance to take than the one recently taken by Labour. Far too often Labour have appeared as nothing more than an anti-SNP party with nothing much to offer. civic British nationalist party. In fact IMO official Labour support for maximum devolution appears now to be a no-brainer considering the fact that several opinion polls have suggested that this is a very popular option amongst the Scots electorate.

  10. Hi john

    I think your proposed position “we remain to be convinced by independence, but further powers are needed by the Scottish Parliament” would be a much more positive stance to take than the one recently taken by Labour. Far too often Labour have appeared as nothing more than an anti-SNP, civic British nationalist party with nothing much else to offer. In fact IMO official Labour support for maximum devolution appears now to be a no-brainer considering the fact that several opinion polls have suggested that this is a very popular option amongst the Scots electorate.

    However, we all know there are some Labour voters and even members who favour independence. Perhaps it would make sense to make Labour neutral on the issue?

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