mark mclaughlinMark McLaughlin argues that, rather than appealing across the constitutional divide, Scottish Labour has made itself unelectable by both sides of it, by focusing on dry economics and abrogating its responsibility to engage on the difficult questions of statehood and nation-building.


In 1953, the manuscripts of Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein were posthumously published in a collection titled Philosophical Investigations. It is primarily concerned with the philosophy of language; exploring the distance between what we say, what we mean and what others understand by what we say.

Wittgenstein argues that people ascribe common meaning to language through shared experiences. It is the reason why groups of friends can have in-jokes that only they understand, and why Wittgenstein enigmatically remarked that “if a lion could speak, we could not understand him”. Using the same language is not enough; understanding another involves an empathy that demands similarities in life experience, in points of reference, that we don’t share with those whose perspectives are far removed from our own.

Perhaps there is no greater example of two groups of people who are, each to the other, Wittgenstein’s lion, than the Scottish Labour Party and ex-Labour-now-SNP voters. The former are often disdainful of the latter, as if we have been duped and hoodwinked; voter-magpies led astray by shiny SNP tabards. If only we understood, they say, we wouldn’t vote for those deceitful ruffians or their independence obsession. By their actions, the politicians and remaining members of Scottish Labour demonstrate repeatedly, and at length, that they either don’t know why they keep losing elections, or increasingly don’t care.

In the past, I have lamented the SNP’s lack of radicalism on some devolved issues, recognised the limitations of the free tuition policy as a vehicle for social mobility and conceded serious failings in the Yes campaign. Hopefully, this is sufficient to establish that I don’t routinely wield a “Stronger for Scotland” foam finger non-ironically, as if that’s the sort of thing normal people do. And yet, voting Labour has rarely been a less appealing prospect, even before the current live action remake of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto got underway.

The origins of Labour’s precipitous descent are infinite, but few would deny that the constitutional question looms large in any coherent retelling. We should always be wary of linear narrations of history, and accounts of the recent past which too intimately link one event to another, tying it all together in a neat bow, are almost always deeply flawed. Correlation does not equal causation, and so on. There is, however, one glaring deficiency that helps explain why most Scottish voters, who have defected to both the SNP and the Conservatives, aren’t coming back any time soon.

Labour has failed to engage on the issue of statehood. It believes neither in an independent Scotland nor the union. The question on the ballot paper on 2014 was not whether Scotland would be materially better off as an independent nation, but whether Scotland should be an independent nation. That the Better Together response was tailored to material, empirical questions of fiscal transfer and currency and so on is entirely understandable. It targeted the 35% of eligible voters that did not have an existential commitment to either the United Kingdom or an independent Scotland. These voters would – and did – tip the scale.

It is akin to a Shakespearean tragicomedy that it is the Labour Party, and no other, that continues to fight political battles as if the referendum is ongoing. In an attempt to avoid “narrow nationalism”, Scottish Labour has abandoned the idea of statehood altogether, as if trying to define “Scottishness” or “Britishness” is the pasttime of frothing-at-the-mouth flag waving extremists. This conveniently forgets, of course, that Tony Blair entered Downing Street in 1997 opposite a sea of enthusiastic Labour supporters waving the Union Jack. The refusal to recognise the importance of how the citizens of a nation define their collective values renders Labour’s current spiral into electoral oblivion an entirely deserved phenomenon.

Apart from anything else, it means that the 65% of the country that do have an existential commitment to either the union or iScotland are convinced that you do not share the same vision, or indeed any vision, for the kind of country that we should be. The New Statesman’s Helen Lewis recently remarked that Englishness has become a coded word for white, and that to call yourself English feels “needlessly aggressive, an echo of the snarling faces of the English Defence League”.

I don’t happen to agree with that position, but it does rather illustrate the pitfalls of failing to engage with the values of statehood. How a state defines itself has a very real impact on our role in the world, how we treat immigrants, acceptable levels of tax, and attitudes to welfare. It’s not nationalist or jingoistic to believe that the peoples of a nation have shared values.

Reducing this to a bean-counting exercise is to engage with only a fraction of the deeper and more profound questions about what kind of country we want to be. Frankly, it is a pitiful, pathetic abrogation of responsibility to expect that a political party would be sustained on such shallow ideological foundations. It is little wonder that the Labour Rose, once with deep roots in Scottish and British soil, is beginning to wilt.

One is, of course, free to lament this lack of rationalism in politics. “Curse the electorate and their attachment to the nation-state” *shakes fist*. Scottish Labour could hire one of the committee rooms in Holyrood, take turns to sing ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon in the round and get particularly vexed at that verse about there being no countries. Fill your boots. But it strikes me that trying to understand why many former Labour voters chose independence, and why unionist Labour voters are now turning to the Conservatives would be a more productive use of your time.

Democracy and nationhood is more than a tick at the ballot box. It is the relationship between the body of government and the body-politic, built brick by brick over hundreds of years of shared history, culture and language.

Ruth Davidson comes to the battle astride a tank, waving the Union Jack and singing God Save the Queen. Her opposition to independence isn’t merely oppositional, it is a belief that we have something greater in the United Kingdom; that our history and culture shows what we can achieve together. She is British and proud of it. Nicola Sturgeon comes armed with an optimistic, inspirational vision for the future, waving the Saltire alongside the powerful visuals of the SNP politicians in front of Scotland’s great landmarks, enthusiastic independence campaigners flooding George Square and Dougie MacLean providing the soundtrack. Labour sits in the corner with its calculator, Scotland’s least popular accountant, and recommends that a couple stay married because, on balance, it would be beneficial for tax purposes to do so.

The SNP and the Conservatives are at least arguing over the same things. They do, to an extent, share similar points of reference: national identity, national symbols, competing visions for the future and so on. That Labour has refused to participate goes some way to explain why it has become the lightning rod for post-referendum anger, and doesn’t understand why. Scottish Labour is the reason that the union subsists, and yet doesn’t really believe in it.

From a personal perspective, the SNP’s decision to rebrand the devolved administration from Scottish Executive to Scottish Government was a seminal, formative moment in Scotland’s political history and in mine. It is nominative determinism in action. Scotland was no longer a subsidiary of a larger whole, but had its own “government”. I’m not sure the political significance of this mere rebranding is properly understood or remarked upon. I was 15 years old at the time, and for the entire period in which I’ve been politically aware, the Scottish Government has been at loggerheads with the UK Government. A whole generation of young adults have grown up with that same experience, with every spat, confected or otherwise, acting as a reminder that Scotland is a separate political entity. This may go some way to explain the comparative enthusiasm for independence amongst the young.

Thus, when Nicola Sturgeon stood in Bute House on the morning of the EU referendum result and spoke of “democratic outrage” at Scotland being taken out of the European Union against its will, this wasn’t your standard opportunistic political triangulation. She genuinely believes it, and has believed in Scotland as a separate political entity since she joined the SNP at 16. She spoke for me, and hundreds of thousands of others, too.

The proposition that the United Kingdom is a union of equal nations was categorically disproven by the Brexit vote. We didn’t vote as a union of equal nations, we voted as a nation-state. British citizens, the ones who live in Glasgow and Edinburgh, voted on whether the United Kingdom, not Scotland, should remain a member of the European Union. Scotland is not a separate political entity enjoined to the rest of the UK, but is subsumed into a larger whole.

This is the central untruth of the Better Together campaign. We can not, at once, be a union of equal nations and a nation-state. The former requires the recognition of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland are separate legal entities. The hard truth is that on reserved issues (and potentially all issues, should devolution ever be reversed), we basically have to lump it. Scotland can not “lead” the United Kingdom on issues on which we are outnumbered ten to one. If Labour wants to argue that a fifteen billion pound fiscal transfer is a good price to fetch for our democratic will on these issues, then that’s an argument you are entirely free to make. But it must come with the concession that we are not a union of equal nations.

Tangentially, it seems necessary to distinguish this position from the idea that Scotland has to be “freed” or that somehow we are “oppressed”. Hilarious musings about the last vestige of the British Empire should bear a couple of things in mind. Firstly, if this was ever true (it wasn’t) it certainly can’t be sustained after the union was affirmed in a democratic vote, by a 10% margin, on an 85% turnout. Secondly, in relation to the British Empire, Scotland was the ‘British’ bit, not the ‘Empire’ bit. We were the colonisers, not the colony. One would imagine that claims to the contrary would rather stick in the craw of genuinely emancipated nations, many of whom paid for their independence with the blood of their ancestors at the hands of ours.

While it is essential to engage with existential questions of statehood, I certainly don’t seek to dismiss the economic arguments in relation to the independence question. It was Sterling wot won it in 2014, and the fifteen billion pounds of fiscal transfer will probably ensure that No wins again, if Nicola Sturgeon calls another. My argument is not that the economics don’t matter. They do, hugely. Constructing a vision of an independent Scotland is all well and good, but it is the cold, hard reality of modern economics that will enable it to be delivered.

Similarly, it is inherent that a rational policy position must not impervious to fresh evidence. Given the recent GERS figures (even with their lack of predictive ability about the finances of an independent Scotland and so on) I may be persuaded to vote No in a future referendum. But, in the infamous words of Alex Salmond, it would be a deferred Yes. And it still wouldn’t make me more likely to vote Labour.

The famous “peak SNP” theory, wheeled out every few weeks, requires both justified criticism of the Scottish Government, and a viable alternative. Not only is Labour an absolute drunken barn-dance of a party (credit Hugo Rifkind, there), all of the big hitters have exited stage left, and party conference is set to be quite the spectacular hoedown of disunity and incompetence. As a result, those who consider themselves vaguely “of the left”, and believe that Scotland and rUK have divergent visions for the future, have two options in Scottish politics, and neither are the Labour Party. Conversely, for those who value even a modicum of competence and the union, there is only really one party for you, and that’s not Labour either.

The only reason that Scottish Labour is bewildered about losing voters to the SNP or the Conservatives is that instead of engaging with the difficult questions of statehood and national identity with which most of the country is wrestling, you’re too busy yelling at half of us that we’re simpletons and telling the other half that you’re not unionists. Congratulations all round on that political strategy.

At some point, the Labour Party will either decide that it wants to win elections, or it will die.

Having a generation of politicians with no name-recognition is one thing. Addressing only the material side of the constitutional question to an audience comprising 35% of the country is quite another. In the rest of Scotland, there is a culture war being waged and Labour is sitting it out. Maybe, with multiple election defeats and nothing learned, 15% in the polls is about right, after all.

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66 thoughts on “Why Labour are losers

  1. I think there’s a lot of food for thought here, but the idea that Scotland has forever shifted its politics into the constitutional, and the inference that indy is inevitable, is as much wishful thinking as the idea that people must at some point move on from that debate and come back to where Labour has parked its hollowed out husk. It’s not obvious that either is the case.

    And there are ways to conceive of a society in a coherent and unifying way that are not based on nationalism, statehood or flags. We used to be good at articulating them. We could get good at that again. Maybe.

    The stuff about the Scottish government being focused on “standing up to” the UK government does make me angry, because it has always been concocted and dishonest, and the “or otherwise” is indulgent and knowing. This pretence of “standing up for Scotland” is indeed a vote winner, but it remains a fundamentally dishonest one.

    That all said, there’s definitely something in this argument. Sadly.

    1. For people to “come back to Labour” there has to be something to come back for. Currently Labour (or lib dems) have no real identity to make people vote for them. Labour used to be the antithesis that was anything Conservatitive, they used to be the left wing and sometimes bordering communist view of politics. Now they are too close to Conservatism and whilst that may win you votes in some parts of Blairite England it isn’t going to do much for you in Scotland. We continue to hear that Slab is different from uk Labour and whilst you may wish to believe that it is pretty irrelevant as without Scotland Labour UK will find it very difficult to get into Government. Slab needs to stop seeing SNP as the problem and realising that a lot of(old) Labour values are now held by a large amount of SNP voters.
      In fact once independence has been gained (and it is coming) then the Government that ends up in power will likely be a good mix of Labour and SNP. If Slab wants any part of that it needs to get with the programme. That would mean getting rid of a lot of deadwood that Slab currently have who are simply there as career politicians (including ex MPs that have sold out to HOLs) or ex MPs who want a cushy number in Scottish Parliament like Mr Sarwar

    2. I do’t think the author is arguing that Scottsh politics is forever fixed othe constitution; rather that the constitutional question plainly isn’t settled. That’s what makes a second referendum inevitable. You argue,correctly in my view, that a return to labour is not inevitable. As far as I can see, Labour is finished, branch office and U.K. That’s probably why you’re bored with it – in your heart, you suspect it. The comment, “…. There are ways to conceive of a society in a coherent and unifying way not based on nationalism, statehood or flags…” misses the point; unless you’re anarchist or a believer in world governance, politics is state based. The question ten becomes which state. Your answer is the U.K. You have very right to argue that position, but given the state of Labour, the impending Brexit and the prospect of 20 years of the tories, you might want to reconsider.

    3. Labour have chosen to ignore the fact about 2 thirds of Scots wanted ‘everything but defense., and currency’ devolved even in surveys going back years before indyref. Those who didnt share that view were mostly on the right not Labour supporters. IMO Labour know fine righly that Scotland would be better protected from the Tories if true devo-max had happened but they blocked amendment after amendment that would have dragged the Scotland Bill in that direction. .

      They the ammendments for selfish reasons because they thought if most stuff was no longer reserved to WM it would mean that votes in WM would almost always exclude Scottish Labour MP voting fodder and they would lose that voting block in what would amount to England only votes. In other words they sacrificed our chance of far more profound devolution so more votes would remain on a UK basis and they could use their Scottish block of MPs as lobby fodder. Well the reality is this hugely backfired and has turned out to be foolish as their is no Lab govt and there is no block of Scots Labour MPs to help in UK wide votes..

      Scots, even if there is still not quite a maj for indy, have all but given up on WM and want practically everything devolved to Holyrood. SNP put this on their manifesto and wiped Labour out. Labour then AGAIN failed to learn their lesson and proceeded to not support most of the amendments which would have taken. Even if they didnt back FFA they could still have back devolution of whole lot more.

      Lab need to wake up to the fact that as well as the 45%+ who back indy there is perhaps another 15-20% who want far deeper devo and most of them fall from left to centre i.e. their core vote.


  2. An interesting article, much better than the usual on this site.
    The thing is, history could have easily been so different. The British Nationalist element in Scottish Labour ruled the Party for most of my life, opposing any meaningful devolution of power or democratic control over the power vested in the Scottish Office. I remember Brian Wilson (I think , or Tam of the Binns?) nodding his agreement that he would prefer a Thatcher regime ruling us than to have a Scottish Parliament. The first petro-chemical found of our coast was gas—-described as “English Gas” and Scots had to pay a cross-border tariff to use it. Of course the oil found off Scotland later was to become “British”. Small things but they accumulate in the minds of people , especially as Scottish industry was being by passed in the N sea and then closed down with nothing to replace it. This while little Norway was utilising its indigenous industry to exploit ITS share of the oil field to enrich its people.
    Ask yourself why an industrialised country, with a reputation for engineering, can exploit a huge oil field on its shores for 40 years, yet ends up being told it is “bankrupt”, by the very politicians who control our economy, investment and our terms of trade. £15 billion annual deficit? Why?
    Scottish Labour had their very own “Home Ruler” in Keir Hardie the founder of the Party, but Scottish Labour by and large seemed to despise his vision of what Scotland could be, preferring remote rule. It was only the slow burn of the SNP added to the Tory Declaration of Perth which galvanised ANY action—but everybody could see Labours heart wasn’t really in it and Donald Dewar pulled the short straw of having to leave Westminster, followed by no one, to set up the extremely limited Holyrood Parliament.
    What if Labour had been more ambitious about Home Rule from the start? Even now, we have no clear idea of what Labour want from Holyrood ( no doubt Duncan will disagree), or how they would seek to get to that point, given electoral realities.
    There is also the Lib Dems who, if they had gone into coalition with the SNP in 2007, could have become a big player by including the Federalism option in any proposed referendum ( which they were offered). There is little doubt that would have won the day then, and may still be the top runner if the Scottish electorate were ever offered it.
    But the Lib Dems chickened out, preferring to hide behind Labour/Tory constitutional petticoats.
    A series of rank bad Leaders have compounded Lib Dem fortunes since.
    Though Labour and Scottish Labour need no lessons on bad Leadership—-they have written the book.

    1. What a bizarre and dishonest mis-telling of history. I really am bored by this stuff now.

      1. Fair play to you for publishing the article, but the snide BTL comments are a bit much. I totally recognise the picture Gavin just painted as the unvarnished truth. Disagree if you like, but quit with the accusations of dishonesty. For that you could maybe look in the mirror.

        1. You need to live with the reality that not everyone sees the world like you do.

          The idea that Scottish Labour “opposed any meaningful devolution of power” would be news to the late Bob McLean and the many others who led the party’s push for a Scottish Parliament.

          The idea that it was the SNP and the Tory Declaration of Perth that drove devolution, rather than the Constitutional Convention which both those parties boycotted is nothing short of rampant historical revisionism.

          And the trope that the Scottish Parliament – the most powerful devolved legislature in the world, defined by the reservation of powers not the devolution of them – was unambitious is simply dishonest. There’s nothing else to call it. Flatly dishonest.

          1. Dishonest? Don’t think so.
            “Opposed any meaningful devolution of power”—well they certainly took their time about it. Keir Hardie had Home Rule in his manifesto in the 19th century. Why did it take until the end of the 20th century and many years in power, to implement a watered down Parliament, if Labour were allegedly so keen?
            You also airbrush the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly out of your rosy picture. Why was the CSA needed?
            All these Scottish Labour MP’s who totally opposed devolution didn’t really exist——- except, of course, in the real world.
            The SNP boycotted the Scottish Convention simply because Labour refused to consider independence as a constitutional option—the infamous “its ma ba'” syndrome–a weel kent Scottish Labour failing. John MacAllion, Labour MP, painted the convention as elitist and unrepresentative and should never be a model used for another convention
            However you big-up Holyrood, it is not the “Home Rule” that Hardie wanted. It reserved as much to Westminster as it could, and left Holyrood bereft of fiscal power and responsibility. A talking shop, as described, with parish council powers.
            What constitution Scottish Labour now want is anyone’s guess. It depends on who has an opinion piece in the media on any particular day. And the opinion would probably change tomorrow anyway. A lady reserves the right……..
            Scottish Labour climbed to the top, but have now fallen nearly to the bottom—still falling? You bet!

          2. You just can’t help yourself can you! Now you’re pretending that the Scottish Constitutional Convention was run by Labour?!

            You’ve rewritten history so often you probably don’t even realise you’re doing it any more.

      2. Bizarre and dishonest? Really?
        You should be able to correct me, then.
        I won’t hold my breath……………….

        1. Here it is again for you.

          The idea that Scottish Labour “opposed any meaningful devolution of power” would be news to the late Bob McLean and the many others who led the party’s push for a Scottish Parliament.

          The idea that it was the SNP and the Tory Declaration of Perth that drove devolution, rather than the Constitutional Convention which both those parties boycotted is nothing short of rampant historical revisionism.

          And the trope that the Scottish Parliament – the most powerful devolved legislature in the world, defined by the reservation of powers not the devolution of them – was unambitious is simply dishonest. There’s nothing else to call it. Flatly dishonest.

          1. Most powerful devolved… is also a trope. its slight of hand as it obscured on semantics (most of the electorate dont make or care about this distinction) the fact that there are federal govts which are more powerful.

            Regardless, its long been known a large majority of Scots back maximum devolution which is widely held to mean devo of anything that is possible to devolve bar perhaps defense and currency/central bank.

            My father is a classic case of someone who really wants federal autonomy – a loose federation of national parls – just sharing currency and defense and freedom of movement. However in indyref what he wouldnt countenance is the status quo or the current levels of devo (he was smart enough to see thought the slight of hand of the use of terms like Home Rule, Federalism and Devo Max by Labour figures who had no power to deliver it). So he voted yes. He will again unless a totally different Britain- a federation of sovereign parls each with a veto on shared matters (with none of this crown pish) – is offered.

            He is near 80 not a young pup on the new indy wave. If Labour cant embrace the concept of really serious federal autonomy or the like then they wont even hold on to 80 year old industrial city socialists.

            Labour need to accept that a majority of Scots now see a WM with as little influence as possible on Scotland as Scotlands best protection – that includes many who voted NO who see the last roll of the dice for Britain as a federation of almost autonomous parliaments sharing only currency, defense and freedom of movement etc.

            Both unionists and federalists dont see much hope for progressive politics in WM and that is not going to change. They have lived through the price of WM retaining power and that price will ultimately be a 46 year long period of Tory govts 1979-2025 with just a 13 year interlude of a hawkish neolib Labour who most socialists felt deeply uncomfortable with. Lab only held on to their Scottish WM votes to 2010 out of fear of Tories and habit.

            2015 marked the final turning point in that most left-leaning Scots gave up on trying to protect themselves through a long shot of getting a decent Labour WM govt and changed tactics en-masse to seeking to minimise WM’s influence on Scotland within or without the union. That is what Scottish Labour are not embracing. They are simply having trouble adjusting to the new realities. I would say if (and I will eat my hat if it doesnt happen) the Tories win again in 2020 this will confirm to Scots that they were right in 2015 that its best to back a party who wants to take most power from WM rather than a party who tries but usually fails to win power in WM.

            Anyway SLab are behaving like a creature that just refuses to adapt to new realities, just acts like its still 10 years ago and will go extinct as a consequence. Can they change? I doubt it because the MSPs are largely the old guard and time is very very short to save the union, brexit has happened, Labour are polling so badly noone expects to see Lab in govt till at least 2025 and under Tory govts the union will not survive that long.

            Lesson of history- Labour should have created a fully federalised UK back in 2005 or the like. Labours last hope? Corbyn putting on the 2020 manifesto changing the British constitution to a federation of the isles of virtually autonomous federal govts and of course winning the next GE so he can implement it. He should also back PR , accept that people would rather have a broad centre to left coalition if it mean locking out Tories forever than rely of the FPTP system occasionally giving Labour total power. Also FFS get put total scrapping of the lords on the manifesto -no more fudges on this. Elected 2nd chamber or none.

      3. Which parts are dishonest?

        Are you saying that Norway hasn’t managed their volatile oil resources better than the uk?

        Did Keir Hardie not support Home rule for Scotland?

        Have labour politicians never claimed they would prefer tory rule over independence?

          1. “You’re pretending….Scottish Convention….run by Labour”.
            You keep attacking my comments as changing historic truth, but no serious examples are given.
            No, Labour did not “run” the Convention, but they were hugely influential and they did veto independence as an option.
            Interesting that Canon Wright came out for independence after seeing Labour’s preference in operation.
            Perhaps if you could actually look at the historic facts rather than bad mouth me, your perspective would change somewhat.
            No one expects someone as committed as you to alter your view, but if we are to have a serious debate you must accept that verifiable facts are out there and people form opinions on the strength of them.
            I have gone from a Labour man to believing in self government over my life time. I think my opinion will be main stream soon. The alternative is seldom articulated other than as spite or narrow British nationalism. Very rarely in positive terms.

          2. it is dishonest to brush over that Lab figures with no power to deliver misleadingly used the federal, home rule and devo-max words in the dying days of indyref. MANY people felt betrayed and insulted by this.

            Its also simply daft to not just accept the bleedin’ obvious that a lot more could have been devolved and Labour did their best to block or certainly not assist so many of the amendments the SNP made to the Scotbill that would have made it far closer to the sort of devo that typical voters imagine federalism, home rule or devo-max to mean. I am not even saying Labour had to back full fiscal autonomy if their fiscal concerns were genuine but they could have backed everything short of that. There is no point in playing with semantics or arguing black is white here. Labour are out in he cold because Scots of both yesser and non-yesser ilk have moved into a mode that they want the usually malign influence of WM on Scotland diminished to the minimum possible – even those who fear indy want a union where WM has extremely little power over Scotland. The only people who dont are mostly Tories.

  3. Duncan,
    It doesnt work like that. You cant accuse another contributor of being dishonest and leave it at that, that reading Gavin’s article bores you. That is arrogant. You have to say why he is dishonest. That is how debate works. That is how you learn.
    Maybe your dismissiveness can be seen as symotomatic of Scottish Labour’s present and seemingly neverending malaise Duncan? Maybe symtomatic is the wrong word? allegorical might be closer?
    What I mean is, may be if Labour had tried harder to listen to its garss roots, and if Labour had listened to them, then The Party would have understood they had many supporters that were Yes voters, and then maybe Labour would not have been as dogmatic in its support for the union. If Labour had been less arrogant maybe it would’nt of lost all its support?
    Now I can guess what you are thinking Duncan, you are thinking, there are a lot of ifs and maybes here. But that is not my point, my point is that you dont learn anything by being arrogant

    1. Labour opposed independence because it was the right thing to do. Almost every other comment on this site is nothing more than yet another go at Labour from yet another independence supporter. It’s dull, and takes the debate precisely nowhere.

      1. “the right thing to do” listen to yourself Duncan. We are talking the constitution here. There is no right and wrong.
        If you believe in the union that much then well done, Labour Saved the Union. If it was not for Labour and Gordon Brown Scotland would have voted Yes. Absolutely no doubt about it.
        But would Labour have been so staunch in defending the union if it had realised the consequences? In fact should The Labour Party have dictated to its supporters what way to vote? You would expect the Tory Party in Scotland to support the union, but Labour? with so many of its supporters voting for independence?
        The only reason Labour took up the defence of unionism so passionately was to oppose the SNP. Not only do I believe it was a suicidal tactical mistake that has lost Scotland to the LP for good, ask yourself Duncan what right did Labour have to dictate to the Scottish people on a constitutional issue?

        1. Labour didn’t dictate to anyone. We happened to argue well for an outcome the public agreed with.

          Once again I think you have to start dealing with the reality of that, not determinedly ignoring it because your version of the truth feels nicer.

          1. I accept the referendum results. Im fine with both of them. I was on the loosing side both times but it matters nothing to me. Trust me on this. I think you know this from my posts. I am not bitter.
            What I find fascinating (its my thing Duncan, I am a political anorak, much like you, the only difference is, you have made it your career and that is a big difference) was Labour’s approach to our referendum. Labour has impaled intself on the railings of Scotland’s constitution.
            Why would a political party do that? What is the point of a political party destroying itself for a ’cause’? No point of principle can be worth wrecking the whole organisation for? Is it not incumbent on the present crew to maintain the health and safety of the ship for the future of those to follow? Pragmatic mature political parties, put survival before all else, when faced with the big divissive issues they avoid self destruction by waiving collective responsibilty. They give members a free vote. Its what the Tories did in May and it is what Labour should have done in 2014.
            I know you can never admit this in public but maybe when there is no Scottish Labour Party maybe in private? in a dark room when the bottles empty? I doubt it.

          2. When did I make it my career, Richard? You appear to be as well informed on that as you are on many other things… 🙂

  4. I don’t know anyone in Labour who thinks voters left us for the SNP because they were “duped and hoodwinked”, “simpletons”, “voter-magpies led astray by shiny SNP tabards” or even because they are nationalists. Voters, after-all, are never wrong.

    I also think it is wrong to infer that Labour should move its focus from social justice to the constitution. The former is worth fighting for, and the latter is simply an excuse for inaction. Yes, many Scots voted Yes as they wanted greater social justice… but they saw independence simply as a vehicle for achieving it. Independence was the means to an end, whereas the SNP used social justice rhetoric cynically as a means to the end they desired. Of course, it’s now clear that independence would come with massive cuts (think GERS) that would be hugely damaging to Scotland.

    The challenge for Labour is to convince all Scots that progressive politics is the only true route to a more socially just Scotland. Of course, constitutional obsessives (let’s call then nationalists) will say fighting for social justice today is just too difficult…

    1. Hi Scott,

      I actually don’t think we’re that far apart here. I don’t think it is necessary for Labour to move on from social justice. But I think the current climate requires a constitutional framing. It’s perfectly possible to advance an idea of social justice through a sense of “Britishness”. I wouldn’t agree with it, but it might stop the bleeding to the conservatives.

      Surely, framing your arguments to be effective in the current political climate is just good politics.

      I think there are plenty of people in the Labour Party who think that people vote SNP because they just don’t understand, or are being irrational or are just nationalists. It would seem helpful to do away with that mindset.

      I think the problem is distinguishing constitutional obsessives and people who care about the constitutional question.

      1. people vote SNP rather than Labour because they provide a centre-left party who are energetic, pro-active, have a nice range of talents and who fight Scotland’s corner and have no need to modify policy to suit swing voters in the midlands. WM is seen as a place of usually scary and malign govts and the SNP tried to press hard to limit its powers and get them devolved to Scotland (sadly mostly blocked). Its a no-brainer for left leaning Scots to vote SNP/ Lab really cant compete with that as the SNP tick most of the boxes that left of centre Scots want. In fact I think the SNP do very well at simply reflecting back what Scots want rather than imposing. That means that Labour could only do the same through duplication which is obviously pointless.

        I think its too late now for SLab. They might have retained many of their MPs in 2015 if they had stood on a genuine Devo-Max/federal home rule with no ambiguities ticket but they didnt. They put in a simply laughably weak Smith submission and they then went on to block most of the amendments that would have made the Scotbill something closer to Devo-Max.

        I dont care what anyone says, the current devolution is feeble. WM has been a largely malign force on Scotland since 79 and Labour conspired to make the devo shield against WM far less strong than it could have been . Scots, including many NO voters, have come to see the function of their votes as obtaining the best possible shield against WM rather than hoping on hope for occasional non-Tory WM govts. Its a perfectly sensible conclusion to reach for people who have lived through 6 Tory govts we didnt vote for since 79 and a 7th is a virtual certainty.

          1. I would say one of the following:
            -the scrapping of short term prison sentences in favour of community programmes that try and deal with the reasons people offend in the first place
            -ending the ‘Right to Buy’ for all council and housing association tenants,
            -paying the Living Wage for care workers
            -using Discretionary Housing Payments to offset the impact of the Bedroom Tax

      2. Politics is about leadership, not focus groups. Labour’s job is to inform and lead the debate, not follow populist agendas.

        The constitution debate is simply a distraction from the real problems we face.

        1. Can’t inform and lead the debate on 15%. Politics is about winning elections. Labour’s did the most good when they knew that.

    2. “Yes, many Scots voted yes as they wanted social justice…but they saw independence simply as a means for achieving it….” You were doing well up to that point, then you slipped and let the S.N.P. bad cat out of the bag.
      Your point about GERS needs a lot of qualification. Firstly, the were designed to make the Scottish economy look bad, in order to rubbish both Labour’s devolution and the S.N.P’s independence policies. Secondly, the are based partly on guesstimates and notional figures. Thirdly, they are a snapshot of Scotland’s economy as part of the U.K. for 300 years – worth considering. Fourthly, your analysis precludes the possibility of a future Scottish government from doing anything differently. So while the figures are certainly not great for this year, you need to employ a sense of perspective when looking at them, maybe informed by the fact that the U.K had a proportionally worse position in 2010, and nobody died, and secondly, the post Brexit U.K. economy for the foreseeable is going to be no picnic.
      Finally, I have never heard or read any of those you dismiss as obsessives argue that “….fighting for social justice is just too difficult.” I have on the other hand seen the Labour Party at Westminster simply wave through Tory austerity.

      1. Heidstaethefire, GERS is controlled by the SNP. They can (and do) change the method. I agreed that there is some uncertainty in the data, but that means the actual situation could be worse as well as better!

        There is a good reason the SNP has no plan to deal with the deficit as part of their argument for #Indyref2… I’ll let you guess what it is!

        1. The figures on which GERS is produced are produced by the treasury. I don’t see an answer to any of my other points.

  5. Dr Scott is correct in that I voted for independence as a vehicle for social justice. I just don’t have any faith any more in UK politics. Whether placing that faith in an independent Scotland is misplaced i don’t know. We have seen since the 80s a steady erosion of opportunity and income equality. You could argue this is due to global pressures rather than national but we tried Labour’s approach in the 90s and whilst it did offset some of the problems i believe the floodgates are open now and the pace of the problems will increase unabated. Nothing is sacred in terms of profits, examples of which undertaken under UK governance are too numerous to mention.

    1. most yessers were indy for a reason – social justice – fresh start without all the stupid baggage etc.It wasnt unconditional. Unconditional backing of their country was more of a unionist thing in indyref. It didnt matter what was in the tin as long as the tin said UK for people like that.

  6. So so wrong. The crux in the rise of SNP, indy etc is England votes right and except for the Blair interlude we have been looking at Tory govts 1979-2020 and I will eat my hat if that doesnt extend to 2025. That will have be 46 years of Tories who Scots hugely rejected with the exception of the Blair interlude. To ignore this basic prob that Scotland votes left while England votes right is delusional. Here is a fact – England on its own has not voted Labour since the 1960s with the exception of the centrist (and IMO it was centre-right) Blair years. That is not a recommendation for Blairism but merely pointing out that England just doesnt vote left anymore. Today’s centre left is centre-right in old money. So most Scots have given up hope in WM as a vehicle for anything left and look to the SNP in Holyrood to provide this even if they dont believe in indy. Dont believe me – just look at recent elections.

    Labour are losers in Scotland because the SNP provides (in a predominantly centre-right or worse UK) a centre-left party that unequivocally fights Scotland’s corner with no other considerations like buttering up swing voter Torylite and hawkish pretendy left vote to win WM elections. Even a chunk of NO voters like this and a huge majority of Scots at least want a situation of all powers bar defense and currency held at Holyrood. If Lab had any sense at all (it clearly is not fingers on the pulse) it would have not insulted the electorate with using Brown as a conman, the ludicrous Labour submission in Smith and the extraordinary sequence of Labour not supporting a pile of amendments to devolve FAR more powers to Scotland during the Scotland bill. Even if you had doubts about full fiscal autonomy you could have still backed all the other amendments. Labour are permashafted – seriously have no doubt about that – unless they and more importantly the WM leadership back devolution of all powers bar currency and defense and any other powers that simply cannot be devolved (not many of those).

    So in short you are incredibly wrong. Even if its short of indy, wresting powers from WM is how a majority of Scots – and a big majority left of centre – see as the most realistic bet in shielding us from the Tories. Very few see it likely that WM will provide centre-left govt. I would say the only potentially vote winning thing Labour could do in Scotland is stand on a ticket of true devo- max ‘everything but currency and defense’ and there is no point in Slab but not WM Lab promising that because only WM Lab could deliver it by winning an election. A promise from Slab alone is worthless.

    1. just to be clear when I am saying so wrong I am aiming that at those criticising the article not the article. Just realised that doesnt come across.

  7. Excellent article from Mark McLaughlin.
    You should put yourself up for leader of the walking dead- British Labour in Scotland- and you may just breathe life into the corpse.

    The fact that it’s been published on this site is impressive though I see Duncan and Scott are spitting feathers. Too truthful and realistic for their agenda.

    There’s hope for Labour in this outlook.

    Good luck, with pals like Duncan and Scott,you’re gonna need it.

  8. another much more shallow reason for Labour’s failure is they just dont have people with that kind of slightly grave gravitas that Scots like. John Smith had it. Even Broon had it before his weirdness became apparent and he sold his soul and all future trust in him with his promises in the dying days of indyref.

    There is a core problem with politics in the UK. The idea that MPs have to be high flyer types is wrong. Posh folks but also high flyers of humble origins both do not live in the world that most of us come from. They belong in the lucky 10% or so who through wealth or through accident of birth giving them the brains and ability to fly high have a future shielded from the real world most of us live in. People cant relate to either posh public school boys or people who have had a decade or so being polished at Oxbridge and having pre-politics careers that very few have.

    While a sprinkling of expertise, talking skills and experience is necessary the key attribute most people want from the vast bulk of MPs and MSPs is that their heart and beliefs are in the right place (and will vote accordingly), honesty and that they are like the people who vote for them in terms of social class, education, life experience etc. In Scotland I think we culturally are allergic to slick polished smooth types regardless of social class. We are allergic to a lot of the right on London luvy stuff or the oily snakeoil salesman overpolished sleekit types like Owen Smith. Also SPAD and PR types just seem false. I think Scots are particularly culturally allergic to that sort.

    i dont think this will improve because most of the talented people who at least feel ordinary Scots of humble to middling backgrounds, council houses, ordinary schools, Scottish unis etc are streaming to the SNP. I dont think Slab realise how unattractive they have become with a lightweight leader of zero gravitas who changes her opinion on key things from month to month and their tribal hatred of the SNP who – lets face it – the people of Scotland like at levels practically unknown is Scottish political history. The disengenius spin and insults that SNP and yessers are blood and soil nationalists doesnt help. I know 100s of them and probably 90% are for indy as they see it as the only way out of constant right wing rule from WM. Anyone with a crumb of knowledge or insight into the yes movement and not blinded by tribalism can see that and I suspect most Slabs know this fine rightly. After all a huge chunk of them have been Labour voters in the past so you cant just start calling people who used to vote for you fools etc.

  9. Smashing article Mark.
    What struck me most was your description of your personal politics and how you’ve never voted labour,much like myself,even though you seem to be a natural labour voter in your ideals.again much like myself.
    Fact that you,me and many other who are instinctively in tune with the old labour message and ideals but have never voted labour,that’s the question the party should be asking.
    Why are those who should be considered their natural constituency not interested?
    I genuinely feel it’s a case of labour left us,not the other way around.
    Though saying that,I’m giving serious consideration to voting labour if Corbyn wins and wins back the soul of the party.

    Like it or not,labour is the only vechile that exists to realistically oust the tories,it’s just needing enough belief in their direction to vote for them.

  10. Excellent article with only one flaw – you mention a £15 Billion fiscal transfer to Scotland that doesn’t exist.

    Let me explain: while it is true that GERS suggests a £15B deficit in the Scottish public finances, the rest of the UK has a deficit in the public finances as well. So if there was a fiscal transfer to Scotland to cover our deficit, there was also a fiscal transfer to the rest of the UK to cover its deficit.

    However, using a phrase like ‘fiscal transfer’ is misleading as that would properly be a transfer from an area of surplus to an area of deficit.

    But apart from that, excellent article.

  11. Duncan please can you let me know if the UKs Brexit negotiation does not include membership and access to the single market that would affect Scotland what is your position if the Scottish Goverment hold an IndyRef2 would you vote Yes or No to independence?

    1. I would vote No, because the idea that a response to losing the EU market should be to leave the UK market which is five times more important for Scotland’s economy is madness. And the inevitable hard border between Scotland and rUK would break my heart even more than the inevitable loss of our European links already has.

      1. It cannot be purely about economics and markets though Duncan, can it? It’s also about what remaining in Britain would mean we faced. What kind of country will that actually be, whatever we would like it to be? What if it was 10 years of Tory rule? 20? 50? Is no price too high for you?

        1. To me the fundamental error here is twofold:

          • First, that independence stops us having Tory governments. Not so. There are a lot of Conservatives in Scotland. It would only be a matter of time before Scotland elected a Conservative government.
          • Second, that we should only care who governs everyone north of Berwick. Surely the lives of those across the UK are equally important? I want a Labour UK government to stand up for people south of Berwick as well. I don’t want to wash my hands of that problem.
          1. You regularly accuse those who disagree with you of lying. I won’t. However, I never said “stops”. I am talking about likelihood – honestly assessed likelihood – and asked for your views on the situations I imagined. I think it is likely we would have a left of centre government in Scotland for a long time, certainly long enough to make an irreversible difference. I think the same as regards a hard right government in Britain. That is an important consideration for me. Your second point is, I genuinely and sincerely believe, contrived and ludicrous. All life is of equal worth across the globe. Lives in England are of no more or less worth than lives in Africa, Asia or America. The citizens of England are not oppressed. They live in a democracy. It is not the fate of those living in Scotland to sacrifice their own futures, forever, in order to repeatedly and without success attempt to save the voters of England from themselves.

          2. Well then we disagree. I also don’t think there’s such a thing as a government of a particular hue making an “irreversible difference”. In a democracy the people can always change their minds.

            On my second point, it’s far from contrived. It’s simply that I don’t think of the people in England as “they”. I think of them as “we”. This is an outlook I realise you don’t share. But there it is.

          3. For some reason (perhaps my own incompetence) I can’t post a response below your most recent post but I want to because it’s an important point.

            I think, as I am sure do you, of the entirety of humanity as “we”. But what we are talking about is how *our* country is governed. Being concerned with how your country is governed, and a concern for the fate of fellow human beings, are not mutually exclusive. The claim that they are is, for me, the contrived argument.

          4. The UK is our country. The people I’m talking about are people in our country.

        2. That, Duncan, is exactly it. Exactly my point. I could then say to you “What? Don’t you care about people in other countries?” That would be ludicrous. Of course you do. The difference between us is not who is the most morally righteous. Not who cares the most. In the end the difference between us arises simply from which we believe our country to be. You may not like it, but it does. Yours is Britain, mine is Scotland. Which is entirely fine, as long as we’re honest about it.

          1. I’m not sure where I claimed the difference between us was who is the most morally righteous. I said the difference between us is who we define as “we”. But it is inescapable that if you adopt the position that only the government in Scotland matters, then you are saying that the government in England doesn’t matter. You are washing your hands of it. Which is entirely fine, as long as you’re honest about it.

      2. Why would their have to be a hard border between Scotland and England, but no hard border in Ireland north/south ?

        Just another scare story eh Duncan.

        1. Eh? I thought there was a huge desire for a different immigration policy from the rest of the UK? How do you do that with an open border?

          1. The Republic of Ireland will have an open border with the rest of the EU—yet London insists there will be an “open border” between the UK and Ireland.
            At the same time these same people state the border will be “hard” between Scotland and rUK. Labour claimed it would be patrolled with armed guards.

            On your other point, the government in England dominates Scotland’s government in a way that cannot happen in reverse within the UK.

          2. Ireland operates its current open border with the UK by keeping in step with UK immigration policy. Ireland doesn’t have an open border with the rest of the EU, because it’s in the CTA with the UK! For an independent Scotland it would be a choice – membership of the CTA and a hard border with the rest of the EU, like Ireland, or membership of Schengen and a hard border with the UK, like the rest of the EU. And as I said, if Scotland wants a significantly different immigration policy from the UK, as is often stated, the only available option is the second one.

          3. Duncan, Ireland has no “hard border” with the EU, and a substantial immigration flow from the EU 10 countries(2004) plus Romania and Bulgaria(2007) has been a big part of its new workforce as its economy expanded.—-the very people the Brexiteers want to stop coming to the UK.
            I cannot see any difference between Ireland and Scotland in welcoming new people to their workforce, if they were/are members of the EU.

          4. Ireland has exactly the same border with the EU as the UK has! Irish and UK immigration policy is in lock step in order to enable the CTA. You have to show your passport to travel between the CTA and the Schengen zone now, don’t you. Exactly the same would apply. That’s a hard border.

      3. Good news, Duncan. The UK government has already made clear that Brexit will not mean a hard border between the UK and Ireland so there is no reason to believe that a similar arrangement can not be made for the border between Scotland and the rest of the UK should Scotland choose to become an independent country within the EU.

        1. That’s because Ireland is already a member of the Common Travel Area, and not a member of Schengen. As a result, Ireland’s immigration policy has to be kept in line with the UK’s. An independent Scotland could also join the CTA on the same basis, but that would mean not having control over immigration. As far as I can recall control over immigration, and specifically the adoption of a different approach from that adopted by the UK, has long been a key argument used by independence supporters. If that is what is wanted, a hard border it must be.

  12. Very perceptive article.

    The key point for me is your statement: “We can not, at once, be a union of equal nations and a nation-state.”
    Been thinking a lot about this.

    The Brexit vote clearly demonstrated what little influence Scotland has when a small majority in England easily outvote a large majority in Scotland.
    And of course the suggestion of requiring a majority vote in all nations of the UK was quickly dismissed. That would have been a way to seriously demonstrate a ‘union of equal nations” after the 2014 referendum.

    I still don’t understand why Labour isn’t jumping all over a 4 nation federal solution. Which again would demonstrate the union of equal nations that was sold to voters in 2014.

    Scotland would have the substantial autonomy and powers that most people want, short of full independence.
    A real English parliament could be a distinct campaigning issue in today’s nationalistic England. There seems lukewarm support for regional assemblies down south, but a real English parliament together with Lords reform could be a major selling point.

  13. So many people still don’t get it.A “federal solution” is a constitutional absurdity. Unless Scotland is reduced to the status of Yorkshire or the West Country such can’t function. And no progressive person would want to leave defence and foreign affairs at Westminster. These two areas of operation (Trident and Iraq) provide the two most compelling reason to get out of the UK. It is significant to hear contributors basing their reasons for staying in the UK on them. It illustrates perfectly why Labour in Scotland is dead.
    What remains of it doesn’t understand.
    It is also significant that the SNP has not bothered itself much about the GERS figure. This figure (which can and had been comprehensively dismantled)represents a Scotland trapped in a bust UK economy and paying largely for “national” items which have little to do with Scotland. It has no relevance whatsoever to the economic positions of an independent Scotland. As Nicola Sturgeon said in her passing reference to them they only represent the damaging effect on Scotland’s economy of 300 years of UK rule. The currency issue is of course a diversionary red herring.
    A perfectly viable future is offered by a confederal solution. The Nordic Union is a good example. It requires already independent units cooperating in matters of mutual interest.

    1. I support indy because I agree with you that federalism doesnt remove Scotland from some of WMs nastiness – including foreign policy, trident etc. However, Labours inability to accept change and the opportunities it offers is fascinating and bizarre and I like to speculate on this. I still suspect if Labour had backed full federalism in 2015 enough people (including many yessers hurting in the teeth of the indyref defeat) would have taken it as the best option on the table. I even suspect if Labour had really pushed this as at the core of the campaign – English parliament and all – they would have won the UK election by retaining some of the yes voters, appeasing the ex-Slab kippers who want an Engl parl and if they had thrown in PR too they would have taken many Lib and Green votes. They blew it and I think that was their last chance as I cannot see them being in power again till 2025 by which time Scotland will certainly no longer be part of the UK.

      Its the Westminster disease – change is glacial and its often done very grudgingly and too little too late. They had Home Rule for Ireland and Scotland passed through the first stage in the commons in 1914 after decades of debate but they parked it and the rest is history – the Irish gave up waiting, 1916 rising, Ireland was partitioned in 1919 and 3500 people died and many more injured in the northern troubles as as a result (not to mention the civil war in the rest of Ireland). They are doing the same with Scotland. Every extra power is like pulling teeth and by the time they do realise a federation of equal sovereign parls is their only chance of saving the union, noone will trust Westminster and indy will win. I dont think they can solve that now because they had their chance to have a radical constitutional manifesto in 2015 but they wont be back in power until 2025.

      Labour I suppose could have one last crack at it and be radical in 2020 – offer a federation of 4 sovereign parls including an English one) to be set up within 2 years, offer PR as a tool to kill Tory rule off forever (left voters want that more than a Labour absolute majority), accept future left govt is likely to be coalitions, scrap the lords entirely and replace with modern elected 2nd chamber. Dont hold referenda on this. The manifesto and winning the election will suffice. They should also offer to remove trident from Scotland – NIMBY maybe but it would help their Scottish vote. Oh and for god’s sake dont appoint a snakeoil salesman like Smith leader. Noone likes him – probably not even his wife for whom he had to win 1000 cage fighting bouts to win.

  14. It is also remarkable that the national question is largely ignored in this sort of debate. There will be two huge gatherings on Glasgow next weekend in support of an independent Scotland. This sort of debate is entirely redundant to them and passes these crowds by. They will be there because they believe Scotland is a country and is just as able to run itself as any other country. They increasingly find any suggestion to the contrary insulting.
    And that is what the unionist message actually is.

  15. Somewhere at the heart of this debate lies the Labour thinking on Nationalism and Internationalism, in which the former is automatically bad and the latter is good. This goes right back to Marx. The distinction is still relevant if you think the triumph of global capitalism needs to be combatted, but the context in which Marx formulated his ideas has changed so radically, that it’s really not good enough to stick to the old shibboleths without re-thinking them. Globalism is a fact – no one (other than the Brexiteers) thinks it’s possible or sensible to turn our backs on global supply chains, global information networks, global agreements (Paris e.g.). It’s the exploitation of such networks (child labour, money laundering, etc) rather than their existence which is the target.
    Now, as in Scotland’s case, if you are unwillingly linked to some of the worst aspects of this, but are also dependent on it and unwilling to isolate yourself from the better parts, what is the answer? Surely it is to take the power to yourself, so that you can modify or regulate the worst by-products of the system – and furthermore to have the power (albeit in a small way) to influence the thinking of others.
    This power, we don’t have. And it’s no good saying that if we hang on a bit, there will be a Labour government in Westminster which will do this. Labour has been there, has had its chance, and failed. How did Robin Cook’s ethical foreign policy end up in the Iraq war? You tell me…
    So, for a second or two, if you can, think of Scottish nationalism not as some kind of ethnic, splittest force hostile to anything but itself – but as a genuine movement to take the power to shape the country differently – you might regard it with less hostility?

  16. The door was opened for the SNP when the Scottish Labour leadership started hinting at taking away free prescriptions from low paid workers.
    And oh the free bus pass from pensioners.
    I’ll not mention tuition fees.
    When does the penny finally drop?
    Don’t want involved in constitutional politics?
    Ever tried mentioning £15 an hour as the minimum wage.
    Nah let’s double the council tax and wonder why the Glasgow North East walked away.

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