Thursday, 4 September 2014

Seven Leftwing Reasons for Staying With Us

Viewed from afar, Better Together has been a poor show. Not in terms of numbers involved out canvassing day after day. I'm on about the politics on offer. The vision thing. Yes have it. That an independent Scotland will share the monarchy, be a semi-colony of the Bank of England and fancies a corporation tax race to the bottom with rUK and the Irish doesn't really matter. It won't be this forever. Where Salmond and the SNP have been really clever is allowing 'Scotland' to be populated by all kinds of aspirations. It's a sail catching every gust of hope, and one that may well blow it across the finish line.

Better Together have absolutely not done this. Alastair Darling has approached the independence referendum as a managerial matter. Questions of social justice, of what the union could be and should be have been crowded out by technical arguments around currency, pensions, oil revenues and economic stability. These are important issues, but you fight politics with politics. You match ideas with ideas. You have to show the people of Scotland how life will get better under continued union with the rest of the UK. Saying "more of the same" is simply not good enough.

Yet just as an independent Scotland would not always be the plaything of the bond markets, so a no vote does not necessarily mean Westminster business-as-usual. The situation is pregnant with positive, tangible possibilities. If it survives the union and the 63 million people of the UK stands on the cusp of irreversible change. So, on the day the RMT in Scotland narrowly voted to endorse the Yes campaign, here are seven political reasons for saying No Thanks, and staying with us.

1. Labour are going to win the general election next year. Yes, really. The SNP have - wisely - tried tying the yes vote to anti-Tory sentiment. As a country, Scotland is the most spontaneously social democratic section of the British Isles. This is nothing to do with the "natural character" of Scottishness. It is rooted in the brutalities of deindustrialisation, the use of Scotland as Thatcher's proving ground for the Poll Tax, and how the people of Scotland had no constitutional comeback at governments the country didn't vote for, both then and now. Yet Conservative rule can be counted out in the months. Tory civil war, UKIP, and general nastiness and incompetence have done for them.

2. Labour have a recognisably social democratic policy agenda. It's not consistent. There are too many residues of the old thinking and concessions to anti-immigrant scaremongering. Yet on the whole, the package is moving in the right direction: left. Scotland's NHS is yet to be blighted by backdoor marketisation. Under Labour, it never will be. But more than that, Labour is looking to develop a national care service alongside the NHS so our elderly and most vulnerable people will not get caught up in or be let down by medical and social care professionals working in silos. Labour is committed to capping energy bills and rents, of making sure the scourge of low pay is checked and reversed by raising the minimum wage and vigorously promoting the living wage, of scrapping the bedroom tax and dumping the Tory proposals to victimise the poor further. More house building, a jobs guarantee, increasing taxes on the rich - if it's a scrap over social democratic policies the SNP want, it's what they will get.

3. If Scotland votes no, it still wins. Devo-max, which all the Westminster parties are signed up for, enables Scotland to keep its tax beyond contributing to the provision of services/institutions managed on an all-UK basis (EU membership, NATO, foreign office, overseas aid, R&D, UK-wide infrastructure investment, etc.). Never again will a Westminster government be able to attack the people of Scotland through the block grant. As is right, Scotland's spending priorities should be up to the Scottish parliament. This has none of the risks so belaboured by Darling, and undermines the centralism of Westminster government in the rest of England.

4. Speaking of centralisation, the Labour party is committed to handing power and money to local authorities. In a few short years a century of Westminster centralisation will be undone. If this is good enough for England and Wales, it's good enough for Scotland too. While the SNP, paradoxically, aren't so keen on devolving power away from Edinburgh if Scotland stays in the union empowering local government this way will be irresistible. Local elections will matter much more because our communities have a greater say of how their money is spent. In Scotland, I hope this would mean a deeper embedding of social democracy which, in turn, will inspire, inform, and change local politics south of the border.

5. The independence referendum has changed the union. It will never be the same again. But that change needs deepening. If Scotland does vote no as per current polling, the margins will be tight. It means afterward Scotland will be in a stronger, emboldened position within the union. Independence won't go away, a comeback and revisit is inevitable in the medium to longer term. To keep Scotland on board all of the above is not enough. There has to be a massive policy shift. As it just so happens, one is bobbing up and down on the horizon. Living in times of uncertain energy prices and growing insecurity, we shall increasingly have to turn to the resources of these islands to provide our needs. Presently the Scottish government have the target of 100% of Scotland's energy to be generated by wind power by 2020. If Scotland remains in the UK, the political minefield and environmental lunacy of fracking makes Scottish wind and wave extremely attractive for speedy investment. This means a real shot in the arm for the green reindustrialisation of Scotland and a windfall under devo-max as electricity is exported to the rest of the UK and elsewhere. That could happen anyway, but how much longer would it take if left to the Scottish government alone? Scotland is in a strengthened position to lobby for and make the case for the rapid development of these resources, but only within the union.

6. If Scotland remains in the union, its anti-Tory majority will have the pleasure of kicking this odious government out of power. Not just that, 2010-15 may well be their last hurrah. Splits and UKIP are bleeding them dry, they cannot seriously claim to be a Britain-wide party like Labour can and, long-term, demographics are against them and the UKIP freak show. Do you really want to leave the fun of delivering the coup de grace to the English and Welsh only?

7. I admit it, one of the reasons I want you in Scotland to stay with us is entirely selfish. I am a socialist. I want to see a better society in which all that is best about our shared culture - solidarity, liberty, acceptance - to be celebrated. All that is ugly, the sexism, racism, xenophobia, bigotry, whether it comes in an orange sash or a yellow and purple leaflet, needs driving out. The obscenity of inequality and dominance of the city is disgusting. The great thing is I'm far from untypical. There are millions here who want to see what I want to see. If you vote no, the act of union goes from a parchment born of aristocratic and dynastic skulduggery to something much better: a voluntary union of peoples. Scottish social democracy now is no finished article, but already strengthens the popular centre left majority where you are strengthens the political balance in favour of working people and their families here too. And when we vote in a Labour government next year, social democracy will be yet further embedded in Scottish politics. If we have each others' backs, we can make life better for all 63m of us. So please, when you cast your ballot on the 18th, vote to stay with us.


David Timoney said...

Re "Scotland is the most spontaneously social democratic section of the British Isles". This is a consoling myth on the left. It simply does not stand up to scrutiny.

During the heyday of the welfare state (the 50s), the Conservatives were the largest party in Scotland. Their steep decline after 1987 was certainly triggered by Thatcher, but this did not result in the population turning social democrat. The Conservative vote largely transferred allegiance to the SNP, who remain "Tartan Tories".

The Scots initially supported the union because of empire (i.e. the opportunities for Scottish trade and colonial jobs). When that went, the glue became the welfare state. As that has been progressively dismantled, so the instrumental rationale for union has frayed.

Independence is historically inevitable, whatever the vote this year, but this is not a progressive turn. The irony is that the desire to recreate the heyday of the welfare state is fundamentally conservative.

Phil said...

I think you mistook what I said. Scottishness is spontaneously social democratic, but that's precisely because of recent experience. It's not something due to an ahistorical character but rooted in the lives and struggles of working class Scots during the last 35 years.

sabele said...

Oh how I wish I could believe this. As a long time Labour voter, I can no longer bring myself to vote for them. Aberdeen Council, where I live, is run by Labour in coalition with the Tories & some Independents, as are at least 5 other Councils up here. Really shameful.

Scottish Labour MPs including Jim Murphy either voted for the bedroom tax or didn't bother to turn up.

Johann Lamont has said that we should have university fees up here, and free prescriptions and senior citizens bus passes should be stopped. Why would I vote for that?

I don't think Labour politicians want much real change, they are too much of the establishment, too comfortable with their positions and status.

Hopefully, if the vote goes for Yes in two weeks, it will also provide the great people of the rest of the UK with the will fir real change too.

Speedy said...

Well, I expected this from the beginning - Scotland is likely to go and we had better get used to it.

IMHO it is an issue of cognitive dissonance - as someone raised in England I was brought up primarily to think of myself as British, whereas my impression is that most Scots are raised to think of their primary identity as Scottish.

Add in to the mix - the history (and bad history like Braveheart), the inevitable inbalances between the countries, the sheer, bare-faced lies of the Yes campaign (over the currency, privatising the NHS etc) and of course "hope", and it is no surprise we have arrived at this point.

As most reasonable commentators agree, the Scots will be worse off post-independence and not have any greater material"freedom" due to the realities of being a small state in a harsh global environment with a large welfare bill. Bob Geldof has expressed this most eloquently in the Daily Record.

But the sense of Scottishness, specialness, indeed a rather narcissistic national image, looks likely to lead the Scots to follow Alex Salmond off the cliff - or at least in to a far more uncomfortable and disempowered space than the one they presently occupy.

Barbara Tuchman wrote the book on this - The March Of Folly - when a nation acts against its best interests.

Indeed Phil, albeit somewhat out of the left-field, you could say this is a good example of why "multi-culturalism" fails - if ours is not the original mutli-cultural society I don't know what is, yet a failure to emphasise what we share over how we diverge looks likely to severely diminish us all.

It's a real tragedy, and especially for the most vulnerable - the young and the poor the SNP has managed to con.

David Timoney said...


I didn't mistake you. My point is that you have misunderstood the move towards independence if you think it is the product of a "spontaneous social democratic" upsurge among the working class over the last 35 years.

Scottish attitudes towards union and independence have always been instrumental, ever since compensation for the Darien scheme swung the vote in 1707. The apparent contradiction of a "saved" NHS and lower corporation tax point to the competing conservative visions behind the yes campaign.


Solomon Hughes said...

I think what Sabele said above is quite important - the thing is Scottish Labour is even more New Labour-y right wing than Labour as a whole . Sending Miliband north is the main way Labour have been able to put on a "leftish" face to try and win back some impetus from the SNP, because, wet as he is, Miliband is to the left of Lamont, Murphy, Alexander, Darling (!)- it's almost like Labour in Scotland are in some kind of self-destruct mode.

jimboo said...

Strange indeed this left wing country that quite happily selects an openly Gay UKIP MEP while voting into Holyrood the SNP bankrolled by the Homophobic religous fundamentalist Brian Soutar, and returning Labour south of the border. Anybody else remember when Tony Blair had a Scottish accent, I do.

Sue McPherson said...

Hi Phil. I seem to be following your blog but now I cannot get out of it. Sorry about that but I have no interest in following more.

I don't do twitter but it seems as though I had to sign in to twitter in order to access my account (>) with you so I could delete my "following" you. Please, help. You're taking up space ad I see no point in continuing this error in judgement. Sue McPherson

Sue McPherson said...

Okay, I think I may have managed to sign in, and then stop following. thanks.

Sue McP

Anonymous said...

NB: David Timoney, it was not the Conservatives who did so well in Scotland in the 1950s- it was the Unionist Party:

jimboo said...

The Unionist party changed its name to the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, were also known as Progressive at local level. Just rebranding.

Gary Elsby said...

I particularly notice point 2.

'Labour is developing a care service......'

The person who designed that 'development' is from Stoke-on-Trent.

The 'development' coming from Labour is a 2014 'development'. No it is not, it is a 2010 development and it didn't originate from Great Britain's top economist or from any other former member of the monetary policy committee.

Any news on millions of new houses Phil?
Any news from the real author?