Promises, promises, promises!
Whilst Tory Central Office has sent out the diktat to keep repeating No to a second indyref, the Labour leadership contest has shown candidates expressing No in a variety of different ways. And if they could indulge in a bit of slagging of Scotland’s government, party of government, education and health service then so much the better, despite them knowing little about Scotland and its politics. It’s highly likely their publicly expressed ignorance merely fuelled the demand for independence in Scotland. Why be ruled by folk who know and care nothing about us?
First up was Jess Phillips, swearing her oath of allegiance to unionism and averring there were no circumstances under which she would allow a second independence referendum for Scotland. Then came Lisa Nandy advocating that Labour should look outwards to other countries where they’ve had to deal with “divisive nationalism…in places like Catalonia”, seeking to discover lessons from when narrow and divisive nationalism had been beaten by a social justice agenda.
The prize for stirring up the greatest response undoubtedly went to Emily Thornberry who, when speaking at a leadership hustings, said: “I hate the SNP. I hate the SNP. I think they’re Tories wrapped up in nationalist clothing.” She was cheered loudly by an audience that was obviously as ignorant about Scotland as she was. The video clip of Thornberry was tweeted repeatedly so reached a wide audience. Possibly the intention. It’s a tactic often used by Trump. Say something outrageous and the press will give it wide coverage. Maybe Thornberry was desperate to boost her failing leadership campaign. The vast majority of those responding on Twitter to her outburst were either appalled or doubled over in laughter, inured to the idiocy displayed by so many politicians on Scottish affairs. Neither Phillips nor Nandy was sending a good message from a party that wants to win back seats in Scotland.
Richard Leonard poked his head above the parapet to give his twopence worth. According to him, Scotland should have Home Rule, a policy Keir Hardie embraced over a century ago but which the Labour Party has yet to embrace or deliver. But what exactly does Leonard mean by Home Rule? What we already have, a little more, a little less? Unlikely to be a radical hike in powers. So let’s hear Leonard spell it out.
On a visit to Glasgow in 2017 Jeremy Corbyn said that if he became Prime Minister his government would look “at all options around devolution”, adding: “Everything is on the table.” Well it appears the table collapsed and was chucked onto the rubbish tip as Corbyn has been mainly tight-lipped on the issue and along with his party has voted against protections for Scotland, either backing the Tories or abstaining.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, the candidate said to be the Corbyn continuity candidate, has said about a second indyref: “I don’t think it would be democratically right for us to block that.” So at least one of Labour’s leadership candidates expressed a belief in democracy. She favours further devolution to apparently put Scottish and UK parliaments on a more “equal footing” (back to the union of equals theme!). Unfortunately Long-Bailey hasn’t elaborated on how this equalisation would be achieved and what additional powers would be devolved, or indeed whether the powers stripped from the Scottish Parliament under the EU Withdrawal Act would be returned.
Labour’s fifth leadership candidate and the one probably destined to win, Keir Starmer, has decided to opt for federalism. He wants Scotland to stay in a federal UK. “We need more powers to come to Scotland. We need a federal arrangement so that Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom.” This he sees as a UK wide plan because it involves powers in Wales, and he believes “there’s a strong case for our regions to have more powers as well.”
Given that the UK has fought a lengthy campaign to leave the EU, based on taking back control, it seems highly unlikely to relinquish any of that control in order to have a federal UK. In the run-up to 2014 there was much talk of federalism and it was clear England was not in favour. Apparently it would dilute their feeling of Englishness. This was particularly true when the issue of creating regional English parliaments was raised. Given all the rhetoric during the Brexit campaign it is highly unlikely attitudes have shifted in favour of a federal solution.
Despite this, Starmer has decided to follow the Brown route which doesn’t give him much credence on the issue. Brown in 2014 promised if Scotland voted No it would be within a UK federal state within two years, with Holyrood having equal status to Westminster. Aye right! Look how that turned out. Brown, then as now, was not in power and was unable, like Starmer today, to promise anything. Of course, that didn’t stop the Vow. And when it came to the Smith Commission Labour refused to budge on further powers for Scotland. Those who believed the promises five years ago are wiser and more savvy now.
In Scotland, those who would have opted happily in 2014 for federalism or devomax have now moved on, seeing it as too little, too late. It now has to be independence. Labour are way behind the curve. A federal system won’t provide the immigration Scotland needs to staff its businesses and public services, and it would have been unlikely to prevent Scotland being taken out of the EU, and according to the latest YouGov opinion poll support for remaining in the EU in Scotland has now risen to 73%.