I am puzzled by the virulence with which Labour folk have thirled themselves to the Union.
To put it another way, I am bemused by their inherent opposition to independence. Oh, there are a few hardy souls who still hold to the notion of an international struggle to create a socialist utopia where the workers have united to defeat the dead hand of capitalism. But even that doesn’t explain it. For one, you wonder what they are doing in the modern Labour party at all and for another, why does a union which was formed 300 years ago for politically and economically expedient reasons, represent the most effective vehicle in the 21st Century for achieving such a goal?
But for the rest of them, those who got with the new Labour project either willingly or with reluctance, why does it matter so much?
In trying to fathom out what’s going on, it pays to follow the clues set out in the utterings of leading protagonists. Every few months, Gordon Brown appears in some grande espace to share his thoughts – deeply thought, of course – on it all. Yet, he is more kailyard than any independence proponent, constantly harking back to olden times when in his mind at any rate, Labour delivered measures to address inequality, poverty and social injustice from its vaunted position of government across the UK.
Then, we have Douglas Alexander’s contributions, which are often thought-provoking. His recurrent thread is that to abandon our friends and family elsewhere on these islands would be a deeply selfish act, ignoring that we share common values and leaving them to the vagaries of an electoral system which threatens them with permanent right wing rule.
And this week, Blair McDougall – on the telly, no less – was adamant that not only would all the Better Together parties bring forward their proposals for more devolution before the vote in 2014, but that Labour’s would “bypass the Scottish Parliament” (his exact words I think) and devolve things like welfare to local communities. His assertion blithely ignored the inconvenient fact that the interim report of Labour’s devolution commission has already stated that it is not for devolving benefits. “Labour has always been the party of the UK welfare state“, that report states, and “Labour is therefore committed to maintaining common pensions and benefits across Britain..”
Ah but, the report then goes on to say, “..we want to look at whether there are any particular areas of social security which relate closely to devolved services, or where there is already scope for variation in different parts of the country (sic), and whether there may be a case for devolution there“.
It all speaks volumes, as does puzzlement among old Labour types at one of the most consistent findings to emerge from polls on voting intentions in the referendum. That Scots would vote yes if they thought they’d be better off in an independent Scotland. And what is the trigger amount? Five hundred pounds.
They are astonished that Scottish people would sell their souls, as one put it, for such a paltry amount. Yet, that actual amount tells its own story. It speaks to how poor the lot of so many Scots families is, that five hundred pounds is considered by many to be a significant sum by which their lives could be changed.
What that figure tells me is that many families in Scotland think being better off by five hundred pounds would transform their households’ economic fortunes. It says that when compared with current earnings and income, being able to add to that by five hundred pounds a year, would make them all feel substantially wealthier.
For many Scots, the fact that this amount is far from paltry is a significant indicator of the extent of poverty and low wages prevalent in Scotland under the current set-up. Far from being puzzled, Labour – in power at Westminster for 13 of the last 16 years, in control at Holyrood for 8 of the 14 years of its existence and ruling in cities like Glasgow, with some of Scotland’s poorest communities, for all 17 of the unitary authority’s years of being – both as a party and across its membership, should be thoroughly ashamed.
Taken together, this breadcrumb trail of ideas, arguments, policy, attitude and approach, speaks volumes. At no point since 2007 when a vote on independence became more of a possibility than a pipe-dream has Labour deployed more than a knee-jerk reaction to the prospect of independence for Scotland.
At no point has the party examined its soul to determine whether independence might be a good thing for Scots and indeed, everyone in the UK. At no point has the party explored its historic roots and values to determine whether independence – as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself – might represent a modern, desirable extension of its commitment to home rule. And at no point has Labour paused to consider whether independence and the fresh start it represents for Scotland might be the best way to fulfil much vaunted values of equality, equity and social justice.
No, what Labour has done, and continues to do, is to treat devolution as its own policy play thing. The fact that politicians like Margaret Curran still proclaim that Labour delivered devolution (ignoring the important role the Scottish people played themselves) reaffirms this. Which is a controlling mindset if ever there was one.
Indeed, Labour’s entire stance in this referendum debate has a base motivation. It is feart – terrified in fact – that independence for Scotland would mean a loss of power and control for it. At its most benign, this political attitude is patriarchal; at its worst, it is utterly selfish and self-seeking.
Think of it this way: is Labour’s concern for Scots mirrored in constituent parts of England which have for decades voted Conservative? Do they use conference speeches and media platforms to warn, cajole and frighten the people who live in such safe seats on the consequences of their voting behaviour? Or have they just written those seats off, by and large, as unforgiving and therefore, no longer important electoral territory?
The question all the undecideds and persuadables in this debate might want to consider is why Labour is adamant that independence would be bad for Scotland. Is it because it would be bad for everyone who lives here, our communities and country?
Or is the answer much more prosaic – is it that an independent Scotland is bad, because it is bad for Labour’s electoral ambitions?
The reason – the real reason – Labour want us to vote no in 2014, is so that we vote Labour in 2015.
It needs Scotland’s votes if it is to have any chance of winning that election and forming the next UK government.
So, its promises of jam tomorrow are really an election bribe and the timing of their announcement will highlight that. In wanting to bypass the Scottish Parliament in channelling more powers, the party demonstrates its contempt: devolution is not an ingrained commitment to democratic renewal and community empowerment. It paints Scotland as too wee and too poor to be economically successful to try and counter the lure of improved economic well-being. We might even be treated to a bidding war over this five hundred pounds figure in the months ahead.
Labour is making this debate on our future all about them and not about us at all. And in doing so, shows why if we want a different politics, where power is vested in the people and not the parties, then we need to vote yes.