Why Labour wants us to vote no

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.



19 thoughts on “Why Labour wants us to vote no

  1. “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.”

    There is another way to look at it. Labour are a British party not a Scottish one, and as to be expected with the population imbalance between Scotland and England, the membership is overwhelmingly in England and the leadership is overwhelmingly English. Members in Scotland take their lead from the party leadership and independence for Scotland is definitely not the aim of the British Labour party.

    I can’t speak for the ordinary Labour voter but I suspect that there has been a loose filtering process going on for decades in terms of party membership within Scotland. Those who believe in independence for Scotland have joined the SNP and those who believe in the Union have joined Labour to the point where Labour have replaced the Tories in Scotland as the party of British patriotism and British nationalism.

    Labour is also an integral part of the British establishment and independence for Scotland would also cut off the upper echelons of the party in Scotland from their career nirvana of a title, ermine collar, £300 a day expenses and a flunkey serving tea in the House of Lords.

    I’m always puzzled about the argument that independence for Scotland would condemn England to an undemocratic right wing hell. After Scottish independence England will remain a democracy and the seat boundaries in England still favour Labour rather than the Conservatives. Even though Scotland has had very little impact on the result of pretty much every General Election so far Labour still make the argument that Scotland should be used to ensure that England doesn’t get the government it votes for.

  2. A post referendum question.
    Why do some in the nationalist camp say that in the event of a YES vote the SNP will cease to be and old Labour types like me can go back to voting Labour.
    Will Labour in Scotland suddenly become left-wing in the event of a YES vote?
    Seriously, why would anybody vote for this bunch of right-wingers, now or in the future.
    Will the new Labourites leave the party?

  3. Pingback: We all have personal battles we have to fight and win so let’s find jewels in the dust as we search for tomorrow’s rainbows – Scottish Roundup

  4. The solidarity argument of leaving behind our friends and neighbours in other parts of the UK is a ruse. Only Scottish Labour invoke this guilt trip to play on the minds of those who propose self-determination for Scotland. It’s a lazy option by Labour rather than do the hard work they should and actually re-engage with voters in marginal constituencies in England. Huge numbers of the English electorate – especially the young and the poor – don’t even vote so why don’t UK Labour make that a priority – to win back their working class vote lost under New Labour – rather than wrecking Scottish aspirations for perceived political gain.

  5. Psychologically, Labour’s loyalty to the union is, indeed, bizarre. I am old enough to remember when they created the Labour fiefdom of Strathclyde, containing half of Scotland, as ‘local government’ to stymie a national parliament. They now appear to have backed themselves into a corner, similar to that of the white South Africans prior to the downfall of apartheid, where they must defend their position…well, just because it is their position. Iain Macwhirter wrote some time ago that he knew of noone who had joined the Labour party because they were a unionist as most had joined originally for some kind of social justice. The older ones seem to detest the SNP as a party simply because they have broken the Politburo’s hold on the Central belt. What younger people are doing there is a bigger puzzle.

  6. Psychologically, Labour’s loyalty to the union is, indeed, bizarre.

  7. Your argument is reinforced by the words of Margaret Curran on Radio Scotland this morning and the message from Brighton. Now open admitting their concern is the future of Labour not the future of Scotland.

    A factor that is overlooked in the discussion around ‘Labour needs Scottish votes to save England from the Tories’ is the impact of a Yes vote. Losing Scotland would be seriously damaging to the chances of the Tories being re-elected in 2015 (with or without a partner). Their competence is already being seriously questioned and this would undoubtedly finish them off for 2015.

    Beyond 2015, with UKIP hovering on the side and the Tories unable to deliver an in/out Euro referendum there would undoubtedly be a significant split on the right in England. Labour could take advantage of that opportunity to rebuild and reform. This would be a win-win for Scots and for voters in rUK.

  8. Reblogged this on davidsberry and commented:
    Johann Lamont’s Brighton speech welcomes the ‘defeat of independence’ next year so that ‘the Labour Party will not be broken up’. But The Burd goes behind that grandstanding to get at the truth.

  9. Pingback: Why Labour wants us to vote no | Referendum 201...

  10. The fact is there is a widening rift in Scottish Labour which is the growing support of Scottish Labour for Indy. Sooner or later, the chiefs will have to acknowledge the braves are restless and want to be heard, the chiefs should listen well, or perhaps they’ll find they’re playing the part of Custer. Perhaps a bad analogy, instead of a ‘last stand’ I suspect Lamont and co would be bolting for a convenient rabbit hole.

    Fine article btw 🙂

  11. I disagree that Labour needs Scottish votes in order to win the 2015 election, or any other one. Of all the elections since WW2, only the last one hung in such a way that if one were to remove the Scottish MP’s, the result would have been different.


  12. Good post Kate.

    Im not convinced their reasoning is as developed as this. At UK level, they certainly dont want to lose Scotland but neither know or have the capability of mounting a serious campaign against the independence movement.. especially while they devote the majority of their time trying to out-fox the Tories and Lib-Dems. Both facts underline your central point – Scotland has it uses, none of which go far beyond psephology. Claims of principled solidarity with England, Wales and Northern Ireland are utter b*llocks.

    As such, they have no option but to defer to their Scottish colleagues. In part, every bit as entrenched, stubborn and hard of thinking as some so cybernats they rightly criticise, but there are pockets of Scottish Labour who are intelligent, principled and A-class public servants. It is hard to watch the likes of Kezia Dugdale and Malcolm Chisholm, both of whom I highly respect, allow themselves to become every bit as entrenched as their party and even regurgitate some of the cannon-fodder that really should be beyond them. I suspect there’s a crisis of confidence within the Labour Party and some members have traded so many blows with nationalists and cybernats, that they’ve cornered themselves in a way where it’s hard to stop fighting back and question whether they should be fighting at all.

    For too long now, Labour have looked at the world though the Scottish nationalist prism and have forgotten how to think for themselves. Johann’s speech at conference underlined this point exactly. They are still stuck in a post-2007 wasteland and they’ve hardly moved forward at all.

  13. I’m not. It show the classic signs of an identity crisis. As Scots we used to vote for Labour to keep the Thatcherite dragon at bay (the “feable 50” anyone), hey they even sucessfully deamonized the political right in Scotland. Yet when the London party moved to the UK centre ground and adopted Thatcherite policies (PFI, privatization, Laziz Faire economics), there was a certain uncomfortableness that crept in. Even more so when “Scottish” Labour adopted these policies, especially under McConnell.

    Since 2007, “Scottish” Labour have shown all the signs of not knowing what they stand for and not knowing who they should represent. It’s as if they’ve never come to terms with the Scottish electorate rejecting them at the Holyrood ballotbox (of course we Scot’s still vote en masse for “Scottish” Labour at Westminster Elections – something the SNP have never quite worked out how to do well in). The only thing that they know is the old hatred born on the 28 March 1979…

  14. I think Margaret Curran’s been reading your blog!

  15. A nice insight of some realities.I think what motivates The Labour party is complex,they see themselves as the new aristocracy,and we must vote for them as its their right.The idea of devolution was conceived before modern Labour was thought of,and even the original Labour party was thought of,could be said that from the day that the signing of the unification of our parliaments the citizens decided they wanted power back,and I am one of those citizens.I do believe that the EU also had an input towards our devolution,but a mouth that shouts cant listen.I gave the blog 5* and believe it merits them,as do the above comments.I have never voted Labour and never would,several reasons,never could as I have watched the Labour party stab the worker in the back far too often,climbed on our backs and raised themselves to the middle(upper?) class,and only want us serfs to do as they in their perceived(self) wisdom tell us to do and believe only their diktat.My opinion can change with circumstances and sometimes I have to admit I’m wrong Labour cant as far as I can see.

  16. The idea that the union must continue to protect people in england and wales is wrong. A large number in areas of england have chosen to vote ukip and we know what their policies stand for .our priority must be to convince left leaning voters here that a better life is possible with independence

  17. well said Kate and I can only hope that the traditional labour voters are beginning to see through the deceit of the labour party. How refreshing it was yesterday at the indy rally to hear the likes of Allan Grogan speak with real sincerity. I am not a labour voter, but the likes of Allan gives me some hope that next year we will vote a resounding yes.

  18. I suppose to a certain extent you expect the old guard to tow the party line but I’m hoping that there are some younger more forward thinking members of Scottish Labour out there who in the event of a yes vote would see opportunities. Surely they can recognise that at heart a lot of Scots would love a Scottish Labour Party to see a new lease of life and take Scotland forward positively with policies more akin to a new, forward thinking, economically astute but caring Scotland without the shackles of government in London!
    For me though I need to actual solid information before being able to decide if I think an independent Scotland would be better for me, not just this political tit for tat that we’ve been getting.

  19. This is a question that has me bewildered. I don’t think it is simply out of UK electoral calculation. The deeper reason is that they continue to hold on to a romantic, emotional and idealized image of what the UK used to be. A UK that no longer exists in reality. Labour also seem to have found it impossible to come to terms both emotionally and intellectually with the rise of the SNP and its challenge to their authority within Scotland. Most Labour people simply equate independence with the SNP and this has unfortunately led them to close their minds. All very sad.

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