What is Lamont doing to Scottish Labour?

If you’ve been hiding under a stone, you might have missed Johann Lamont’s recent speech. Amongst other things, she said:

A council tax freeze, for example, costs. It’s cheap to say, but expensive to fund. And if you don’t fund it properly, and John Swinney isn’t funding this one, I’ll tell you what it costs. In North Lanarkshire alone, another 1400 jobs at risk. […] That is potentially 1400 incomes taken out of the economy. When the Scottish economy desperately needs a stimulus, that is 1400 people spending less, supporting fewer jobs, buying fewer goods and services.


This is the stark choice that Scotland has to face up to: if we wish to continue some policies as they are then they come with a cost which has to be paid for either through increased taxation, direct charges or cuts elsewhere.

Because she’s a committed unionist, increased taxation is not the way she wants to go (it would increase, not decrease, Scottish exceptionality), and she’s just condemned the cuts. She’s therefore left with direct charges — she wants to abolish free care and bus travel for the elderly, introduce tuition fees and prescription charges and end the council tax freeze.

In other words, she’s abolishing Scottish Labour’s commitment to universality, which is strange, given that Labour in the UK and in Wales are still in favour of universal benefits.

Abolishing universal services is a slippery slope, as pointed out by George Eaton in New Statesman:

[U]niversal public services, to which all contribute and from which all benefit, are the essence of social democracy. Once this principle is abandoned, greater cuts will inevitably follow as the rich, no longer receiving, have less incentive to give (you could call it “nothing for something”). For this reason, as Richard Titmuss sagely observed, “services for the poor will always be poor services”.

There are different analyses of her motives.

My first reaction was that she’s trying to secure the votes of public sector workers, especially in local councils and in the NHS, who are fearful of their jobs and would rather that everybody else paid more in order to secure their jobs and generous pensions.

The Herald thinks the new direction is a consequence of the independence referendum, quoting Professor James Mitchell: “Labour is in a difficult place – it must either align itself with policies from south of the Border in order to emphasise its Unionism or with the SNP and its own previous policies but thus undermine the Union.”

The best analysis I’ve seen was probably this one by Robin McAlpine in an article for the Jimmy Reid Foundation (do read the whole thing!):

I tried to think who in Labour would like this. I concluded that Westminster Labour would be very happy. So local-government-Labour will like it and Westminster-Labour would like it. And that is two thirds of Scottish Labour’s warring factions. If – and it seems a big if to me – Scottish-Parliament-Labour can be persuaded that this is good for them, it solves Ms Lamont’s short-term problems, uniting the three warring factions of her Party.


Lamont wants to unite Labour by cancelling devolution. That’s the only way I can read this. She has systematically gone through every area where the Scottish Parliament (largely through the actions of Labour itself) has differentiated itself from Westminster politics and she has abolished the differentiator. The big selling point of devolution was Scottish solutions to Scottish problems. Scotland’s biggest problem has been that it really likes a strong welfare state and adheres to the principle of universalism. It has voted this way over and over. Yesterday it seems that Lamont called time on this experiment. She has signalled her intention to pull the party in line with the UK Party, means testing everything, breaking down universalism, championing fiscal conservatism.


It is like she has absorbed so much ‘Better Together’ rhetoric that it is now her defining belief in politics, that Scotland must be pulled into Britain, that Labour must become first-and-foremost unionist.

It is a retreat into two comfort zones from different decades. From the late-1990s she takes Blairism which was superficially effective (although not in Scotland). From the 1980s she takes a model in which the real power of Labour is held in two places – Westminster and local government. Both are fantastical memories of times past, neither seem to me to offer a way forward.

Much as this strategy might appeal to Labour apparatchiks and many of their core voters, I simply can’t see how it will help them win either the referendum on Scottish independence or the next elections to the Scottish Parliament.

International support for Scottish independence

The March and Rally for Independence in Edinburgh last Saturday was full of people from all over Europe supporting Scotland’s quest for independence: There were fifty Flemings, a large group of Venetians, and smaller groups of people from Catalonia, the Basque Country and Padania (North Italy).

However, there were no Danes (apart from me and my daughters, I presume), no Estonians, no Croats.

In other words, the international supporters were all from other non-sovereign nations seeking their independence, not from countries that are already internationally recognised independent states, even if that independence was only achieved within the past twenty years.

I guess it’s natural — Scotland, Euskadi (the Basque Country), Catalonia and Flanders all face similar obstacles, and they can help each other overcome them.

However, it’s a bit of a shame that the sovereign countries don’t want to get involved.

In the case of the neighbouring countries, such as Ireland, Iceland, Norway and Denmark, the emergence of an independent Scotland would have a significant impact on their world, and they might well find Scotland easier to work with than the current UK, so it could be in their interest to support the Scottish independence movement.

In the case of the countries that gained their freedom within the last couple of decades, they must have gained a lot of experience in the process, experience which could benefit us in Scotland.

I suppose sovereign countries will get in trouble if they support other countries’ independence movements openly. However, I don’t believe there’s anything that would prevent private citizens in other countries from forming groups to support Scottish independence.

Perhaps I should simply start up Danes for Scottish Independence on Facebook?

Will the Scottish-English border look like this?

There’s an article on Yes Scotland’s website today about border controls in Scandinavia (or rather the lack thereof).

At first I thought it was a rather pointless article, given that the absence of actual border controls is the norm in most of Europe these days.

However, as the article points out, “for those who travel infrequently, or who usually fly rather than make land crossings, the concept of moving between neighbouring countries without having to show any form of identification, or even stopping at the border, can be hard to envisage.”

So to illustrate how easy it is to cross a national border in the EU at the moment, I’ve found a small video on YouTube showing how to drive from Germany into Denmark:

Will the Scottish-English border look like this after 2014?

The wave of new countries 2012-17

Originally uploaded by Assemblea.cat

Just as very few people in 1988 expected that during the following five years Germany would be reunified and the USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia would break up, very few people at the moment expect that we might in just five years’ time live in a world in which Quebec, Catalonia, Scotland, Flanders, the Basque Country and several others are independent, sovereign countries.

However, history might again happen in one rapid wave.

I guess it all started when the SNP gained an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament last year. However, the wave gained strength when David Cameron in January 2012 decided to allow a referendum on Scottish independence. Of course the SNP would have held a referendum anyway, but Cameron in this was legitimised the process in the eyes of the international community, and it strongly inspired independence movements elsewhere.

On the 4th of September 2012, the Parti Québécois became the largest party in Quebec and declared its desire to hold a new referendum on independence.

On the 9th of September 2012, more than 1,500,000 Catalans marched through Barcelona in favour of Catalan independence, and already the Catalan politicans have started to talk openly about independence.

On 21st October 2012 elections will place in the Basque Country, and as far as I know there’s a good chance pro-independence parties will gain a majority there.

What else will happen now? It’s clear the independence movements in various countries are talking to each other, and as soon as the first EU region manages to become an EU member state in its own right, the process will accelerate, because the fear of being chucked out of the EU is one of the major arguments against independence.

We live in interesting times, and I’m proud to be a member of the SNP, the party that started the wave.