Category Archives: Labour

One Nation Labour and what it means for a No vote

Ed Miliband with banner
Originally uploaded by net_efekt

Labour used to campaign for Scottish devolution because they thought it would give them a permanent Scottish power base, but they seem to have realised that it has reduced their influence in Scotland instead. Now Ed Miliband has invented One Nation Labour, and these two strands have potentially worrying consequences for Scottish devolution, as noted by Iain Macwhirter:

Certainly, there is no point giving lectures on how Scots can’t “have it all”, which is what the Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, appears to be doing. She wants to take the cake away altogether. She has gone through almost the entire sum of policies achieved under devolution and dismissed them as “SNP bribes”. Tuition fees, prescription charges, free personal care, concessionary bus fares – they’re all part of the “something for nothing” society. But if you strip out these headline measures – most of them of course introduced by Labour – there’s not a lot left to celebrate about the devolution decade.

Is there perhaps a risk that devolution will be abolished in the aftermath of af No vote?

To some extent, I think it would suit the unionist parties to the ground if Scotland became an English region like Yorkshire — abolishing the Scottish Parliament and introducing English law, the English school curriculum, English holidays, the English NHS, tuition fees and so on.

Even many nationalists agree that the status quo isn’t optimal. For instance, two months ago Jock Morrison wrote an interesting article in The Herald in which he argued that Scots have to stop pretending to be separate from England while being part of the same country:

That’s the reality Scots have to face up to. If your country is not on the map, it’s not in the heads of other people. […] We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be part of England […] and expect foreigners to recognise the distinctiveness of Scotland. People around the globe have no interest in getting their heads around ‘Great Britain’, ‘Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ and the ‘United Kingdom’. After all, these are just fancy titles for England, aren’t they?

Commenting on this article, Doug Daniel wrote:

I desperately want Scotland to be independent, but if the rest of Scotland disagrees, then it’s time we faced reality and stopped trying to be this wee pretendy nation. The Better Together campaign tells us we have “the best of both worlds”, suggesting we can have all the advantages of both and avoid the disadvantages, but that’s a very juvenile way of thinking. Is it not time we grew up and decided to accept our responsibilities one way or the other? If we’re not brave enough to stand up on our own as an independent nation, then what right do we have to insist on separate education, law and health systems? If we want the “shelter” that being joined to England supposedly provides, then after 300 years of dragging our heels, is it not time we made a commitment to this “relationship” and formally make Britain a country, rather than a collection of countries?

Almost all Scots I know think of Scotland as a proud nation, and most people here think that devolution should be extended, not rolled back (even if many Scots still think full independence is a step too far at the moment). However, we have to accept the possibility that a No vote will lead to devolution being rolled back instead, especially as that will fit better into One Nation Labour’s narrative.

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.

The Unionists’ plans for an independent Scotland

Scottish Parliament III
Originally uploaded by Graeme Pow

The SNP are often asked to provide detailed plans for what to do after independence — which currency would Scotland use, would there be passport controls, would Scotland be a member of NATO, etc.

To a certain extent that is right and proper – the SNP is the main proponent of independence, so it reasonable to expect that this party will also be able to suggest some answers to these questions.

However, there’s a limit to it.

The day after Scotland votes Yes to independence, the unionist parties will have to stop working to prevent independence and start working to fight Scotland’s corner in the independence talks with the rUK.

Furthermore, the next elections to the Scottish Parliament are due in May 2016, roughly 18 months after the independence referendum. It is entirely possible that the SNP won’t win these elections, and it could therefore quite feasibly be a Labour politician who would be the first prime minister of an independent Scotland, and in this case it would be Labour and not the SNP that would be making many of the crucial decisions about NATO, the currency and the other crucial questions.

In short, I’d like the Unionists to acknowledge that they too need to have a vision about what an independent Scotland should look like, because they might be the ones who’ll have to implement it.

What will the Unionists do after we vote Yes?

Originally uploaded by drgillybean

I think there’s a tendency to ask the SNP to come up with solutions for all questions about how to split up England and Scotland.

However, if we think about the time after the Yes vote, I don’t expect all Scottish Unionists to commit collective harakiri.

What I do expect is that the vast majority of Unionist politicians will pick themselves up and start working to secure an independent Scotland the best possible deal.

To be concrete, I would expect all Scottish members of the UK government – Michael Moore, Danny Alexander, David Mundell etc. – to resign the next day. It’s possible that all Scottish MPs would resign, too, but I find it more likely they’d stay in place in order to help keep a tab on the UK government’s activities.

The next step will be the formation of an independence negotiation team. Of course the negotiations could in theory be handled by the SNP, but it would make better sense to make a united negotiation team with representatives from all the mainstream parties in Scotland, and consisting of not just MSPs but also MPs.

As part of the process of assembling the negotiation team, I expect a lively discussion on the way forward for Scotland. For instance, the other parties might challenge the SNP’s plan to leave NATO. This is what makes the current situation so annoying. Labour, the Tories and the LibDems keep criticising the SNP’s concrete post-independence policies, but they don’t have to tell us what they’d do instead; they just tell us they want to preserve the Union (which is fair enough, of course), but they don’t want to answer what it is they want to do if independence happens anyway.

Anyway, once the independence negotiation team has been formed and the negotiation mandate agreed on, things should proceed quickly. Certain questions need to be resolved before independence, but many other questions can probably be ironed out afterwards, so long as the interim position is clear.

Another article about Scottish independence

I rather liked this article by Dominic Lawson (the former Chancellor’s son and Nigella’s brother). I quote:

One can sense in the remarks of leading Labour Party figures the sort of exasperation expressed by parents of a man in his twenties living at home, who shows no gratitude for the support he is being given. The outsider can see immediately that it would be better for all concerned if the child finally left home, and that their relationship would then be one of mutual respect, rather than resentment.