Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Nice try, Ed, but here's why independence would be a boost for progressivism beyond the borders of Scotland

We can safely assume that when the referendum campaign gets underway properly, Labour will revert to their familiar comfort zone of fear-mongering. But for the time being, Ed Miliband is experimenting with some rather more high-minded rhetoric about Scotland and the rest of the UK standing together to achieve social justice. Well, that would be simply marvellous, Ed, but for one small problem - it doesn't actually work. The last authentically left-of-centre government at UK level was the Callaghan government in 1979. Since then, Labour have only succeeded in winning elections by having a leader who brazenly claimed that the rising wealth gap between the rich and the poor didn't matter. With every other Labour leader, it's been Tory victories all the way. Why else do Miliband and Balls feel compelled to tack right at present?

In reality, independence would be a boon for progressive politics both at home and further afield, for the following reasons -

1) A progressive government in Scotland would take control of the welfare and tax systems.

2) This huge advance would happen while making a negligible impact on the chances of what might laughably be called "progressive forces" gaining power in the rest of the UK. Contrary to the mythology, Labour would have secured nearly all of their post-war election victories with or without Scotland. The outcomes of the 1997, 2001 and 2005 elections would have been the same.

3) Scotland's direct votes in the European Union institutions would mean that the progressive voting bloc would increase, and the conservative voting bloc (of which the UK has been a loyal part under both Tory and New Labour governments alike) would slightly decrease. This would be of benefit to under-privileged people in Liverpool or London (or Lisbon for that matter) every bit as much as to under-privileged people in Glasgow.

4) The overseas aid contribution of what is currently the UK would probably increase, due to the likelihood of a higher per capita aid budget being put in place by an independent Scottish government.

The latter point is especially important, because by praying in aid the need for social justice but only within this small island, Miliband betrays the narrowness of his own British nationalism. If he thinks that you can only be called progressive if you believe in North Sea oil revenues being shared across Britain (where of course its main effect has been to bankroll Thatcherism), how exactly can you be called a progressive if you don't support North Sea oil revenues being shared across Europe, or indeed the entire world? His argument can only have any credibility if he ditches his British nationalism and supports a single European or world state - which unsurprisingly he shows no sign of doing.

In a world of nation states, lines are drawn around people who say "these are our own resources, which we primarily use to benefit our own country". Alex Salmond, Ed Miliband and David Cameron all believe in that world. The philosophy is identical - except of course that Alex Salmond believes in a much fairer distribution of income at home, and a much more generous engagement with the wider world. As the great R B Cunninghame Graham (the UK's first socialist member of parliament and a founding member of the SNP) once said : "without nationalism, there can be no internationalism". I'd go one step further, and say that without progressive nationalism, there can be no progressive internationalism. It's a fundamental building-block - but unfortunately the British nationalism exhibited by the unionist parties at present is broadly regressive in nature.

The alternative is obvious.


  1. I'm not sure why, but I actually find Ed Miliband's little intervention even more insulting than David Cameron's. How dare this idiot, who is spearheading the demise of any semblance of a progressive alternative in English mainstream politics, come up here and lecture US on progressiveness when HE is the one who says "oooh, the government should be cutting slightly less than it is, and we'd charge slightly less for tuition fees."

    Labour are just lightweight Tories. There is not a progressive bone in this moron's body, and everything about him just screams out "I AM A DORK!!!!"

    He probably still tucks his shirt into his pants...

  2. That's a thought I'd rather not entertain, Doug.

    I laughed out loud when I read what Miliband wrote over at Labour Hame (yes, Admin must be back in favour after the little faux pas).

    You can't take anything said by the leadership of the UK Labour party about progressive politics seriously when they presided over such a huge increase in the gap between rich and poor in the years of their government.

    I wondered if if was some sort of spoof. But no. He seems oblivious to the irony of it all. He possibly even believes that his policies are progressive.

  3. James,

    “His argument can only have any credibility if he ditches his British nationalism and supports a single European or world state”.

    This is bang on the money. One of the many things that unites the Labour-Tory coalition at Westminster is that for generations their parties and politicians have prided themselves on defending and advancing Britain’s ‘national’ interest. The British Labour-Tory coalition are united in their opposition not just to a European state but even to more modest measures like the European single currency (long before the present crisis), EU fiscal harmony, the European Social Model and so on.

    It was Gordon Brown who, as chancellor, used to boast in his talks to the Royal Services Institute, about how much extra resources he’d provided to protect ‘Britain’s’ borders. Each of the five tests that Brown and the UK Treasury used to assess whether Britain should join the European single currency were all based on nationalist arguments, that is, were they in ‘Britain’s national interest’. A similar tale can be told about the Tories. The only minor difference between Labour and the Tories on this issue is that Labour has worked out that if they are publicly seen to be slightly less Eurosceptic than the Tories then they can increase the discomfort of the Tories on the European issue at Westminster. But even this is done for narrow domestic political purposes.

    The current line of Labour, that people in Glasgow, or wherever, have just as much in common with people in Liverpool or Birmingham as they do with people in Aberdeen or Dundee, only betrays Labour’s narrow British nationalism. The comparatives used are always English ones. In truth, people in Glasgow and Dundee have just as much, if not more, in common with people in Dublin or Donegal or Copenhagen or Amsterdam. And let’s be blunt, most people in Glasgow and Aberdeen couldn’t even locate Liverpool or Birmingham on a map (and vice versa) and they’d probably struggle to understand each other’s accents, on the rare occasions that they encounter each other fact-to-face.

    We also need to fully translate this ‘Scottish’ Labour mantra that ‘We’re stronger together, weaker apart’. What ‘Scottish’ Labour is really saying here is that ‘We’re stronger together with a Tory government at Westminster, weaker apart’. Now ‘Scottish’ Labour is entitled to tell us this, of course but, as we know, this isn’t what they tell us on the doorsteps at elections. When they’re looking for votes at elections, what they tell us is that the Tories are terrible, that Tory policies are not wanted in Scotland and that the only way to keep the terrible Tories out at Westminster is to vote Labour. The growing support for independence would seem to indicate that, at long last, the Scottish people have caught up with the hypocrisy and deception of ‘Scottish’ Labour. I’m just pleased that I’m alive to witness all of this because it’s been a long time coming.