Monday, March 9, 2015

Could Scottish Labour embrace independence?

There's a fascinating piece of speculation on Eric Joyce's blog today that a post-apocalypse Scottish Labour might reinvent itself as a proper Scottish party separate from the London organisation, and then perform the ultimate act of triangulation by embracing independence and actively campaigning for it.  At first glance, the idea seems totally ludicrous, but I must admit it's occurred to me before in an idle sort of way.  It's become abundantly clear since Jim Murphy took the reins that he and his acolytes believe in absolutely nothing (other than nuclear weapons), and are prepared to reverse almost every policy if they think it will help them win back the ex-Labour Yes voters they need to limit their losses in May and beyond.  The obvious eventual destination of that process is to adopt the policy those voters feel most passionately about, ie. independence itself.

The historical precedent that suggests this might just happen can be found in the late 1980s.  Labour astonished themselves by adopting soft nationalist language about popular sovereignty, and committing themselves to a devolution package that was much more radical than they had put forward when actually in government a decade earlier.  Why did they do it?  Partly it was triangulation - the Govan by-election demonstrated there was a huge threat on their left flank unless they could nick the SNP's clothes.  But an equally important reason was that faith in the normal electoral pendulum was starting to crumble - the Thatcher government seemed utterly entrenched, and it began to look as if the only way Scottish Labour politicians could ever hope to enjoy real power again would be if they challenged the Tories' legitimacy in ruling Scotland on a small minority of the vote.

You can see how a similar perfect storm might be brewing now.  If a Tory-led government is re-elected in May, and if the Scottish Labour contingent at Westminster is largely wiped out, Holyrood would for the foreseeable future be left as the only realistic avenue for aspiring (or current) Labour career politicians.  If a breathtaking gesture for the benefit of Yes voters was the only way of getting the party back in the game at Holyrood, that might just begin to look like an attractive option.  It would have the potential of reuniting the old Labour coalition, because left-wing anti-independence voters who truly believe in the Dunc Dinctum guff about "UK solidarity" would have nowhere else to go - much as the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Benn had nowhere else to go in the 1990s.  It would be an immensely satisfying example of Blairite triangulation in reverse.

The snag is that there's a third component of the Labour coalition, which hasn't actually deserted the party yet - namely centrist, affluent, anti-independence voters.  Those people do have somewhere else to go, because they could vote Tory or Lib Dem.  So I suspect that, no matter how bleak things look for Labour after May, the most we can hope to see from them is some kind of fudge.  They might embrace something much closer to Devo Max, or they might commit to another referendum in a few years' time, and promise their membership a "free vote" next time around - as Harold Wilson did in the Common Market referendum of 1975.

40 comments:

  1. If there was to be a proper Scottish labour party they should have gone on the yes side over a third of scottish labour voters voted yes that is why the snp has a surge in the polls scottish labour voters are leaving the party in thousands each week labour are finished in scotland

    ReplyDelete
  2. Alternatively that slot may be taken by a realignment on the left following along Podemos lines that is currently under consideration by those involved in the Scottish Left Project.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe, but I doubt if there's enough space left for an entirely new force of that sort in Scottish politics (or at least not for as long as Nicola Sturgeon is SNP leader).

      Delete
  3. I'd say the best option for Scottish Labour should they be heavily defeated would be to formally separate from the UK party and establish a sister party instead (whose elected members would not take the UK Labour whip but would form a 'bloc' with it at Westminster). This will enable the party to get out of the trap of having to have every major policy announcement approved by London and judged on the terms of London's political strategies. Such a separate party could retain its support for the Union. Though splitting up Labour would arguably weaken the Union, you could also argue that (by allowing for a separate expression of Labour identity within a federalist union framework) such a move might even strengthen it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. SqueuedPerspextiveMarch 10, 2015 at 3:50 AM

    Interesting ideas. It presumably is highly dependent on how quickly things unfold and how substantial the labour losses turn out to be. If losses are as you suggest not devastating, I agree with the idea that labour is going to be more pro home rule. If their is a single digit return then I think the brand is tainted and can only be revived from something perceived as outside uk labour, perhaps the rise of labour for Indy.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The people who have stayed with London Labour are probably not of a mindset to move at all. How would they transfer the folk from the British Labour Party onto their books? That might be a bit difficult, especially if London Labour fights the move.

    How would they attract SNP voting ex-Labourites back? Any association, no matter how slight will taint them. I just don't see that working at all.




    ReplyDelete
  6. For that kind of transformation it would require the dinosaurs like Davidson, Curran etc to be gone and I just can't see that how many opportunists are in the Scottish Branch of Labour. They just won't give up their chance of London.

    Bruce

    ReplyDelete
  7. Labour were seen during the referendum and subsequent Smith fudge as being the major obstacle to powers being devolved to Scotland.
    In standing with the Tories during the referendum,they broke faith with the working class and regaining that trust will take a very long time,if ever.
    I think that smaller left of centre parties will have representation at Holyrood in future but the bed rock of centre left support will remain with the SNP.
    Labour are finished in Scotland other than as a home for Middle class voters who cannot quite bring themselves to vote Tory and in that respect,they have become a very English political party.
    They have triangulated themselves out of political life in Scotland.

    ReplyDelete
  8. YouGov sub-sample: SNP 46, Lab 26, Con 17, Others <5. Ho-hum.

    http://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/vjvvqxw2dn/YG-Archive-Pol-Sun-results-090315.pdf

    I see that BBC Scotland are punting an immigration poll by YouGov, conducted between last Wednesday and Friday. No tables released yet; I wonder if there is a VI part to the poll to be released by a newspaper?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Will be interesting to see if they've asked Scots about immigration to Scotland or to the UK as a whole; Scots being bombarded all the time with news that there's apparently a problem with immigration down south.

      Delete
    2. The prospect of sending more than a few scottish SNP MPs down south to westminster is filling the establishment newspapers and media with even more hatred and bile than the racists usually reserve for Romanian immigrants.

      Can't see that going down to well with the scottish public after all the lies about us being Better Together.

      Delete
  9. The Labour party in Scotland will never support independence because the Labour party as we knew it no longer exists. It was hijacked by the red tories many years ago. It will morph into something resembling the LibDems, attracting old, middle-class, left(ish) unionist voters who will soon have nowhere else to go. Since 2007, the old left-right struggle has gradually given way to a unionist- independence struggle, and, despite the best efforts of the establishment and their media friends, this will continue to be the issue in Scotland until independence is achieved. Left and right won't matter so much now - traditional dividing lines will become blurred. It will be Labour for the union and SNP for independence.

    ReplyDelete
  10. When a party doesn't seem to actually believe in anything except gaining power, if is difficult to predict what it will do.

    Margaret Curran, right after the referendum, declared that Scottish Labour was moving to the left. Indeed she threatened to tour the YES voting Labour areas of the country to tell them just how red and socialist their policies would be. A return to the Labour party she joined 40 years ago, she promised. (I don;t remember whether she actually made the tour or not.)

    The very next thing she did was to vote for Jim Murphy, who seems to me to be on the right flank of the Blairites in the Labour Party.

    It seemed to me to be madness to elect him, even if he was a more polished performer than Neil Findlay, given the apparent acceptance of the leadership that they needed to move to the left to recapture "Glasgow man's" confidence.

    I'd have said that the natural position for Labour should be independence, with Scandinavian political leanings, in a social democratic Scotland , but we must remember that a fair proportion of the present leadership see politics as a career, not a vocation, and imagine themselves as potential world statesmen posing on the terrace of the White House Rose Garden.

    That's not going to happen in an independent Scotland.

    ReplyDelete
  11. If Labour or the Daily Record support independence, then you know it will be inevitable. I think they would prefer to die out though.

    (On the issue of Labour voters being right-wing, my naturally Tory wife votes Labour. She votes Labour to keep the SNP out, but Labour is also a comfortable option for Tories in Scotland. I wonder how many other Labour (or Lib Dem)-voting Scottish Tory unionists there are like her out there.)

    ReplyDelete
  12. For the foreseeable future Labour in Scotland will follow their masters' lead at Westminster. Labour's official manifesto clearly states Labour's support for Trident renewal. As far as I'm aware there has been no great argument from Labour in Scotland. Likewise Labour support for Tory welfare cuts.
    If the dinosaurs in Labour who voted for Murphy are ousted in May [please!] then it could open the door for grassroots Labour supporters in Scotland to come forward with anti-Trident and anti-austerity measures. None of that will happen if Curran, Murphy and Davidson etc survive the May election.

    ReplyDelete
  13. From James Coleman
    It's the only way LAB has a chance of surviving in Scotland. I tweeted and posted this in Guardian last week.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Correct.

    They will have no voice if they are wiped out in Scotland. If they continue as before then Labour will just disappear in Scotland. Their only hope is embracing Scotland and independence.

    However I think it will be irrelevent if Labour disappear in Scotland , post a wipe out. The few good people will find other things to do and join other movements. Labour will be a bit like UKIP in Scotland. A few eejits will vote for them but they will be seen as an English party.

    The movement towards independence ,will make them more irrelevent as the SNP will have replaced them as the peoples voice. Geting Labour into Westminster wont matter as we drive to independence.

    I sense the end will come rather quickly for Labour in Scotland. We don't want them,need them and they betrayed Scotland time and time again. Good riddance.

    ReplyDelete
  15. The reports of this new registration of "Scottish Labour Party" as a trademark was attributed to Camelon Labour Club. Where is Eric Joyce home support base? I know he is Falkirk but specifically which Branch/Club.

    Could this be nothing to do with helping Labour but so Joyce can control their trademark and prevent them going down this route, thus ensuring their complete destruction?

    ReplyDelete
  16. The only way that Labour would consider supporting independence in an official way would be if they are almost or completely wiped out in May. As has been stated above, and by people such as Robin McAlpine, Scottish Labour are the real barrier in delivering real change in Scotland. You only need to look at their behaviour during and after the referendum to see the truth in this.

    A second factor is also vitally important. The careerists in Scottish Labour would need to realise that they will not be able to hold high office again in London. They need to be cut off from the chance to make a name for themselves at Westminster. That is why Alastair Darling, Gordon Brown etc were so pissed off with the Tories, after the referendum when they brought out their EVEL policy. These individuals were never interested in Scotland much, only that it remained as one of the main support bases for British Labour. With EVEL they can see the writing on the wall for the Proud Scots but brigade down in London.

    So with a rout of SLAB MPs, and a dilution of the importance and status of Scottish MPs at Westminster, you have the basis for the possibility of a significant policy shift in regards the constitutional question, in what remains of Scottish Labour.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I suspect Scottish Labour would support maximum devolution (Devo max) before supporting independence. However, they would have been pushed into it, so I cannot really see how it would look good to the electorate in Scotland. Either position would be a very hard sell for them, after their diehard unionism since the SNP came onto the scene in a meaningful way here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, but it would be on a par with the wholesale policy reversals that they implemented between 1983 and the mid-90s, and the trigger would be exactly the same, ie. electoral catastrophe.

      Delete
  18. It doesn't really matter to them if Scottish Labour MPs get kicked out in May. They'll still be allowed into the subsidised bars and restaurants in Westminster, and we'll still be paying their pensions until we all drop dead. That's what voting for the establishment last September means, dear No voter.
    And there's always a chance some of them will achieve getting their fat backsides onto the red benches of the House of The Living Dead, although we are currently paying for over 800 of them to indulge in attendance allowance, travel expenses, pensions and free champagne. Dame Magrit Curran anybody?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Most members of the House of Lords aren't appointed until the latter part of their careers, though. For the average ambitious young Labour careerist, the most promising unelected option would be special adviser to a minister - but if Labour are frozen out at both Westminster and Holyrood, that's taken away from them.

      Delete
    2. Do you think Labour politicians such as John Smith, Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, George Robertson, John Reid etc would have been against independence if they knew they could not be PM, Chancellor, Defence minister, FO minister? I don't.

      Delete
  19. The latter part of their careers? I think Labour has successfully curtailed their MPs' careers to the extent that the HoL will be full to bursting point with 30somethings after May. It doesn't really matter what particular drain (on public resources) they decide to fall into after May, they will still be financed by the Scottish taxpayer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've just checked, and there are currently only two members of the House of Lords under the age of 40. I'm surprised it's that many, to be honest!

      Delete
  20. Labour support independence? Why would they / should they? The majority of Scots voted against independence. The majority of labourites voted against independence. Independence runs counter to leftist ideology - an end to pooling and sharing.

    IMO it would be better for Scottish Labour to hold the line and remain true to their principles. It will pay off eventually. The SNP will come unstuck. Could take 2 months or 15 years - but it'll happen eventually. When that moment comes, labour will be the main beneficiary.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Labour support independence? Why would they / should they?"

      I think I explained why very clearly - classic Blairite triangulation. They won't win back ex-Labour Yes voters any other way, while their anti-independence voters won't have anywhere else to go (apart from those who would consider going to the Tories or the Lib Dems, but they have nothing to do with "leftist ideology").

      Delete
    2. If you refuse to acknowledge how well Alastair Darling and co have done from their support for the Union, then there really is nothing more than can be said because you are that blinkered. Darling, Murphy, and many other unionists go down to London, and feather their nest. It really is that simple. Where do think phrases like Scotsmen on the make come from?

      It has nothing to do with pooling and sharing. The UK is one of the most unequal states in the Western world. No wonder Scottish Labour are in the state they are in with sheep like you for supporters.

      Delete
    3. Between our NHS, free at the point of use services and our plethora of welfare benefits, I think the people of the UK are reasonably catered for. You talk about inequality, but being unequal is not the same as being treated harshly or denied opportunities. Immigrants clock to this country from all over the world - why is that? It's because we are a wealthy, liberal and generous nation.

      Why have people abandoned labour en masse? Firstly, that has to be proved. If there were such a thing as a court of the political world, then poll results would be inadmissible. There is only one poll that counts. Secondly, if there has been an exodus of labour supporters then why didn't these people vote SNP in 2010, 2005, 2001, 1997, 1992, 1987........you get my drift! Why now? Being a natural cynic I would reject the evangelical explanation of them having seen the light after years of sinning. They are either fickle or smarting from the referendum defeat. Both of these problems are temporary and can be overcome - especially when the SNP begins screwing things up. Good luck with control over taxation by the way - and the 2016 manifesto (indyref #2 - will they or wont they?). In the absence of normal politics, the uber dominant party will start ripping into itself. Just wait and see ;0)

      Delete
    4. Just wait and see

      Yeah, we heard the precise same desperate whining pish from witless Labour lickspittles after 2007.

      Result - Landslide in 2011. Tough shit for clueless Labour drones isn't it? ;O)



      BTW trying to use the NHS after you have proven yourselves to be hypocritical liars on the subject is hilarious.

      'The NHS is safe after a No vote.. er, wait, what we actually meant was the NHS is in terrible danger!!'

      ROFL ;O)

      Delete
    5. So where are these immigrants clocking from..?

      Couldn't resist. Now there's a line that sums up all of Labour's problems in England.

      Delete
  21. I don't think support for the union can be dumped in the same way as the outdated, regressive and irrelevant Clause 4 was. If labour do get hammered then they need to bide their time. I can already foresee several ways in which the SNP could trip up. It's not going to take a million years. But abandon your principles at the first sign of trouble or adversity? Your SNP has been irrelevant for much of its existence. Where would they be today if they had decided in the 1930s to 'triangulate' by supporting unionism?

    At some level, politics is about tactics, strategy and putting one over on your opponents. But at a deeper level it's about heartfelt beliefs - and you defend those beliefs regardless of how many supporters you have.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Labour's opposition to independence had nothing to do with principle, and everything to do with expediency (ie. perceived career prospects). If they drop that opposition, it'll be a huge step towards rediscovering their soul as a party.

      Delete
  22. But what about the principles of sharing and cooperation across ethnic and geographical boundaries aimed at alleviating poverty - surely those are labour goals? A poor person in Liverpool is just as deserving as a poor person in Dundee and all that? But it seems anything they do or say or support will forever be condemned as careerist or opportunistic by a certain section of the SNP support - the implication being that, in contrast, the SNP are honest, wholesome and trustworthy. This is the politics of the kindergarten.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ethnic and geographic boundaries can be much more challenging to overcome than political boundaries. Indeed, I might argue that they can only be satisfactorily overcome when there are similarly empowered political institutions representing each side.

      In terms of Scotland and England, an Independent Scotland would have much to gain from a re-energised and prosperous Northern England. Some of this would come naturally as capital followed the new distribution of power (and I believe a good proportion of this capital would settle in the Manchester/Leeds corridor).

      But a savvy Scotland would also want to use its influence to further distribute power and wealth in England through ongoing negotiations on trade and the sharing of institutions and services.

      The very existence of an Independent Scotland would make the North of England a better investment proposition and the improved prosperity of the North of England will help grow Scotland's economy too. It's the virtuous circle of capital following power and power following capital.

      The trick is making the initial transfer of meaningful political power to get the ball rolling.

      Delete
    2. First Anon : What Labour (and indeed you) have to explain is why a poor person in Lisbon or Lagos is less deserving of this "pooling and sharing" lark than a poor person in Liverpool. Presumably it must have something to do with narrow British nationalism, or Labour careerism. Or perhaps a bit of both.

      Delete
    3. I love the childish naive belief that Labour would do the slightest fucking thing to help the poor and vulnerable after the Blair and Brown years simply made the gap between rich and poor far wider.

      Almost as hilarious is the blind ignorant stupidity he flaunts since he somehow still hasn't grasped that under the massively unpopular little Ed Miliband Labour MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of tory austerity measures and cuts.

      Delete
  23. From my own long experience of canvassing and campaigning in a highly polarised Labour/SNP area it has been clear to me for some time that there are two types of 'Labour voter' in Scotland:

    1) The socialist/social democrat type
    2) The socially conservative unionist type

    Type 1 would typically be supportive of (or at least not hostile to) Independence but Type 2 would be the kind to wave the Daily Mail in your face as 'proof' of their viewpoint and could be absolutely venomous in their disapproval of Independence and the SNP. My hunch was that these two broad groups were fairly even in terms of numbers.

    At the outset of the Referendum I suggested that the Labour vote was at that point a third Yes, a third No and a third Don't Know, largely reflecting the two groups above. It seems that most of Type 1 eventually plumped for Independence and have now deserted Labour for good.

    Type 2 are still steadfastly Labour but, as many have suggested, if they thought a Tory or LibDem could defeat the SNP I don't think they would think twice.

    The fact that Tories and LibDems are contenders in so few seats could actually prevent a complete Labour meltdown (I'm talking less than 20% here) in terms of the popular vote because there is nowhere meaningful for the Type 2 voter to go. It's not going to help them retain many seats though.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I wouldn't trust SLAB were sincere until AFTER a successful IndyRef. Can you imagine sharing a stall with those people prepared to say anything? For a start they would need to beg very humble apology for lying to the old folk about their pensions, the NHS etc etc. in the referendum. No passaran!

    ReplyDelete