It would be overly-generous to talk about the "meat" of Ed Miliband's speech to the Scottish Labour conference the other day, but if such a thing existed it was probably this -
"I believe, and I believe that people across the United Kingdom believe,
That we owe obligations to each other.
That the successful Scottish entrepreneur owes obligations to the child born into poverty in London, and the pensioner in Wales."
Which begs the obvious question - does a successful Scottish or English entrepreneur also owe an equal obligation to a child born into poverty in Lisbon, and to a pensioner in Wallonia? And if not, why not? If Miliband's belief in solidarity is real and not as synthetic as most of us suspect, why isn't he arguing for a single European or world state within which to redistribute wealth to the maximum extent possible?
I've tried asking Labour supporters these questions recently, and the only answers that have been forthcoming have been along the lines of "we are where we are" and "the UK exists", and frankly if that's the best they can come up with, this argument is going absolutely nowhere. The rhetoric of Miliband and Alexander can only really make sense when viewed through a British Nationalist prism. Just like the SNP, they draw a line around a group of people and say that the social democratic contract should apply only between those people - and yet because that line is a different line to the SNP's and is drawn around a different group of people, they somehow expect us to believe that their kind of nationalism is more morally virtuous. Douglas Alexander evidently feels some kind of saintly glow when he addresses an audience in Cardiff and tells them that he doesn't see "foreigners" staring back at him. But why on earth would "Johnny Foreigner" be the first thing that pops into his head when he meets someone from Paris or Dublin? Why wouldn't he just see a fellow citizen of the EU, or even more fundamentally another human being?
I'm sure the likes of Duncan Hothersall and any others who are still wedded to the quaint idea that Labour is an "international movement" must be thrilled by all the recent talk of solidarity, but Alexander gives the game away. A belief in solidarity that is strictly limited to 'Fortress Britain' is the worst type of parochial, faux 'internationalism', reminiscent of those who used to fondly imagine that the Home Nations football competition was the real world championship. And, even more to the point, it's a type of solidarity that doesn't actually work. So when Miliband asks -
"And if we believe in the idea of Scotland as a progressive beacon, why would we turn our back on the redistributive union - the United Kingdom?"
- the obvious reponse is to inquire where the redistribution actually is within that union. We've now had thirty-three years of right-wing and centre-right Westminster governments opposed to the redistribution of wealth. The Labour administration that Miliband was part of had a leader who cheerfully boasted that he didn't give a damn that the gap between rich and poor was continuing to widen. And Miliband's own recent pandering to right-wing opinion in the south of England by accepting the Tory cuts (a stance which renders his bizarre claim that the SNP are "doubling the cuts" pathetic as well as nonsensical) is further proof that the cause of progressivism requires that this union should end as soon as possible, not be defended to the death. By opposing independence, Miliband is not merely legitimising ongoing Tory rule in Scotland, he is legitimising a political culture that holds that a successful Scottish entrepreneur has no real obligations to the poor and vulnerable at all. Not in Livingston, not in London, not in Lisbon, not anywhere.
Independence would in fact lead to a net increase in progressivism in these islands. The rest of the UK would unfortunately still be governed by the Tories or by Tory-Lites in other parties, but we know that's going to be the case anyway. Why should vulnerable Scottish pensioners have to suffer for Miliband's narrow British nationalism?