Monday, June 8, 2015

The new orthodoxy : "Forget about Scotland"

It's fascinating to see STV's Stephen Daisley echo Rob Vance (of the Polling Matters podcast) almost word for word in advising Labour to "forget about Scotland...every hour spent in Scotland is an hour wasted".  To be fair, his reasoning is different from - and considerably better than - Vance's, because he isn't trying to kid himself that it's possible for Labour to neglect Scotland and simultaneously recover here.  On this occasion, we're not being invited to accept the Vance fantasy that Scotland is a weird exception to the general rule that you actually have to take into account what the electorate wants if you have any interest in getting elected.

I do, however, think that Stephen is going astray on two key points.  He says it's "long overdue" that English voters don't have to hear about the Barnett Formula, the Smith Commission and all the rest of it.  But that isn't a respite Labour is actually in a position to offer anyone - because, as John Curtice has been pointing out since polling day, they can't win without Scotland.  If they accept that most of their Scottish seats are gone for good, then it makes perfect rational sense to turn Blairite to chase votes in Middle England instead - but they'll still eventually have to make an offer to Scotland, because they won't get the keys to Number 10 without the SNP's help.  The only alternative would be to rack up an almost impossible 12% lead over the Tories at the next election - that's what would be required for an overall majority if the Scottish seats don't come back.

If it's uncomfortable for them to be banging on about Scotland, the best solution would be to invent a time machine and reverse the "blood out of a stone" approach to greater devolution they've been taking over recent years. They wouldn't have to talk about self-government that has already been delivered.

Stephen's other error comes when he returns to a familiar theme -

"Scottish Labour offered voters a robust social democratic manifesto in May, the most left-of-centre prospectus Labour has run on since the days of Neil Kinnock's leadership. It made not a jot of difference..."

It's utterly wrong to suggest that people weren't interested in seeing a left-wing prospectus from Labour, or were immune to persuasion by it. The problem was that everyone knew it was phoney. It was put forward by an ultra-Blairite leader who clearly didn't believe in the ideology behind it, and it was in any case trumped by a pro-austerity Labour manifesto at UK-wide level.

If Labour want people to give a fair hearing to a Scottish manifesto that diverges radically from the UK party's plans, they're going to have to make the Scottish party fully and truly independent. Simple as that.


  1. Have you seen the recent Wings article about this? He's making a persuasive case for an independent Scottish Labour party being essentially impossible. How can Labour have different policies north and south of the border without being two completely different parties, as different as the SNP and the Tories?

    Kezia was wittering on about wanting a different franchise for the European referendum than the UK Labour party. But how is that possible? The franchise is set by Westminster, with no mechanism for it to be different in one part of the country. Even with such a mechanism, Labour would presumably have to be in power in Holyrood to implement the policy.

    However, if Scottish Labour splits entirely from the UK party, what precisely are they going to use for money? Without the financial support coming from London, they'd pretty much have to shut up shop. Have you any practical suggestion as to how it could be achieved?

    Then again, if all this was accomplished, and a completely separate party stood in Scotland, and gained MPs, what would they do? Go to Westminster and take the Labour whip? Or form a wee party on the opposition benches?

    I'm struggling to make sense of this scenario any way I slice it.

    1. They could be genuinely independent, with their own set of policies, and have a sister party relationship with London Labour in a similar way that the SDLP currently does - that would mean informally taking the whip at Westminster, but not being bound by it. Or a middle option would be a CDU-CSU type relationship, with the two parties thrashing out an agreed programme for government, and an agreed Prime Minister-designate. The problem is that the Scottish party would probably only win token concessions as a result of that process.

      I don't see that there's anything to stop Scottish Labour having their own nominal policy on what the EU referendum franchise should be - as long as they're clear that it's their policy for the franchise for the whole UK, rather than just Scotland.

    2. "The problem is that the Scottish party would probably only win token concessions as a result of that process."

      Exactly - they can say whatever they like in Scotland to win votes, but everyone knows that if Scottish Labour MPs have a commitment to support an English and Welsh Labour government in Westminster then they will meekly roll over and accept everything London says. So their pre-election policies and promises in Scotland are effectively worthless.

      Even if they were to play hard to get and stuck doggedly to more left-wing policies than the London leadership, withholding their support unless bigger concessions were forthcoming, it would effectively put them in no different a position to the SNP and would simply provide the same fuel for the English press to peddle the illegitimacy line about any BritLabour government propped up by ScotLabour MPs.

    3. While I don't disagree about the impossibility of Labour forming a truly independent Scottish party I have to take issue with the finance argument. Presumably Labour currently generates membership dues and donations in Scotland, only they're sent to London at the moment. It's like the argument that Scotland can't be independent because all our money comes from Westminster; it's true but it's false because Westminster is simply sending us some of our own money back. The same would be true for Scottish Labour.

    4. In this case Scottish Labour actually is 'too wee, too poor, too stupid'. Most Labour members are in London, Scottish Labour has 2-3% of Labour UK membership

    5. As Denise says, I don't think Scottish Labour has enough members to keep them in the style to which they have become accustomed.

      Would they still get Trade Union levies from Scotland if they were in effect a brand new political party? Would they get any of the administration back-up they currently get from London? Lots of questions.

  2. Ian Murray's position is interesting as a member of the cabinet he has to vote with the government, so how will he vote on the EU franchise amendment that the SNP will definitely table? Kezia has left a hostage to fortune.

    And how will Murray vote on Trident Renewal. If he votes Against he will have to resign from the cabinet- Labour will have to draft in a Lord or English MP to be Scottish Secretary, OR he could vote For after telling his constituents he would vote against in order to win at the GE

    1. I wonder if they'd let him abstain? Just maybe be somewhere else that day? They could pair him and still claim he hadn't voted in favour.

    2. I presume you meant to put in 'shadow' before each cabinet and Scottish Secretary? Either that or you have confused Ian Murray with Mundell or you think Labour won the GE.

  3. The problem Labour have is the fact that Scottish and English politics are and have been for some time on a divergent path (separating,breaking up etc comes to mind).
    It is not possible to represent those interests legitimately under a one party umbrella and they can surely now see that the pretence of having a voice in Scotland which represents Scottish aspirations but in reality is silenced by the mandate of England has been exposed for all to see.
    They continue to peddle the lie that we are a family of nations in a union of equals when the Tories are making it extremely clear to us that we are not and that the Westminster system is all about continuing London rule of Scotland whether we like it or not.
    Pooling and sharing but as defined by the London establishment....democracy Westminster style.

  4. There is only one thing preventing a new, independent Scottish Labour Party forming, but it is a critical factor:

    Lack of testicles.

    Is there no one brave enough left in Scottish Labour to stand up and say "Enough"?

  5. Hold hard, James - Labour needs Scotland? What happened to all that pre-referendum stuff from the YES side pointing out that Blair formed three governments on the backs of purely English majorities?

    1. My thoughts too, unless James is making assumptions about the situation after the constituency equalisation the Tories are about, in which case he needs to say so.

    2. Labour govts since the last major voting reform (and majorities)

      1974 (3)
      1997 (179)
      2001 (167)
      2005 (66)

    3. Blair's New Labour were the original Red Tories. Real Labour needs Scotland, New Labour doesn't. When England elected Blair they were electing slightly more efficient/effective and slightly less corrupt Tories than the Blue Tories.

    4. "My thoughts too, unless James is making assumptions about the situation after the constituency equalisation the Tories are about, in which case he needs to say so."

      Well, you can sod right off with that arrogance. No, I'm not talking about constituency equalisation - without winning their old Scottish seats back, Labour would need a 12% lead under the current boundaries. It'll be even more impossible for them to win without Scotland after the boundary changes.

      To answer Athanasius' point, the arithmetic has changed since then. It's as simple as that.