The political mood is changing north of the border, says ERNIE JACQUES. A win for the Yes campaign could have profound consequence for the Labour Party in Scotland, and the rest of the UK.
Although polls on the Scottish referendum campaign show contradictory trends, and still indicate a victory for the Better Together campaign, Tuesday’s Scotsman (25 March 2014) is reporting increasing movement towards the Yes campaign and signs of alarm in the pro-union No camp.
John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, a specialist on social attitudes and electoral behaviour, is quoted as saying: “Better Together is beginning to look like a campaign in trouble.”
Some think this is unsurprising given the aloofness and arrogance of the Better Together leadership and its campaign based on relentless negativity. The No argument essentially boils down to the idea that Scotland is too small and poor to be independent, and it’s people too stupid, profligate and dependent on the union to manage its own affairs. That message seems to be annoying increasing numbers of Scots with unwelcome results for the No campaigners.
A small sign of the growing momentum behind the Yes campaign came from a Facebook post from my daughter-in-law, a woman who, to my knowledge, has never once in 30 years mentioned politics, or shown the slightest interest in political debate, social issues, or even in voting. “Just the thought that if we get independence we wouldn’t get a Tory government is good enough for me,” she wrote beneath the Yes campaign ad (see left).
I was gobsmacked. Although this anecdote by itself is a totally unscientific, I do think we should consider the possibility that there is a real shift in the political mood north of the border, for if the Yes campaign wins it will have profound consequence for Labour and UK politics.
Whatever one’s political perspective on the independence vote itself, the message of the No campaign is easy to dislike. We all know that Scotland – like the rest of the UK – is populated by people of enormous talent, skills, ingenuity, creativity, pride and compassion, not to mention political savvy, and administrative and governmental expertise. The land itself has abundant natural resources and, anyway, when it comes to nation states, small can be beautiful.
A recent book, Life After The State, by writer, comedian and investor Dominic Frisby, makes the point persuasively, saying that Scotland has all the ingredients to become one of the wealthiest and most socially-inclusive nations on earth. He points out that all but one of the top 10 financially successful nations have populations of five million or less (USA is the odd one out).
He also says that “… there is a direct correlation between the size of the state and the wealth of the people – the bigger the former, the smaller the latter. The more power is concentrated, the less wealth is spread.” In other words, with fewer people there is less of a wealth gap between those at the top and the bottom. He adds: “The evidence of history is that the free-est countries with the widest dispersal of power have always been the most prosperous and innovative.”
Although this man is no socialist, and of course wealth doesn’t equal happiness, some of us do believe strongly that there is a correlation between equality, social cohesion and the good life.
Labour in Scotland
In my opinion, it would be a pointless exercise merely to adopt a smaller version of the austerity model peddled by those in power in Westminster. The SNP manifesto is a long way short of social democracy and democratic socialism, but it is significantly more progressive than anything on offer from those in the Better Together camp, including the Labour Party which sometimes talks the language of change with its ‘One Nation’ philosophy, but has a shadow cabinet overflowing with unrepentant Blairites and neoliberals wedded to the idea of light touch regulation.
This is likely to mean business as usual should they come to power – public sector cuts, privatisation, austerity and a small ‘c’ Tory agenda pursued by Labour politicians whose primary motive seems to be more managerial and career-driven than a desire for fundamental change and a new social compact. Wanting change and getting change are two very different things.
In this regard, it is important not to listen to some of Alistair Darling’s nonsense about a Yes vote being an SNP vote. The Scottish people are not voting for the SNP, nor for any other party, in the September referendum. It is a vote on Scottish independence. The issue of who will govern an independent Scotland, and how, will be delayed until 2016.
Yet, while Alistair Darling’s campaign seems to be doing a good job at alienating large numbers of traditional working class Labour voters, who are put off by pro-union rhetoric and status quo negativity, my spirits were lifted, temporarily, when I learned that the Scottish Labour Party has issued a mini-manifesto pledging to cut child poverty by 50 per cent, to increase wages and to reform the NHS. Woo hoo! Can we have some of that in north of England?
It seems that panic has forced a change in policy as thousands of disillusioned Labour members and voters desert to the Yes campaign. At a recent launch of its ‘Together We Can’ Red Paper programme, Anas Sarwar MP, deputy leader of Scottish Labour, said the policy initiative “… was designed to give voters a clear sense of why they should vote No in September’s independence referendum and elect a Labour government in the 2015 general election.”
Having taken time to reflect on this, however, I can’t help wondering whether this policy has the endorsement of the two Eds? If not, Scottish Labour might have a serious ‘unity’ problem. Either that or it’s merely rhetoric and political spin. It also begs the question, why has a party that, until recently, dominated politics in Scotland, was in charge for years at Westminster, Holyrood and across local government, decided to wait until March 2014 before tackling poverty, workplace inequality, a living wage and NHS reform?
The Labour leadership in Scotland is also talking now about supporting ‘devo max’ once Scotland sees off the Yes campaign. Yet, while there is growing support for more devolved powers north or the border, no one is willing to spell out what this means, nor what it will cost. As ever, the devil is in the detail.
Meanwhile, the Scottish left think tank and advocacy group, the Jimmy Reid Foundation has published In Place of Anxiety, Social Security for the Common Weal, by Willie Sullivan and Professor Ailsa Mckay, which outlines an alternative to government welfare reforms based on social justice, a living wage, employment security, affordable housing, a citizen’s income, and measures designed to tackle the benefit trap.
This is a programme for change based, not on austerity and the big stick, but on investment in people, job creation and job security, and affordable houses for all. Such a policy proposal ought to garner support from most Labour movement supporters, athough neither Labour’s ‘One Nation’ approach, nor this ‘In Place of Anxiety’ agenda will be achievable without the backing of a broad-based coalition of community groups and the will of the people.
See also: ‘An Unfit System’ by Ernie Jacques.
The Jimmy Reid Foundation’s report, In Place of Anxiety, Social Security for the Common Weal, is here.
Anas Sarwar’s speech to the Scottish Labour conference is here.