Scottish Labour has recently published its proposals for what it would like to do if there is a No vote in September. It is a pretty incoherent and insignificant set of proposals as far as I can see. Even some Labour stalwarts have described it in very unflattering terms – it is not a mouse, it is a mess – for example. Johann Lamont herself was unable to make any sense of the key proposals when interviewed on Newsnight. However what interests me more is what the proposals say about the Labour party in Scotland.
Scotland is secondary to the UK This is the most obvious message to come out of the proposals. They are designed to preserve the UK. Scotland must not be allowed to do anything which might challenge the supremacy of the UK. Why else all this talk about pooling and sharing of resources across the UK? The modest proposals on income tax are particularly revealing. Scotland can raise the top rate of tax, thus possibly making Scotland a bit less competitive with the rest of the UK. But on no account can Scotland be allowed to lower taxes and possibly give Scotland a competitive advantage with the rest of the UK. Oh no, that would be very bad. But, prithee, why? Only someone who doesn’t regard Scotland as her primary country and its people as the people for whom she most cares, could come up with this proposal. UK rules for Johann and the Scottish Labour party it seems.
This limitation does not even make sense in its own terms. Tax differences within countries is quite common and not just in large federal states such as the USA and Canada. This also happens in Europe, even in a relatively small country such as Switzerland. There, all 26 cantons have the power to set their own tax regimes and tax rates. Imagine it, 26 different tax regimes in one small country. How do they manage? Yet a Swiss from Zug, one of the lowest tax cantons, is just as much Swiss as someone from Zürich, one of the highest taxed cantons. Moreover they don’t come to blows, they respect each other’s right to be different. Something that Johann Lamont and the Scottish Labour party seem to find difficult to accept.
British Nationalism = good: Scottish Nationalism = bad This is another, rather sad, reading of Labour’s recent proposals. And this time not just the Scottish branch. For generations the Labour party has castigated and denigrated Scottish independence as an example of nationalism. Often further dismissed as “petty” nationalism or “narrow” nationalism. Yet all the time it emerges, Labour has been the party of British nationalism, in whatever guise you care to name it. One Nation Labour, the new key mantra for Labour, is all about Britain as the one nation. As is the thinking behind the assertion that Scottish independence would mean leaving the working people in the rest of the UK behind. But why does Labour’s concern for working people end at the Channel? Does Labour not care for the well being of working people in Barcelona, Bologna, Bordeaux etc? I am sure Labour does care about working people elsewhere, it is just that their primary concern is for working people in Britain. Which is fair enough. I want Scottish independence to make working people in Scotland the primary concern of our parliament and our government. It is just that one cannot be simply good and the other bad. Either both are bad or both are good. As Labour clearly advocates that putting British people first is good, then they must be British nationalists at heart. In which case it is rank hypocrisy to denigrate supporters of Scottish independence as Scottish nationalists.
Labour’s responsibility for rising inequality in Scotland and the UK My final point on where the Labour party stands is to note that it is Labour who are partly responsible for the rise in inequality not just in Scotland, but the whole of the UK. Successive Tory governments and our current nasty Tory/LibDem coalition bear much of the responsibility for this. However Labour cannot get away unscathed. And of course Gordon Brown was at the helm as either chancellor or Prime Minster for all of the 13 wasted years of Labour government. Minor tinkering with complex benefits cannot obscure that it was under Labour that the rich continued to get much, much richer, while the poor remained poor. It was also Labour that presided over the financial and banking crash which has caused so much damage to our economy. Let us also remember that when Labour talk about pooling and sharing of resources, they did precious little of this when in power at Westminster. Why has London and the south east of England remained the richest part of the UK? Not much evidence of sharing from that part of the UK.
Scottish Labour’s latest little ruse is truly a mess. It offers Scotland nothing and is based on the somewhat dubious claim that Labour at Westminster would really do something about the power of the City of London. A claim for which there is little evidence. Vote Yes for something better!