The recent decision by the Labour party in Scotland to reject the renewal of Trident is to be welcomed. The size of the majority of delegates who voted against renewal – 70%-30% – is pretty conclusive, and should rule out any change for at least a couple of generations. Welcome though this conversion is, it is doubtful if it will have much or any impact either at Westminster or here in Scotland.
Trident will still be renewed
As Trident is a reserved matter, the only votes that count are those at Westminster. There, a large majority of MPs will vote to renew our nuclear weapons. The Tories of course, but also the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs. As Maria Eagles pointed out, the Labour party’s official position is to support the renewal of Trident. Irrespective of what Scottish Labour thinks or does.
As things stand in Scotland, three of our main political parties – SNP, Greens and now Scottish Labour (assuming SLAB is a party and not just a branch office) are against the renewal of Trident. At least 57 of Scottish MPs (not sure how Alistair Carmichael will vote) will vote against the renewal. Hard to find a clearer example of consensus in Scottish politics.
Yet all this will be brushed aside when the vote takes place in Westminster. The massed ranks of Tory and Labour MPs from England will ensure that Trident is replaced. Pretty much sums up the irrelevance of Scotland within the UK. Even if all these 57 MPs from Scotland were Labour and against Trident, it would make no difference.
Impact in Scotland
As the preceding section demonstrates this decision by Scottish Labour will only highlight yet again how Westminster can always overrule decisions by Scots. This is true for all reserved matters and the forthcoming vote in Westminster will only emphasise that if you want to get rid of Trident then the most effective and realistic way of achieving this is through Scottish independence. Perhaps not the message Scottish Labour were intending to send out.
Impact on Scottish Labour
The biggest impact of this vote may be on the Labour party itself. For the dilemma for Labour in Scotland is that if it wants to convince a majority of Scots that their future is best served by continuing to remain in the UK, then they need to demonstrate that the views of Scots have some kind of influence at Westminster. This has to be in relation to reserved matters, not just Trident, but defence and foreign policy and above all, on macro-economic policy. Otherwise Labour runs the risk of a slow, but steady move of more and more Scots in favour of independence. After all if the UK is a union of equals, how come Scotland is always outvoted at Westminster?
If Labour seriously wants to preserve Scotland in the Union, then it needs to quickly come up with some practical ways of increasing Scotland’s say in reserved matters. I can think of two that would have some, though limited effect. The first is to campaign for PR for Westminster and to succeed in persuading the UK Labour party to do the same. With a PR system on the Scottish or German lines, it becomes difficult for a single party to achieve an overall majority on its own. PR would certainly prevent a party with only 37% of votes winning complete power. As the Tories did last May. With more parties represented in Westminster, Scottish MPs could expect to have greater influence on decisive votes.
The other practical step for Labour in Scotland is for the party to become a completely separate party from the UK party. A party with similar or the same values if you like, but accountable to a different electorate – the people of Scotland. Such a move would give Scottish Labour MPs a greater mandate at Westminster, when it comes to negotiating votes at Westminster. If the UK Labour wanted the support of Scottish Labour there would have to be some give and take. The views of Scottish Labour, if different from UK Labour would have to be recognised and taken into account in any negotiations.
If both steps were taken and the UK did move to PR, then, in a more plural Westminster, not just Scottish Labour but all Scottish MPs could expect to wield more power and influence than at present. Together this might be enough to persuade enough Scots that Scottish Labour has something different and interesting to say.
While these steps might well increase the power and influence of Scottish MPs at Westminster, it would still only be a slight increase. Welcome enough , but perhaps not decisive enough. As with Trident, if you really want the decisions that affect Scotland and its future to be taken by the people who live in Scotland, then the only way to ensure that is in an independent Scotland.