Tag Archives: Scottish Labour

Initial reflections on the General Election

Well that was a bit of a surprise, which caught nearly everyone out. Unlike 2015 this time we do have a hung parliament, just. A well deserved mess for May and the Tories. No more strong and stable, just a shaky deal which relies on the DUP for any kind of majority.

The results in Scotland were also unexpected, at least in degree. Everyone expected the SNP to lose seats and the Tories to win some. But the extent of the changes caught most people out. What factors lie behind the voting in Scotland? Here are a few initial thoughts.

  1. The Corbyn bounce was real and Labour secured one of their best ever results, particularly in terms of their share of the popular vote in England. This was around 40%. The party did not do so well in Scotland, with hardly any increase in their vote. However the party did win six seats. Almost certainly as a result of Corbyn’s appeal to younger and radical voters. Many of whom support Scottish independence, but like the idea of a Corbyn government at Westminster.
  2. Though Brexit did not feature prominently in the debates during the campaign, it was undoubtedly a significant factor for many voters. Especially in those parts of the country where the leave vote was relatively strong – in the north east for example. As the only party to campaign on a hard Brexit platform, the Tories were the best placed to sweep up those leave voters for whom Brexit was the key issue.
  3. In Scotland independence and a second indyref was one of the dominant issues in the campaign. While opposition to indyref2 took most of the headlines, the real factor was opposition to independence itself. In practice this amounted to opposition to the SNP. All three Unionist parties co-operated on this. There was clearly an informal Unionist pact among Labour, the LibDems and the Tories. They vied among each other as to who was best placed to defeat the SNP. And quite effective it was too. Which makes the SNP success in holding on to 35 seats even more amazing.
  4. Though this was a UK election, most of the debates and campaigning in Scotland was about devolved issues. Education and the NHS came up in programmes again and again. Did this also happen in Wales?  Which is a bit strange as the outcome of a UK election has no practical bearing on what happens in the Scottish Parliament. The relentless focus on devolved issues was of course a deliberate tactic of the three Unionist parties. It clearly put the SNP, as the government in Scotland, on the defensive. This meant that the abysmal failures of the Tory government at Westminster – on the economy, defence, no Brexit plan etc – got pretty much a free pass. As with the independence issue we had the three Unionist parties all trying to make the election about the SNP and not about the Tory government at Westminster. In this of course they were ably assisted by the media, including the BBC.
  5. An intriguing question is why did the LibDems and Labour agree to this informal pact with the Tories. I could understand this if it was a Holyrood election, after all the SNP is the government and deserve rigorous scrutiny. But this was not a Scottish election, but a UK one. I can also see why the Tories would want to focus on the SNP as they would have had a harder time if they had had to spend more time defending the record of the Tory government in London. But what was in it for the LibDems and Labour?
  6. As regards the LibDems it may be that they realised that the Tories were going to win big in England and therefore they would have no influence at Westminster. So why not just attack the SNP and try and win back a few seats from them. If the Tories were going to be returned with an increased majority anyway, what difference would it make if the Tories also made gains in Scotland.
  7. In the case of Labour this may also have been what motivated them to indulge in an informal anti SNP pact. However if true it may turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory for Labour in Scotland. If, as seems likely, they did not believe in a Corbyn victory, that does not augur well for the future relations between Scottish Labour and the UK party. What is potentially worse may be the dawning realisation that if the SNP had held on to even six more seats then the prospect of a Labour minority government would be a reality.  If only Labour in Scotland had relentlessly exposed their real enemy, the Tories, and campaigned with a stop the Tories message!
  8. Returning to the UK results, it is worth remembering that these elections are conducted with the First Past the Post system (FPTP). This system is notoriously undemocratic and rarely, if ever, accurately reflects the votes cast. It was no different this time around, with both winners and losers. The winners were the Tories, DUP and SNP.  The Tories benefitted the most with fully 6.4% more seats than their share of the vote, which was only 42.4%. Yet they ended up with 48.4% of the seats. The SNP and DUP benefitted to a much lesser extent. The losers from FPTP were the LibDems, Greens and UKIP. The LibDems suffered the most, their 7.4% of the vote returning only 1.8% of the seats. Interesting to note that for both Labour and Plaid Cymru their share of seats matches almost exactly their share of the vote. FPTP can work in strange ways.

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Trident and Labour

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.

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Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland?

The SNP has come out in favour of Full Fiscal Autonomy (FFA) for Scotland as the next step in reforming the UK and securing more powers for Scotland. Unionists, and in particular, Labour, are strongly opposed to FFA. Why this virulent opposition to FFA by Labour? Part of their opposition seems to come from their ingrained habit of opposing anything the SNP proposes. Their other objections seem to betray some strange ideas about FFA and about economics.

Much of Labour’s opposition is based on a report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS). This report purported to show that in the year 2015/2016, Scotland would have a deficit of £6.6bn. Now it is important to remember that this report describes the current situation, ie Scotland’s financial position within the UK. This £6.6bn funding gap is therefore the product of our membership of the UK. Not much of a benefit for over 300 years of Union! Quite why Labour would want to be boasting about this is a bit of a mystery to me.

As this £6.6bn gap is the current situation, FFA will not in itself make any difference to this figure. Taxes will continue to be collected and public spending will continue to be spent. FFA will eventually provide some much needed clarity about exactly how much revenue is collected in Scotland and just how much is spent here. But FFA will not in itself change the numbers. If there is a £6.6bn deficit now, there will continue to be a £6.6bn deficit with FFA.

The key issue is what, if anything, to do about this £6.6bn? The whole of Labour’s opposition seems to be based on the claim that all of this £6.6bn has to found by raising taxes and/or cutting public spending. But this claim is just nonsense. We just have to ask where does the missing sum come from at the moment. It is not some gift or subsidy from the rest of the UK. The UK government continues to run an enormous deficit, not to mention the growing national debt. To make the books balance the UK government has to borrow. It is worth noting here that the IFS, in its report, stated that FFA would mean that the Scottish government would have to borrow if it’s spending were greater than it’s revenues. In other words just like the UK, and just about every other country in the world.

The Scottish share of UK government borrowing is relatively small. As FFA means that Scotland remains part of the UK, why does Labour want Scotland to be excluded from future UK borrowing? FFA could include specific powers for Scotland to borrow on its own account, but Labour does not seem to be propsing this. It seems that Labour’s opposition to FFA is based one one of two scenarios.

The first is Labour has given up on all this pulling and sharing of resources across the UK. This was the cornerstone of their anti independence campaign. By pulling and sharing we were all better together. But not now it seems. Scotland is to be cast adrift, financially speaking. With not even the powers to borrow on its own account.

The other scenario is that Labour now regards the deficit as so important that it has to be resolved at all costs, primarily through massive cuts in public spending. This of course is exactly the position of the Tories, and would put labour fair and squarely in bed with them once again. Presumably it will not just be the Scottish share of the deficit that has to be resolved. The rest of the UK will no doubt also have to endure its share of these massive cuts.

Returning to the IFS study, we must remember that it is an estimate based on the continuation of current UK policies. As such it tells us absolutely nothing about what might happen if FFA were introduced and different fiscal policies were in place. The whole point of FFA is that it will be Scotland which will get to decide which mix of revenue raising and spending policies to pursue. I guess at bottom, Labour’s opposition to FFA shows that they simply do not trust us, the people who live in Scotland, with this kind of responsibility. Shame on Labour!

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A New Dawn for Labour?

Johann Lamont’s resignation has taken most people by surprise. Though there were rumours aplenty, Lamont herself had only recently confirmed that she would not stand down, but would stay on to become First Minister. Now she has rather suddenly changed her mind. At least she is going out with a bang and not with a whimper. She has accused some of her colleagues at Westminster as acting like dinosaurs and accused the UK party leadership of treating Scotland as a “branch office”. Will the party take any notice of these criticisms? Though the immediate focus may be on who will replace her as leader, the party faces much more fundamental challenges. These have to do with what kind of party it wants to be and in particular what relationship it has with Westminster and the UK Labour party.

Branch office or an independent party?

This remains an unresolved issue for the party. In a formal sense this has been partly addressed in as much as Johann Lamont was elected as the leader of the whole party in Scotland and not just the party’s leader in Holyrood. However there does not appear to be any real policy making powers for Scottish Labour. The party remains in practice a branch office of the UK party. Scottish Labour seems to be more about delivering the UK party’s policies as opposed to developing its own policies.

If Labour is to survive as a major political force, let alone challenge for government at Holyrood, this needs to change. There are basically two options. The first and most radical is for Labour in Scotland to become a completely independent party with no formal link with the UK party. All policy decisions would be taken in Scotland. When it comes to UK elections the party stand on its own, but would normally support the UK Labour party when it came to votes. They might even form part of an overt coalition.

The second option and the easiest to introduce is to change the UK party into a federal party. The Scottish party would have sole responsibility for devolved matters, while the UK party would decide on UK wide issues. This is a rather messy option as the UK is not a federal country and isn’t likely to become one anytime soon. So there would be some difficulties with this option. There would also remain plenty of scope for tensions between the UK party and the Scottish party.

Becoming a genuinely independent party is the option that would resonate most with voters in Scotland. The charge of London Labour is hard for the party to shrug off. As an independent party, Labour could rediscover its own roots and mount a positive challenge to the SNP as the more left of centre party. The federal option still leaves the current tensions between Westminster and Holyrood alive and kicking. The likelihood is that the party will do nothing more than a bit of window dressing. Things may change considerably after the 2015 UK election. If as expected, Labour loses a significant number of its MPs, then the Holyrood contingent would suddenly become much more important.

Holyrood or Westminster?

This is the mirror image of the previous issue. There has always been a suspicion that for Labour, the Scottish Parliament is very much second best to Westminster. Jibes that Labour at Holyrood is the B or even the C team bore more than a little relation to the truth. Johann Lamont seems to recognise this and has stated that her colleagues need to realise that the focus of Scottish politics is now Holyrood, not Westminster. This will not be an easy task as not everyone in the party agrees with this view.

Take Peter Russell for example who has recently written a very strange article for Labour List, which you can read in full here. Peter Russell seems to be articulating here the authentic voice of UK Labour – only a Labour government at Westminster can save Scotland. The following two extracts give a flavour of his view of what Labour should do. “First, let’s give some leadership: Scottish Labour has to take the political process by the lapels and show it who’s boss – as in who won the referendum, and who is going to dictate to whom in the coming weeks and months.” “Secondly, Scottish Labour must upscale the appeal of our unique selling point: that we are a party of UK government.”

The difficulty for Labour is that as long as Scotland remains part of the UK, the focus needs to be on both Holyrood and Westminster. The focus has to be on both, but in balance. Alas for Labour, the party seems to be unwilling or unable to do this. But unless it does so and develops a clear strategy that involves both Westminster and Holyrood, then the party faces a very difficult future. Electing the right leader will be an important part of this, but even more important is resolving the structural imbalances in the party.

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Labour’s shaky grasp of history

A recent article by former Labour MP, Maria Fyfe shows how desperate the No campaign has become as the polls seem to be turning in favour of Yes. Writing in the Sunday Mail, Maria Fyfe makes great play of the past achievements of Labour governments at Westminster in passing reforms which have benefitted women.  None of this is to be denied. It is however her interpretation of this which is misleading at best, and bordering on lying at the worst.

First of all let us note that once again the No campaign is reduced to extolling the past. When it comes to the future though Maria Fyfe is on very shaky ground. The core of her argument for voting no is that a vote for Labour is the only way to ensure the further delivery of progressive legislation. Let us leave aside for the mement that the current Labour party does not sound very progressive. Recent history manifestly shows Maria Fyfe’s claim up for the lie that it is. In the UK general election of 2010 Scottish voters did massively vote for Labour. But what happened? We ended up with the current nasty Tory led government. The same result happened in the 80s and 90s. Scotland votes Labour, yet we ended up with Tory governments. Nothing in the least progressive about that! Instead we got the bedroom tax and the poll tax. Yet this is what Maria Fyfe and Labour wants to continue! Progressive change in Scotland will remain forever dependent on the electors in England voting the same way. What can one say? No thanks!

The other major problem with Maria Fyfe’s analysis is that it is based on the assumption that the progessive policies she refers to would not have happened in an independent Scotland. This however is the worst kind of history. As Maria Fyfe is at pains to point out thes reforms only happened under Labour governments. And in each case, Scotland also voted Labour. So, for Maria Fyfe to argue that these reforms would not have happened in an independent Scotland, she will have to argue that the Labour Party in Scotland would not have supported these reforms! For almost certainly Scotland would have elected a Labour government in the 60s, 70, 80s and the 90s.

So either Maria Fyfe is telling us that Labour in Scotland is not and never was a progressive party, or she is somewhat economical with the verity. Either way the only way to ensure a fairer and more progressive future for Scotland is to vote Yes for independence.

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Labour attacks on SNP is good for YES

Unionists and BritNats and their friends in the media constantly try to frame the referendum as all about the SNP. Often this framing is reduced even further by equating Scottish independence as all about Alex Salmond.  An example of this was to be seen at last week’s Scottish Labour conference.  There most of the time seemed to be devoted to attacks on Alex Salmond and the SNP.  This blatant attempt to ignore all the many other parties and groups campaigning for independence used to annoy me greatly. It is still a bit annoying, but I have now come to the conclusion that attacking Alex Salmond and trying to equate independence with supporting the SNP is counter productive and on balance good for the YES campaign.

SNP does support independence

All these media attacks on the SNP achieve one thing for sure – almost blanket publicity for the SNP. And on the old adage that no publicity is bad publicity, this can only be good for the SNP. Just think how much it would cost to get that amount of media coverage. Here it comes all for free.  Even the opposition parties keep talking about the SNP. Now it would be good to get more media coverage for the likes of the Greens and Radical Independence, to name but two, but the bottom line is the SNP is in favour of independence. So while it is unfair to the other parties and groups also campaigning for independence, all this media attention on the SNP also means useful free publicity for YES.  More please!

Unionists attack SNP because they have nothing positive to say

Those who oppose independence have no alternative vision for Scotland. This has become even more obvious as the Tories, LibDems and now Labour, have all produced variations on well, pretty much nothing.  Assorted commissions have come up with slightly different versions of bland proposals which at best change nothing and at worst are unworkable. These proposals demonstrate both the emptiness and the duplicity at the heart of the No campaign.  If we are indeed Better Together, then why do we need further change anyway?  If, on the other hand, further devolution is a good thing, then why has it not happened already? The Tories and LibDems are in power now while Labour was in power until 2010. Why did they do nothing when they had the power to do so? Something fishy about suddenly producing proposals now. One can readily see why it is so much easier to just attack Alex Salmond and the SNP. Scaremongering at least avoids having to argue for something positive.  It will be interesting to see how long the Unionist and BritNat parties can keep up the pretence that these proposals can be delivered and would make any difference even if they were delivered.

By attacking SNP, Unionists have missed the Big Picture

This is perhaps the biggest mistake Unionists and BritNats have made. They all seemed to believe their own propaganda – there was no real chance of a YES vote and just to make sure, a dose of scaremongering from Project Fear would do the trick. Concentrate on attacking the SNP and everything will be fine. After all the whole of the media, print and broadcast, were solidly behind the Union. And just to confirm things opinion polls consistently predicted a big No vote.  Well, up to a point milord. Underneath the radar of the media and the Unionist parties, things were stirring across Scotland. New groups were emerging covering all sections of Scottish society. And all were campaigning for YES. Not in newspapers or in TV studios, but in local communities up and down the land.  Public meetings, street stalls, canvassing, music events and goodness knows what else. In addition more and more undecideds or previous supporters of the UK were changing to supporting YES. Some were well known names, many were former leading members of the Labour party, most were just ordinary people. All this grass-roots activity has generated a big shift from No to YES, as recent polling has confirmed.  This new trend towards YES has clearly taken the Unionists and BritNats completely by surprise. While all their attention was on attacking the SNP, they seemed to have been unaware of what has been happening on the ground across Scotland. And what will continue to happen between now and September, only with even greater intensity and enthusiasm.

The Emperor has no clothes

Finally the penny seems to be dropping on our beleaguered Unionist and BritNat friends. People in Scotland do want more control over our lives and more power for our Parliament. The belated and tawdry offerings from the Unionist parties are unlikely to convince many. More and more undecideds are likely to move to YES. And what have the No campaign to offer? More scaremongering? Who will believe them? It looks more and more that by playing the man, the No campaign has lost not just the plot but the game.

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Is Labour now the party of British Nationalism?

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!

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