IF you’re struggling to get your head round the latest iteration of the Labour Branch Office’s stance on the constitution, you’re not alone. Although, that said, you are in a very small group of politics nerds because most people have long since gone past the point of caring what contortions the Labour Party’s branch office in Scotland have got themselves into.
And that includes the vast majority of people in Scotland who used to vote for them. Judging by their latest public utterances, Labour are still as out of touch with popular opinion in Scotland as Jacob Rees-Mogg at a death metal gig.
However, to summarise, the Branch Office is strongly in favour of the Preciousssss Union™ and Britain at all costs, but don’t you dare call them Unionists or British nationalists. They are in favour of democracy, but are not in favour of actually allowing the people to vote in another referendum in case the people give the wrong answer.
They believe in the absolute right of the people of Scotland to choose the form of government best suited to their needs, as long as that choice is not a sovereign Scottish state. They understand that democracy cannot function if the public cannot be allowed to change their minds but also understand that the Scottish public can’t grasp the consequences of independence and need proper grown-up British politicians to protect them from the sharp scissors of separatism.
That ought to be clear now, for a given value of “clear”. You know, clear in the exact same way that blockchain is clear to you after a computing geek has explained it using terms like P2P topology.
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If a party’s policy takes a thick document and several press releases to explain why it is not in fact a heavy heaping of hypocrisy, it could be that it’s not a very good policy. Just a wee hint on substance and presentation there, guys and girls of the Branch Office.
What this boils down to in practice is that the Labour Party’s Scottish Branch Office will effectively be campaigning in 2021 to keep Scotland under the thumb of whatever Brexit the Tories have in store for us, because we’re not adult enough to be trusted to make our own decisions. Labour have fallen a long way. In 100 years, they’ve gone from the lofty ideals of Keir Hardie empowering the worker to institutionalised patronising. We don’t need the Labour Party to patronise us in Scotland, that’s what the LibDems and the Tories are for.
Several polls, most recently last week’s Panelbase poll for the ScotGoesPop blog, have confirmed that between 30% to 40% of Labour voters in Scotland would back independence in another referendum. Richard Leonard claimed last week in an article for the press that there was no appetite in Scotland for independence, in a piece published the very same day that the Panelbase poll came out showing there’s majority support in Scotland for independence.
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Not only is there the appetite in Scotland which Richard Leonard denied, there’s also a considerable appetite for independence within the Labour Party in Scotland which he’s supposed to lead. It’s one thing for a party leader to be out of touch with public opinion, it’s incompetence of a different order of magnitude to be simultaneously out of touch with opinion within his own party. Labour have already sunk to a distant third place in the polls, with the Tories successfully hoovering up the British nationalist do-or-die vote, yet the new strategy for the Branch Office appears to be to target Conservative voters. In this it seems to be led by Ian Murray, the new shadow Scottish Secretary and last Scottish Labour MP standing, who owes his political survival to the tactical votes of Conservatives in the douce suburbs of Edinburgh South.
Ian thinks the Labour Party can save Scotland from the Conservatives by appealing to Conservative voters. That’s hardly a reassuring message to all those former Labour voters who have deserted the party because of their hardline British nationalism and the fact that being a part of the British state leaves Scotland vulnerable to the depredations of Conservative rule. In effect, he’s telling us the only way in which Scotland can be saved from the Conservatives is by a Labour Party which has turned itself into another British nationalist party in the mould of the Conservatives.
What makes this strategy even less sensible for the Labour Party is that the British Government’s mishandling of the coronavirus epidemic has blown what was left of its credibility. Last week’s poll found that, as a result of British government incompetence, 59% of people in Scotland believe the country is less safe as a part of the UK while the same number are more confident that Scotland would be well governed as an independent country. What’s particularly alarming for the British nationalist do-or-die faction of the Labour Party is that even 63% of its own voters think Scotland is less safe as a part of the UK, while 56% of Labour voters believe the Scottish Government’s handling of the epidemic gives them greater confidence in the ability of an independent Scotland to be a well-governed nation.
The 2014 independence referendum focused exclusively on the risks of independence. But with Brexit and the mishandling of the coronavirus crisis by the British Government, the next referendum will also focus on the risks of remaining a part of the British state. On that question, Labour has no credible answer beyond appealing to a federalism fairy that’s never going to fly in England.
Labour’s hardline message on independence means they have effectively abandoned any hope of regaining the voters they have lost to pro-independence parties. Instead they prefer to fish in the increasingly shallow pond of diehard British nationalist voters, the voters in Scotland who would still oppose Scottish independence under all and any circumstances. In doing so they’re effectively signing a suicide letter for the next Scottish elections.