Too late…too late

Some interesting stuff emerging from Unionist friends now we’re in the final year. Henry McLeish in the Scotsman provides a similar but more elegant critique than my own of Labour and how they should take control of the entire Union agenda and run it as a Scottish-made vision for a new country. He thinks there’s still time. I disagree. They are committed to working with the most right-wing British government in memory in Better Together and are now suffering from the lack of ability and ambition in the once-talented party whose leader Johann Lamont simply doesn’t possess the aspiration gene.

Henry is demanding more than Labour being buried inside a Tory-led Don’t Change movement. He says: Labour still has a unique opportunity to embrace change, transform the debate on Scotland’s future within the Union, and serve up a more positive vision. This window of opportunity has to be seized now. The No campaign must learn lessons from the Scottish Government’s white paper.

First, a consensus has to be built around a positive case for Scotland’s role within a modern and transformed Union: there was a consensus in 1997 when Scotland voted for a parliament, but today the nation is divided, with both campaigns making this worse. We need a cohesive, nation-building campaign.

And that last point contains a hidden truth. There is a disturbingly high proportion of SNP voters who don’t want independence and if a credible and truly aspirational model of change within a reformed Union could be devised, some of them could be peeled away to vote against Yes. I maintain there are significant constituencies in both Yes and No who are closer to agreement than might appear. A workable compromise based on additional powers and removing Westminster’s crushing grip from so many areas of our life would satisfy many in the short to medium term.

Or rather, it would have. Because the time for that approach was before the referendum was cast not after. As Henry himself argues, a vague, half-hearted offer is no used at this stage but that’s all that is likely to be forthcoming as the campaign convinces itself the polls spell doom for Salmond.

Labour needs to articulate an alternative to independence and be serious about our commitment to building up our parliament in the context of a different Union, which is modern, looser, flexible, federal and recognises the wish of Scots for the best of all worlds, stopping well short of independence.

But how likely is that given Labour’s reluctant, establishment, mediocre mindset? Who in the Labour leadership thinks that way? Johann? Paul Martin? James Kelly? Henry is searching for a Labour that no longer exists, that is denuded of insight and vision, lacking the self confidence to engage with opponents openly and seems incapable of coming up with ideas. The focus is on resistance, not engagement.

In 2008 when the SNP had invited Henry to lead a commission for them – into prisons, I think – I was approached in the BBC canteen by an adviser…a spin doctor…for a very senior Scottish politician then in the British Cabinet. “McLeish is mad, you know. Quite bonkers”, I was told. My reply was: “Well, he’s better than anything else you’ve got in Scotland and he’s showing how politics can be done.”

I think that today. McLeish would head my list of advisers on constitutional affairs, were I Labour leader, because he has cross-party appeal and a political intelligence the current party can’t buy. He could reach across the perimeter fence erected by a hateful and aggressive Labour and would produce the kind of plans to appeal to a wider Scotland. But he would definitely not appeal to the people who detest him most – Labour MPs. And it’s because of those same MPs that Johann can’t come up with anything too radical to give Edinburgh more powers or because they are too important to the party machine and are deeply resentful of Holyrood, MSPs and the so-called Scottish leader. All this makes March doubly important. If Labour can produce something monumental to transform Holyrood and get a cast iron guarantee from Miliband to implement, they are on to something…it’s what Henry is saying. If they fail, the game is up for all those hopeful reformers who’ve had it with Westminster politics. In that event, I will look for Henry and others to declare for Yes before September. After all, there is nothing anti-Labour about voting for independence. On the contrary, it might be the only way a principled Labour can survive and serve the Scots.

One of my other favourite politicos is Ming Campbell who said it was his “patriotism that drives my opposition to independence”. I don’t think there’s another country in the world where that statement would make sense – if you think it does.

He goes on: “With independence, we will diminish ourselves and Scotland.” Here, I just can’t grasp the meaning. By taking control of our own affair like every other country, we will be smaller in some way, less significant…I think he means that without the embracing presence of the UK we will be alone and inadequate, or at least less adequate, even if we rewrite the rules and forge a better relationship with England.

I know what he means and he’s entirely typical of Unionist Scotland. “I’m proud of being a Brit,” he says and right there he (inadvertently) joins me in Generation X by declaring in effect that while he remains as Scottish as he chooses, he is fundamentally a British nationalist. He supports Scotland at Murrayfield, England at the Oval and Europe in the Ryder Cup. Me too. But I don’t think that makes me British or my country the UK. Those are sporting choices of allegiance not statements of national identity…that involves the essential impulse of desiring self-government as a form of national expression. I could be Slovakian and support the English cricket team because my country doesn’t have one. That doesn’t make me British. But if I wanted Slovakia to become a region of Germany as a larger neighbouring country and giving it control over all my national affairs, I would remain Slovakian but I would be surrendering my citizenship and becoming German, adopting the identity of the dominant nation state to which I belonged. Surely, that is the route by which I diminish my native country, be it Slovakia or Scotland.

Anyway, Ming goes on to make a compelling case for British federalism for which I have much sympathy but, again, like Henry, he is surely too late. Such options should have been put to the people in the ballot, it is the democratic way, instead of warning the voters: Give me what I want first and then I’ll try and deliver something for you.

And, to be honest, if the British parties had been steadily moving in this direction of giving real powers to the nations and regions of the UK while loosening the hand of Westminster and devising fair voting and a fully elected parliament, some of the Scottish case for change now would have been ameliorated. But it wasn’t. They failed to read the signs and may yet pay the cost.

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0 thoughts on “Too late…too late

  1. Funny that Derek – great ideas come at the last minute, from those you no longer respect. Like the last minute offer of more money from your emlpoyer, when you know its time to move on from a job you no longer desire.

  2. Funny that Derek – great ideas come at the last minute, from those you no longer respect. Like the last minute offer of more money from your emlpoyer, when you know its time to move on from a job you no longer desire. Think Henry is kind of a busted flush now anyway.

  3. Alex Douglas Home! later…all will be well.

  4. There comes a point when you realise the ship is sinking and can’t be saved. You either take to the boats or your going down with the ship.

  5. It doesn’t matter what the Labour Party offer for Scotland, they would need to get the agreement of the Westminster Conservatives,the NI Unionists, and they would need to get it past the House of Lords too, if it were to have a legal credibility.
    None are going to offer anything that reduces the power of Westminster; their debts are too high to not keep control of all revenues.
    Along those lines i would say any Councils willing to deal directly with the UK Government, would be chickens waiting to be plucked.

  6. Surely they must realise that so-called “Home Rule” would have been OK directly after the 2nd World War. Not any more. We’ve seen the light at the end of the tunnel and we’re heading in that direction…………fast. Henry, get your skates on and catch up. You’ll be given a tremendous welcome when you arrive – out of breath, perhaps but still able to contribute a tremendous amount to Scottish politics.

  7. What a great idea from Henry.

    There should be a separate Labour campaign on the benefits of staying part of the UK.

    Maybe we could call it something like…Oh, I don’t know..United With Labour?

    That’s oor Henry: always ahead of the curve…

    • Trouble is, that “United with Labour” is only the merest sliver of a fiction. Those few times the banner is taken out, it does nothing, it stands for nothing, it proposes nothing.

      Today we see Scottish Labour against feree school meals for kids. We have already seen them do the Tories bidding for 20 years.

      See their representative here, Grahamski. He is a typical case in point, nothing positive, never Socialist.

    • I suspect that Henry wants to come up with something new which recognises the desire of Scots for more control of their affairs, taxes and spending, while you . . . don’t

    • Ben Leiper Lossiemouth

      “United with Labour”

      Where are they now?

  8. SNP Government: Please support the Budget.
    Labour: No way. We want funding for 10,000 apprentices.
    SNP Government: That’s a good idea, let’s make it 25000 apprentices.
    Labour: We abstain.
    That says it all for me, about Labour!

  9. Labour could easily give a manifesto pledge to implement more powers if Scotland votes No and Labour wins the GE. But it seems to me pretty tough for them (or the Tories) to promise devo max. Devolution was easy. Give them everything except the important things. Devo max is way harder to give and they’d be scared to promise it because if they did, English MPs would demand reductions in Scottish MPs which (psychologically of course because it’s not really true) would hamper their ability to win GEs.

    It really is too late. We’re almost at the referendum for God’s sake. No will win only because we’re too timid. And they won’t. Because we’re not.

  10. I don’t get the Cricket thing Derek. Not my country so I have no interest in another nations national team. However it’s a personal thing each to his onw.

  11. Anent fiscal autonomy and Devo-max, it puzzles me just how much the ‘No’ side make of their currency argument – you know the one where they say that it would be like the Euro problem and that has failed. Therefore Westminster won’t agree to a currency union. What does that then say about any argument supporting Devo-max? The Lib-Dems are especially exposed here because federalism amounts to the same thing in currency union terms as the SG’s proposal to have a currency union. Furthermore the SG’s proposal has the further safeguard that it will always be up to future Scottish Governments to deal with the situation which best suits Scotland – unlike federalism where the choice of opting out is not available.

    • Hi Edulis,

      The problem those who oppose separation have with the SNP’s policy on a shared currency is that the SNP seem to think they can dictate the terms of the currency union.

      The point is that the UK is unlikely to agree to a formal currency zone without a separate Scotland relinquishing the very economic levers they so covet.

      • Why? The only levers the (independent) Bank of England control are interest rates and (to an extent) Quantitative Easing. Their only remit is to maintain inflation at @ 2%. Monetary policy requires no control by the BoE over Manx, Channel Islands, Falkland Islands, or putatively Scottish fiscal policy.

      • However, in many ways a currency union is more desirable for RUK than it is for Scotland. Why else do Cameron and Osborne do a dance of the seven veils when it is discussed? They always hint that it would be terribly difficult, but never rule it out.

      • Ben Leiper Lossiemouth

        “The SNP seem to think they can dictate the terms”

        They have made a proposal that they argue is in everyone’s best interest (short to medium term).

        It’s a fair proposal that has so far not been ruled out.

        Are you sure you understand what “dictate” means?

  12. I can’t read the full Times article by Ming since it is behind a paywall, but if he is really advocating federalism then he is a hypocrite.

    The best opportinity for the LIb Dems to have been involved was in 2007 when the SNP were in a minority at Holyrood and asked the LDs to form a coalition.

    As far as I am aware it was Ming, the temp leader of the LDs at the time, who refused to allow this to happen.

    This would have given the the chance to show that they actually believed what they have been saying for 100yrs re Home Rule.

    However I think we all see what the LDs are now and that is all mouth and no trousers.

  13. The problem for most London based Scottish MPs is that Scotland is just too small to contain their egos.Most of them suffer from the cringe factor should anyone accuse them of being Scottish (as in GB with his infamous North British quote).The land of haggis and whisky where the people live that elect them to a real parliament in a creal civilised country.
    I am afraid their is no hope for people of this mind set.
    Thanks Derek.

  14. As somebody who supported federalism for a number of years I’ve since come to the conclusion that federalism in the UK is completely and utterly unworkable, the gulf in populations between the respective nations is frankly too big. 60 million people in England would never accept parity on federal matters with nations containing less than 10% of their population. Anybody who doubts that should consider the impact of the English tabloids pointing this out.during a referendum on the matter. I’m sad to say, but anybody considering federalism in the UK as workable let alone likely, is simply engaged in an exercise of political self delusion.

  15. I think Henry is itching to quit Labour and join the SNP.

    And why not, he doesn’t seem – as DB states – very popular with his Labour party colleagues.

    Climb aboard Henry.

    You know you want to.

  16. So, Henry has come up with another Jam Tomorrow offer? Whoopee – let’s get The Clash albums out and party like it’s 1979!

    In any event, for Henry’s scheme to woo Scottish voters in the short to medium term, said voters would need to believe that there was a rat in hell’s chance that the electorate of Middle England would rate Milliband as a remotely electable Prime Minister, and that ain’t going to happen. There isn’t even anyone else on the Labour front bench who is remotely Prime Ministerial material. UK Labour aren’t going to get elected any time soon unless the Tories fail to do a deal with Farage to prevent UKIP splitting the Tory vote.

    Even if that scenario resulted in a UK Labour Govt by default, there is no interest or stomach for major constitutional change in UK Labour.

    Of course, Devo Max also lacks credibility because, if all the Unionist parties were really so keen to offer it, why did they move Heaven and Earth to get that option off the ballot paper? No, after 1979 no Scot with half a brain is going to fall for another Jam Tomorrow offer like Thatcher’s.

  17. There has been a sudden burst of Henry McLiesh style articles across the UK MSM since Sunday the Observer / Guardian has run two in the last two days immediately in the dust of the Yougov poll that went so wrong for the No Campaign. There is this sudden outpouring of surprise that we Scots are turning our back on 2014 Jam Tomorrow – a hint of sadness, a hint of what could have been.

    I wrote a piece for Labour List in 2007 arguing the time to renegotiate the UK Union was then, before the SNP got their feet under the table – I received the usual unthinking kicking from folk who did not understand Labour were losing the plot in Scotland and were certain this was ‘just a blip’, Scotland would be Labour controlled again in 2011. I am a UK federalist at heart but even I now know the only way Scotland can prosper and be the country it can be, is to end the Union. This is a Union which has neither political nor economic cohesion to recommend it, this Union does not deserve to survive, no matter the levels of wishful thinking the Henry McLeish’s of this world indulge in.

    Osbourne announced the 1706 Treaty of Union’s death yesterday. A £4 Billion cut to the Scottish Budget on a country delivering an average annual surplus to the UK Treasury of 18.9% over expenditure and is on record of having done so since the 1950’s – and then we need to include all the elements of Scotland’s ‘budget’ which never leaves Whitehall which would accrue to Scotland.

    Henry and his friends are pissing to windward with this last ditch attempt.

  18. If the unionists wanted to preserve the union, perhaps they should have used the start of devolution to create a quasi-federal system which could have gracefully accommodated further devolution.

    If the unionists wanted to preserve the union, perhaps they should have insisted on a second question in the referendum.

    If the unionists wanted to preserve the union, perhaps they should have passed the legislation to implement Devo Max, or something close to it, ready to come into effect automatically if there is a ‘No’ vote in the referendum.

    They did none of these things, because they were confident that Scottish voters could be frightened into voting ‘No’; now they are less sure, but it is indeed too late for a compromise. All they can do is to seek to mislead and cheat the Scottish electorate with hints of future additional powers for Holyrood, which will be repudiated instantly if there is a ‘No’ vote.

    • Scotland has always been at the bottom of the Westminster Totem pole and has never at any time (Westminster) acted in Scotland’s best interest.They try to justify this by saying that we are all one nation under Westminster sharing a common culture but frequently take their eye off the ball when it comes to the more remote parts of their fiefdom.
      However,it is clear to everyone that we are different culturally,as is evidenced by the sort of governments Scots and English elect to office.
      We are Scots.

  19. It is part of the Westminster zeitgeist to do too little too late. Ever since the Chartists and the Great Reform Bill, the Westminster mindset of we are the Crown in Parliament and what we say goes has had to give grudging way to the principle ensconced in the Declaration of Arbroath that the people are sovereign. Henry and Ming are just the latest advertisment for the Westminster way.

  20. Some years back I was approached to join in partnership in a business venture. “But I must be the boss” was a condition within the approach by the other party.And so it would be with England. Federalism is a non-starter. If Henry McLeish is earning a fee for his articles good for him as for his musings, don’t think so. Ming Campbell? I have no time for the man.

  21. Pretty predictable stuff really and we’ll get more after UKIP give them all a drubbing in the European elections. My history is hazy, but did Westminster not offer the Irish a federal solution just before Ireland told them to get stuffed?

  22. I think the Tories are being even more disingenuous to their coalition party, the Labour opposition party, the electorate in England and unionists from all over the UK (especially the BT scapegoats) than they are towards supporters of Scottish independence. Wouldn’t it be possible for the Bullingdon Boys to be DELIBERATELY misleading everybody they have no interest in representing, so that when everything boils over and Scotland regains independence, they will simply decide if it’s good enough for Scotland, it’s good enough for what would very quickly become a newly independent London City State which retains all the money for their ilk. Bye Bye Plebs, hahahahaha!

  23. Thomas William Dunlop

    “There is a disturbingly high proportion of SNP voters who don’t want independence ”

    I think what you are grasping at is that there are a lot of people that want independence but don’t want to call it that (word specific aversion, very much like the Bitters rattling on about separation all the time). The polls all show that people in Scotland want tax, benefits etc controlled in Scotland. Maybe if people went around calling what the SNP advocating as old fashioned home rule, it might get 70 or 80 % to agree.

  24. Sorry Derek for going slightly O/T but since Grahamski is here, perhaps he could clarify what exactly is ‘United with Labour’?
    I know the slogan but who is it for? Is it for Labour members or is it a banner for some Unions to huddle behind or is it just a slogan ?
    What are their aims, who funds them, what role can ordinary voters play?
    I would click on their site but unfortunately some sites count you then as a follower and there doesn’t seem to be much info available so maybe Grahamski could help?
    There is a bit of me thinks the electorate are being lulled into believing the Labour Party in Scotland have more numbers than there actually is ( so more credence ) and just wondered who United with Labour are?

  25. It staggers me that the Labour leadership have not realised the Golden opportunity they could have had in supporting Scottish Independence, I mean it’s the definition of democracy to grant a people their right to Independence. Why can’t the Labour PARTY get over itself and see their principals as being of greater importance. The Labour Party could still exist; straddling the 2 countries (Scotland & rUK) then onto Europe, God knows there are plenty of people there clamouring for a greater national voice among the Federalists. I hope that the voters see that the time has come, that Labour can exist and flourish but only in an Independent Scotland, free from Westminster baggage/gravy train.

  26. I would never have had Ming down as a patriotic Scot, did he perhaps mean a patriotic Brit?

  27. Henry knows full well that come March, SLAB will have nothing of value to offer by way of compensation for a No vote. He also knows full well that their failure to do so, is what will allow him to come out for Yes subsequently. Its all about timing and Henry god bless him, is just trying to make sure his switch comes over as water-tight, having begged his party to make the right move. They won’t of course but he will 🙂

  28. I just received my email reply from David Martin MEP when I asked him about his reasons for planning to write a report arguing that any new state would be automatically outside the European Union and would be forced to reapply for membership.

    His reply: ‘ My concern is that there remains a high level of uncertainty regarding Scotland’s position in the EU, were it to secede from the United Kingdom. I believe the SNP are not being straight with the Scottish public over the precarious situation Scotland would find itself in and are trying to gloss over the huge problems.

    The report that was mentioned in the article you sent me was a means by which I hoped to clarify the situation Scotland would find itself in.

    As you may be aware, in the unlikely scenario that Scotland were to vote for independence, it would have to negotiate for membership from outside of the EU and final accession requires the approval of all current Member States of the EU’

    So make of that what you will.

  29. Liz

    The first part of that statement is a factual lie as we will be negotiating from within the UK from the day we vote ‘Yes’ till the day we declare Independence.

    The second part of his assertion is correct, but he doesn’t speculate who would vote against Scotland’s negotiated deal to be part of the EU in it’s own right as an Independent Nation.

    The word ‘mendacious’ covers this charlatans reply very well.

    You knew that though.

  30. Sorry Liz, I was referring to this extract:

    ‘it would have to negotiate for membership from outside of the EU and final accession requires the approval of all current Member States of the EU’

    • Hi bearinorkney, Yes I know it’s got several dubious comments. I am forming a reply and will answer some of his ‘inaccuracies’.
      I love how he is trying to say he was ‘only trying to clarify’ when we all know only a formal request from the Westminster gov will get an answer to that one.
      Also his ‘secede’ assertion when there are other views on the legal position as regards the union treaty.

  31. McLeish is an opportunist attention seeker.

    He will rightly be compared to a rat abandoning a sinking ship if he comes out for Yes AFTER polls put Yes in the lead.

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