Some very good responses to England, My England – varied in tone but enlightening. I’ll press ahead with a manifesto of sorts and post it and email it to Nigel Farage. What do you think?
Meantime, I think there’s another issue we need to bear in mind…those who are looking to a No vote and a Labour general election victory to save Britain. It is this: the day after a narrow No victory, it is Labour and no one else who is under the spotlight. If Yes loses, the same intense scrutiny currently applied to the positive campaign will be turned against the No side – and don’t expect the Tories to take any blame. It will be Labour and specifically Johann Lamont who will feel the heat of explaining what she will deliver, how it will be done and when.
She will be the one who told us we didn’t need independence to achieve the goal of transforming society, that we should continue to enjoy the benefits of shared resources and she will deliver the powers to propel us into a prosperous future. It wont just be Alex Salmond but the whole nation – the Unionists too who backed her – who say: Over to you, Johann.
She will become the effective leader of the devo max campaign, explaining in detail what new powers will come and what impact they will have. She will outline how they will meet the ambition of the voters – as she herself has often said, their desire is for better devolution – and why they are superior to independence in combatting poverty, building homes, saving lives and the environment and creating a better Scotland.
From that moment on, the Yes campaign in the country which will, unlike Better Together, continue to grow, and the MSPs at Holyrood, will begin a ceaseless demand for detail, updates, explanations and timescales on Labour’s new powers.
The first phase will be in the run-up to the UK general election next May (2015) when, instead of deprecating the SNP’s failure in the referendum and using it as a device against them, Labour will be in the position of describing how their own extremely limited proposals will work in practice, an exercise Johann flunked at launch. Accompanying this tricky proposition will be voices coming from England – in both Commons and country – making clear they are fed up with debating the minutiae of Scottish devolution and in any case, the Scots have spoken and said No to real change when they had the chance. Labour campaigners will be keen to keep away from the topic throughout the election – I doubt that Yes people will let them.
The second phase is in the run up to the Scottish election the following May (2016) when there is no possibility of Labour having delivered on pre-referendum promises, even if Miliband is Prime Minister and the same dilemma faces Labour of a poor Scottish team, poorly led, floundering when they should be profiting up against the same experienced SNP team, benefiting, I should think, from a retrospective sympathy vote from the narrow referendum defeat as well as the respect earned from nine years of government. At this stage even a Miliband government in London will be sticking to Tory austerity budgets to add to the difficult sell of Labour in Scotland where the sense of what-might-have-been will be palpable.
Does anyone see Johann handling this pressure and scrutiny? Is there any evidence from the last three years that she has earned a deep respect and therefore the understanding of Scots…or that her grasp of policy and presentation has prepared her for the toughest period of her leadership?
And imagine just how thorny the thicket gets if Cameron sneaks back in again and the second half of Osborne’s cuts programme begins to bite while Labour stands helplessly on the sidelines with the clamour of the Scots ringing in their ears.
There are a couple of other possibilities here – in the event of a narrow No. The first is that Johann takes the opportunity to step aside, claiming that she has achieved her objective of winning the council elections and securing the future of the Union. That way she leaves the job to someone else, begging the obvious question…
The other is in a way a much more intriguing question than what becomes of another so-called Labour leader – what role does the SNP want to adopt? As a government, it can’t sulk, it has to carry on and, in keeping with its founding principles, will do its best for the people of Scotland who will have spoken. (You’ll notice I dismiss the idea of anyone other than the SNP in power. Is a Labour/Lib Dem or Lab/Con pact possible to keep them out?)
In this scenario the SNP could, if it chose, deny Labour the ill-fitting mantle of the party of devo max by adopting it for itself. There would be logic in this after (if) the Scots have declined independence because it would mean saying: We accept the verdict, the next best option is significant new powers and arrangements and we are its champions. Labour failed to come up with a credible option when they had years to do so, therefore we take up the challenge. This is our Plan B.
One of the problems for Labour posing as the devo max party is their failure to add it to the ballot paper when offered the chance. I have no doubt that was Salmond’s original intention insofar as he found himself with a referendum he didn’t want – it was too soon – and realised another stage might be required to get us to full independence. He would have accepted a second question – the very reason the Unionists denied it. So the SNP could retain the longer-term ambition of independence while turning itself into the champions of devo max, winning public support and challenging Labour –again – on what should be their home ground.
I see John McTernan in the Scotsman today offering an Ed Miliband How I Will Win Scotland speech which talks about Labour’s ability to end the Tory misery. Putting aside the obvious weakness that Labour is signed up to Tory spending plans and as far as I can see has not even responded to the Council of Europe judgement that UK benefits are so low they are illegal, the difficulty with the McTernan proposition is the political cycle. That is, the Tories will get in again. It doesn’t matter that Labour gets five years trying to undo some damage – but not too much – and not replacing Tory cuts as Balls has pledged, if at the next election they are thrown out and another bunch of Tories are elected. The trend in Britain is further and further right so the next lot will be worse than Cameron’s. Independence means never having to say we’re Tory.
Even if you have McTernan’s touchingly naïve belief in Labour, they can only last until the next Tory victory and the hamster wheel of failure continues to spin.
Enough! We have the power in September to end all this and strike out on our own path without them.