Scottish Labour’s incoherent and illogical stance on independence is stopping it making a serious contribution to the debate about Scotland’s future and failing the country’s people.
The party’s role as a partner in Better Together in the campaign leading up to indyref1 continues to hang over it like a grim shadow, consigning it to the irrelevant fringes of Scottish politics.
It’s insistence on standing against a second referendum makes it look increasingly out of step with many of its own supporters. Here are four reasons why the party needs to bow to increasing pressure for a change of heart.
1: Leading Labour supporters are urging a new approach to independence
Former union boss Len McCluskey has told Labour to back a second independence referendum. As general secretary of the Unite union Mr McClusky was a major figure within the party for more than a decade.
He said yesterday that the SNP had ‘’stolen the radical clothes of Scottish Labour” and that Labour had ‘’lost the trust of ordinary working people”. He added: ‘’In my opinion they should support a second referendum on independence, what they actually do when that referendum comes can still be debated.”
Former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish has supported a second independence referendum for some time. Last month he said he would ‘’seriously consider’ voting yes in indyref2.
2: The Labour party has a completely different attitude to the debate around independence in Wales
The party’s First Minister in Wales Mark Drakeford recently launched the Welsh government’s Constitutional Commission and said it would be ‘’absurd’’ to rule out considering independence as an option.
Mr Drakeford has said he does not personally support independence but, unlike his colleagues in Scottish Labour, he supports the principle of democracy. The new commission will examine how the constitutional structures of the UK can be reformed and will be led by the former archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and Professor Laura McAllister.
3: A new documentary on Labour reveals how little attention UK politics devotes to Scotland
The five-part BBC documentary series Blair and Brown: The New Labour Revolution revisits the days when Labour was the major force in British politics. It charts New Labour’s journey to its 1997 election landslide and the period of dominance that followed.
Throughout the entire series Scotland merits barely one mention. That says a lot about how our country is viewed in Britain’s Westminster-dominated mainstream politics.
The truth is that at the height of its powers Labour took Scotland for granted and then saw no problem in standing alongside the Conservative Party in Better Together to keep us in our place
It’s true that the decision to write Scotland out of New Labour’s history was the documentary makers’ rather than the party’s. Indeed not even the re-opening of the Scottish parliament pierced the Westminster bubble. It certainly highlights the fact no one involved in the programme considered the Scottish dimension worthy of consideration.
The truth is that at the height of its powers Labour took Scotland for granted and then saw no problem in standing alongside the Conservative Party in Better Together to keep us in our place. The rise in support for independence took Labour by surprise and it hasn’t come to terms with it since.
4: Labour has come up with no new ideas for Scotland
The Labour party may oppose a second independence referendum but it has no new serious proposals to improve Scotland’s position within the United Kingdom. The party’s leader Keir Starmer continues to place his faith in Gordon Brown to come up with a winning idea.
The former Labour prime minister simply offers reheated arguments for a federal UK, which could not become a reality without the agreement of the rest of the UK in some sort of vote.
Mr Starmer believes that all powers short of independence could be transferred to Holyrood. Since no plans for anything remotely like that system have been drawn up, we are a very long way from anything being even put on the table never mind formally proposed.