Nine months to go and it is time to make a stand. 2014 is the turning point and the moment we stop, turn and confront. In the time left those of us who believe in Scotland’s independence have to do more than resist. We have to return the challenge with interest and make this the year when the Union is examined in relentless detail, when its worth is questioned and its agents pressurised. A campaign is about winning and that takes more than effort. It requires unremitting focus and dedicated resolve. If we want to win we must risk it all and channel our belief in the cause to one end. There will never be a better chance in our lifetime and the omens are good.
Let’s begin with the Unionist campaign. It isn’t led by the ragbag of Better Together – that is the PR front that feeds the open mouths of the media – it is commanded by the British state which has never been more aware in peacetime that is under threat. At the helm of HMS Britannia is its political master and commander the Prime Minister who directs its strategy, approves the campaign measures and bankrolls with taxpayers’ money the whole operation. We must not be diverted by the idea that a Conservative leader would leave the continuing existence of the state in the hands of a Labour backbencher or a backroom Labour Party fixer. Alistair Darling and Blair McDougall are, like their party itself, expendable dupes in the hands of an establishment determined to keep the rigid order of a class-based society in place. Any socialist or liberal social democrat with Scotland at heart would have started their own save-the-union movement and won over civic Scotland by devising a coherent plan for new powers for Holyrood, committing itself to reform of government throughout Britain and demanded a second question to validate its strategy. There would be no need for the Tories to be anything other than bystanders and, in the current Westminster arrangements, the Lib Dems could justifiably be treated the same and left to shout from the sidelines.
A Labour Party with vision would have kept a Tory–led government at arm’s length and refused to have any formal agreement with it. It would have been free to acknowledge or reject any reports emanating from the British government. It would have applied the “Labour values” they talk so proudly of to the fat cheques from right wing zealots, landowners, financiers and morally bankrupt corporate types who see their personal interests at risk. A real Labour Party would be running its own campaign after consulting the membership, getting the unions to agree and recruiting the civic organisations. With a version of devo max it would be running away in the referendum opinion polls and overtaking the SNP on the Holyrood polls. This period from 2011 to September 2014 could have been the nursery from which a renewed Labour could have grown and burst triumphantly into life on referendum day.
Instead their Scottish leader stumbles through gaffe-ridden speeches which deny Labour’s own history and principles and remains stubbornly invisible to nearly half the voters. Their anointed front man has the charisma of an undertaker at graveside, is derided by the London elite and gets a standing ovation at a Tory conference. He and McDougall are reduced to talking like anti-Scottish Tories who patronise their own country, pumping out the same message that flows from the darker edges of the Tory backbenches – that Scotland is nothing without England and couldn’t play it is part in the world without the superior savoir-faire of London.
That is what they believe – that it’s just silly to imagine Scotland could operate as a normal small state when their life experience is that money, privilege and success are found only in London. That’s why they went there in the first place, because that’s how Britain is organised with talent and resources pouring into London and once there, they look back at home and shake their head at how insignificant it all is. Alistair could have returned as a leading MSP and minister at Holyrood in 1999 but like all those others, Brown included (who even rejected a first junior ministerial posting to the Scottish Office because he wasn’t interested in his own country), he scoffed at the idea…too demeaning.
The message isn’t so much that all Unionist political opinion is united in one campaign, it’s that Labour regards the Union as greater than the needs of the people who vote for it. It will sacrifice the unemployed, the poor, the hungry, the vulnerable, the disabled, the homeless, the asylum seeker, child in poverty and the struggling family in order to save the Union. What mystical power does this creaking alliance have for socialists? The answer appears to be very little because the true Left in Scotland is heavily committed to Yes, be it the Greens, the Socialists or individuals who once belonged to Labour. It is only the old, statist, establishment-loyal Labour and their friends among the trades union leaderships that prefer the public school/private finance Britain to egalitarian Scotland.
But as the research on the British Social Attitudes Survey discovered, there are now signs that Labour voters don’t agree. They know instinctively their party is wrong and are open to the independence message. Many are prepared to adopt an independent Scotland if they can be persuaded to ditch the Labour baggage that has always shaped their voting intentions. They don’t buy their own party’s message about Scotland but aren’t ready yet to vote for what they perceive as an SNP project. But they are poised. They can be persuaded. Further declarations like those of John Mulvey, Charlie Gray and Alex Mosson will shake the floor under Labour.
A constant focus from now on will be on David Cameron who is sounding increasingly implausible as leader, even among his own supporters in England, bemused that he isn’t even prepared to take their antipathy to independence into the studio to confront Salmond. How can the Unionists claim the facts are on their side, the case is being won and it’s now only a matter of how they win by, when their figurehead shirks his chance to press home the advantage in the clearest fashion modern media provides and in an area of expertise – public speaking and debate – at which he excels? How can the man who pushed his way in to the referendum and insisted on its conditions and signed the Edinburgh Agreement professing to speak for the majority of Scots, back away when he’s invited to answer to those same Scots? I think he will be obliged to concede defeat, not by Scotland but by England and a startled London media incredulous as the opinion polls tighten. Salmond’s offer should be to debate with Darling but only after he has debated with Cameron. Such a debate has two consequences – one, Cameron’s actual knowledge of and professed interest in Scotland will be exposed to Salmond’s advantage and two, Labour voters will see in action in their living rooms and on the bar-room wall who really represents and speaks for them in this debate – an upper class Tory running a vicious cost-of-living campaign against them, a man made rich by a banker father who amassed his millions helping the wealthy avoid paying their taxes in this country. The leadership may not care, but Labour voters do. Forget Alistair Darling – himself a private-educated, wealthy and still high-earning MP – the real leader is Cameron who represents everything Labour people vote against. Indeed, vote against the rich self-interested Tories has been part of Labour’s own election message for the last 30 odd years. Now they are saying: Listen to him. He is right.
These contradictions on the No side will disentangle more as the parties compete for votes in the European elections when the London-based politicians will forget Scotland and resort to arguing with each other and we will see how united they really are and how likely it is, after a No vote, that they will come together and commit to an agreed package of powers for Scotland. I am writing to my (Labour) MP asking her to request the British government to get a legal assessment from Brussels on Scotland’s EU membership, as the Commission promised it would provide. I am no longer accepting that Unionists say there is uncertainty over the EU while they decline the Commission’s invitation to get a formal ruling. This transcends the debate…it is a question of democracy that we are informed fully before we vote. I think this has the potential to push London into retreat if enough of us demand an answer, along with the Scottish government, and no democrat of any party can deny this information is our right. It may be an issue for Change.org to gage support. This is the year of the fight-back.