First of all, congratulations to Alex Rowley, victor in the Cowdenbeath by election. He is, I think, one of a breed of Fife Labour folk who are the heart of what was once – and may be again – a working class movement worthy of the name. He doesn’t fit the mould of the modern, media-savvy slick boy and, although I don’t agree with his analysis and solutions, I do respect his political background and longevity. I hope he breaks away from the grip of Gordon Brown when he’s at Holyrood where I think he will become a real contributor, especially if leaves at the door any anti-Nat baggage that is distorting Labour’s message. All my dealings with him, some years ago now, left me with the impression of an uncomplicated and honest man, not something I say often about the politicos. (And a convincing majority too).
Anti-Nat baggage? Well, I spent a lot of time yesterday in the company in Labour people, some of who you have definitely heard of, and one theme that emerged was a deep frustration at the two-way finger-pointing of both Labour and SNP. There are people out there – in the know but not under a leadership edict – whose vision of, and for, Scotland is non-tribal and cooperative and who see real advantage for the Scots in the parties working together in the areas where there is agreement – a space of impressive scope if we only realise it.
Outside the quoted nomenclature of Lamont, Darling and Murphy there is a community of Labour people who are desperate for deep and radical reform of the powers of the parliament to turn it into a powerhouse of progress with comprehensive tax autonomy, welfare responsibility and entrenched powers allowing it stand aloof from Westminster decision-making when it chose to do so. They envisage a Scotland which is effectively independent showing the rest of Britain what can be achieved if they too have powers devolved. Except they retain the current anchor chains of macro economics and foreign/defence affairs. Now I know that isn’t enough for nationalists including myself but the reason it’s interesting is that we know this is the political territory the majority of Scots also currently inhabit and in a whole Scotland national interest, we could all compromise. Or rather, we could have. These are not necessarily Labour rebels but, according to my evidence, encompass names of some the Nats love to hate.
They belong to the Donald Dewar school that “devolution is a process not an event” and believe that Dewar himself wished for and would today be campaigning for a wide-ranging upgrade of powers and responsibilities beyond anything we anticipate emerging from the Lamont commission. And they have little faith that Lamont will deliver. They see Scotland being held back by lack of flexibility in tax and spend, are appalled at the social impact of Westminster welfare policy and are unconvinced Miliband can lead Labour to victory. (Or what he will deliver if he wins). They wanted a Devo Max option and agree with those of us who argue that Labour should have “demanded” a second question, defined the policy and won hands-down.
Instead they recoil from the Lamont leadership with its lack of strategy –apart from Get Salmond – and it’s constant errors in seeking ways of distancing itself from the SNP. Her praising of London is the latest example of foot-shooting. The nationalist-led narrative about the UK’s resources being sucked into runaway London is working so Lamont must contrive a way of heading it off. She does so by telling the Scots they are dependant on London’s wealth – that it’s a good thing – when there isn’t a sane observer north of Watford who fails to see how unbalanced Britain has become by the concentration of wealth, investment, tax revenues, monetary and fiscal policy in one area. (Even Mr London, Professor Tony Travers of the LSE, agrees). To acknowledge is right but to endorse is wrong. No Labour voter likes the idea of reliance on London and wants to know how we tackle it. To say we must thank London is like telling Labour Scots to love the Tories. As one contact said: “Who is advising her?”
Some voices were heard at the Labour for Independence gathering in Glasgow, some from those still connected to official Labour but others are not. And here’s the thing. A thinking constituency of senior Labour people will vote Yes…not for independence but to make sure the vote stays up. They worry that if it is too low, the energy for change will die, even in Labour, when what Scotland needs is decisive and far-reaching reform. They are riding on Salmond’s coat tails and doing so as a means of securing a positive enough outcome to justify continued change to the Union. Of course, there is always another option – that movement in the polls emboldens some to go public and urge other Labour voters to join them in voting Yes, not necessarily for independence but to guarantee deeper reform. And it’s here you see the possibilities of cooperation if there is a No vote in September. All the pressure will heap on to Labour with demands to know what they will offer and how and those voices won’t only be from the SNP but from identifiable Labour figures pressing their own side to deliver. It was Gordon Brown who stopped Labour’s last push for reform which was to follow Wendy Alexander’s doomed referendum call. I hope his doleful influence doesn’t stop Alex Rowley championing real change now his chance has come. He was unceremoniously dumped from the general secretary’s job after arguing for more powers for the Scottish party years ago so this may be his last chance to impact on national politics.
AND…having boasted yesterday about 9200 hits in a day…yesterday I was a few short of 13,000 hits – in 24 hours. The big boys out there may scoff but I’m quite humbled by those numbers. And I can see on the worldwide map there are people logging in dozens of countries, even in tiny Pacific atolls. Don’t tell me thew world doesn’t care about Scotland. Thank you.