It didn’t take Ed Balls long to prove me right. I wrote on Februay 14 that…“by pulling together and stating effectively that retention of the Union supersedes all policy differences is a seminal moment….when they conspire to create individual policy along with the Tories they are getting into bed with the people who are wrecking lives in Britain…why is saving the Union a greater crusade than saving the dignity of the unemployed? Why does the perfectly normal arrangement of a currency deal supersede zero hours contracts and welfare cuts for the disabled? For a socialist what is the motivation to bury all differences with the hard right in order to send a brutal message to the Scots – that we don’t co-operate, we dictate. We don’t negotiate – we assert?”
Today we find Ed claiming that his revulsion at the Liberals’ behaviour in government may preclude joining them in a future Coalition. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/feb/18/labour-lib-dems-ed-balls He says: “I look at what the Liberal Democrats have done the last two or three years – these guys have not restrained the Tories. They have in many ways amplified and encouraged the Conservatives in thing they’ve done.” He goes on: “It’s one thing to break your promises in a manifesto to get into power, it’s another to do that on the backs of the poor and the most disadvantaged. That’s what they did and I don’t think people are going to forget that.”
So why is he standing shoulder to shoulder with them – and their Tory masters – when it comes to Scotland’s currency? If you loathe them both so much that you’d endanger your chances of running the government by refusing to stand with them in a coalition, what is it about Scotland and the pound that allows you to drop your inhibitions and join them on this single issue?
He says it himself – they’ve let down the poor and the disadvantaged which should be reason enough not to work with them on any domestic policy issue. (I’m excluding international threat where the natural tendency is to pull together in the national interest). Or is that precisely why the currency question transcends all others – because Labour really does regard Scotland as a nascent foreign country rather than an estranged family member? Could it be that when Balls is presented with the proposition that he join his sworn enemies in an alliance against Scotland, it immediately strikes him as appropriate because in the interests of Britain, they must stand together whatever their differences. Scotland is an aggressor, a national threat to be faced down. The poor? To Hell with them. The disabled? We’ll come to that later. Is there some kind of dog whistle at work here so that on this issue, only and alone, all differences between parties, including UKIP by the way, evaporate and Labour rushes, panting to join the British bulldogs? They did it over the second question, just as they did over Calman, and here again on currency. Instead of using their considerable power base in Scotland to strike a different note, a real Scottish Labour alternative, they fall into the arms of the very people they pretend to despise.
Johann Lamont said that sharing the pound would mean England “doing us favours” so she also doesn’t believe Scotland has a stake in the Bank of England and hasn’t helped to build sterling. She said England would be quite right to deny it to Scotland. Now there’s a proud Scottish leader to march behind. “What do we want…to be treated like serfs…Small, skint and stupid…Ed, Ed, Ed…” It seems we really are another country.
Why wouldn’t an enlightened left-leaning democrat wish to engage constructively with a left-of-centre movement of friends over the border that would be mandated by majority in a legal referendum? And why wouldn’t a Scottish Unionist leader not want to keep the closest relationship they could after a break?
There are many possible answers including undying loyalty to the (London) leadership…an implacable hatred of the SNP…a lack of vision…cynical disregard for the Scots, her own history of opposition to devolution or plain political stupidity. I say this because whatever your role in the political game in Scotland, you are lost if you are seen not to stand up for the Scots. This is a loose phrase which is malleable in the hands of the beholder but everyone of us knows what it means to them. Salmond stands up for Scotland, even when he’s wrong. That is what the public think. So horizontal is Johann’s profile and so timid and ingratiating her contributions that people don’t know what to think of her which may be a good thing for her reputation. But I think she is wrong to meekly troop along behind Balls on this. The Scots are genuinely trying to make up their mind and, whatever their misgivings about the pound, are taken aback by the total resistance Westminster has engineered. To them it sounds unnecessary, premature and hostile and they’re looking for someone to give them perspective….someone to say: “I’m not so sure. We don’t need to be hasty. We’ll decide what’s in the best interests of the Scots if this ever happens.” In the absence of that voice, they turn to Salmond who says it for them.
The idea that Lamont might be irritated with Balls for joining the Tories, for ruling out the currency union, would strengthen her hand in public opinion. Yes, it means she would be asked to explain an internal difference but that’s the whole point – to make sure people know she’s on their side and is prepared to be against her own party to be so. That’s what Scottish leaders have to do. McConnell didn’t and was thrown out. Gray failed the test and was obliterated. Funny how they never learn.