Last nights Scottish Labour Party Political Broadcast was dressed with more saltires than the Tartan Army tour bus, and tried really really hard to convince you that Iain Gray was someone you could get inspired by, as he trundled about Edinburgh on the top deck of an empty bus. “Look that’s my old school.” It was knocked down and re-built apparently, ‘a Labour school.’ Better not mention the whole PFI fiasco though?
As Labour meets in Dundee today, it is with barely concealed glee that it has quashed next years refendum on independence for Scotland. In what is being billed by the Scotsman as “a major boost to the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, ahead of his address to Scottish Labour delegates in Dundee today”, MSPs voted by 72 to 47 to reject a referendum, leaving the Scottish Government with just the support of Holyrood’s two Greens. The doughty Tory leader, Annabel Goldie, said the “independence party is now over”.
Scottish leader Iain Gray has, apparently, shifted his position, having previously indicated that he, like his predecessor Wendy Alexander, would support a referendum bill. On the 26 July 2008 Gray stated: “Scottish Labour should never be afraid of the verdict of the Scottish people in an independence referendum.” Wendy’s ‘Bring it on’ has turned to ‘dinnae bother’.
But while the all conquering Atlantacist hero returns North of the Border, he should perhaps reflect for a moment on how this action will be perceived in the long run. Labour are today spinning that the Prime Minister will say the SNP is “fixated on separating Scotland from the UK” in a speech at the three-day Scottish Labour conference. But they have still failed to learn the lesson from their latest defeat at Holyrood. The electorate aren’t surprised that the SNP back independence, that is what they are all about. It’s as if Labour have managed to convince themselves that there’s been some big misunderstanding and people were mistakenly voting SNP in the belief that they were merely in favour of more whisky. “Oh so you actually want independence?”
The truth is that the opposition parties are in opportunist dissaray. In a Scotsman interview in February Lord Ashdown said in relation to Liberal Democrat tactics after the 2007 election “I would not have ruled out a referendum and I think it would have been a good time to hold it.”
But now is not the time for democracy we are told, because of the recession, but apparently other times, when they perceived they might win, the Unionist leaders have been tempted by a referendum. At least the Tories, bless them, are consistently opposed to asking the electorate what they think. To summarise Labours position is more tricky. First it was opposed to a referendum, then for one (immediately!), then was told by Gordon Brown it was against it, then it was for it again, but with different words, now it’s completely against it, for the moment. Is that clear now?
To confuse matters the Scottish Greens, want a ‘preferendum’ with everything on the table including more powers for the parliament, or abolishing it altogether. The reality is that this looks very much like a self-serving cabal of politicians ganging together to prevent the people having their say.
It’s worth remembering that its not just people who want independence who want a vote on it. Here are the results of a recent poll asking the people of Scotland about whether they wanted a referendum or not. 72% of the total were in favour of a referendum and 28% against. Taken by party preference the resulst were as follows: 63% of Conservatives were in favour, 37% against 59% of Labour were in favour, 41% against 63% of LibDems were in favour, 37% against 96% of the SNP were in favour, 4% against. The schism that now appears as a fault line in Scottish politics is not between nationalists and unionists, but between democrats and the political classes.