Blue Labour, White Flags & Red Lines
Today, Christine Jardine attempted to lay out an argument that No actually means Yes. ‘Historic powers’ are already coming our way – and more are to follow (‘We’ve already moved on and will move on again.’). This is a line being diligently nurtured by Kenny Farquharson, Alex Massie, Severin Carrell and David Torrance. It’s a sort of liberal amnesia. Politics without power, commentary without analysis. It studiously ignore the dynamics of Miliband’s British Labour styling, the wobbly equivocation of Ruth Davidson’s Tory rump or the abject capitulation of the Liberals.
Ignore the cognitive dissonance and listen up. Under this argument the powers that have spent lifetimes repressing, resisting and deflecting sovereignty, are those who will actually deliver it. Vote No and get more powers in the future, honest. On closer examination this seems highly unlikely.
Jardine describes gleefully how: ‘The Lib Dems have unveiled proposals for a federal UK to be included in their 2015 manifesto.’ This is true, but what she emits to say is that the Liberal Democrats are in popular free-fall having lost any credibility with their disastrous liason. At one point they were polling 3%. They are utterly irrelevant. Even with the best will in the world the Liberals will be forming no government any time soon, anywhere. Her evidence of the No to Yes epiphany is sketchy too: “Labour too is establishing a commission with the aim of strengthening Holyrood and even the Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has embraced the idea that our constitutional journey is not over.”
It’s all very vague and her evocation of the great transfer of powers also collapses under scrutiny. Describing the great Scotland Act of 2012, she highlights how we’ll soon have “powers and responsibility for stamp duty, land tax, landfill tax, powers over air guns, speed limits, drink driving and more.” This is puerile.
Like the French chef who can make beefsteak out of a leather glove, Alastair Darling has done well with his Better Together campaign. There was – up until now – no need for a mass campaign, a grassroots organisation, nor any need for creative thinking. The message was simple: “everything’s just fine.”
It is an appeal to the conservative, the cautious, the wary, and who isn’t all of these in times of stormy economics, in what I think we’re still rather coyly calling ‘the recession’?
In economic crises we eat more chocolate and watch Midsomer Murder. Like the rise of ‘warm bath’ media, this politics – we can call it the Politics of Jubolympics – or the Keep Calm and Carry effect – aims at muting discontent not by denying it or suppressing it but by appealing to a spirit of the Blitz. Explanations for the success of the Great British Bakeoff back up this theory. Times are hard, let’s get serious about scones. It is, we’re told, a quintessentially British response to tough times, and in telling us that, we feel better, redoubtable in our pinnies.
Events this week may disturb the baking.
First, announcements that the Libor scandal will now affect the RBS to the tune of £500 million, wrecking the narrative we are supposed to ingest of ‘fiscal rectitude’, strict budgeting and everything ship-shape. Second the Tories announced the relaxing of ratios for nursery children in England – a small thing you might think – but a glimpse into the restructuring coming down the path. The bedroom tax can be put in this category. The reality of austerity unionism is becoming clearer. It’s proving difficult to contain. Third the Prime Minister announced his EU referendum. Fourth, and finally, the Electoral Commission has announced its preferred question for the referendum on Scottish independence: Should Scotland be an independent country? The question is highly likely to be ratified by the Scottish Parliament. More importantly the Electoral Commission have asked the British Govt to set out negotiations for what a post-vote settlement should look like. In other words they have laid out that, in fairness to voters being able to make up their minds we should know what the consequences of a No or a Yes vote should be. This isn’t unreasonable. But it does present a huge headache for Alastair Darling and his leather glove of a campaign.
So what do corrupt banking practice, pre-school education and the EU have to do with Scottish independence?
The No campaigns focus and efforts has been to just tumble along pretending that Britain is Better Together, that we are ‘One Nation’ as Ed would have it and that, with a Heston-style re-make of our Constitutional Coronation Chicken, we can all get along without having to engage with difficult issues like sovereignty, self-determination or democracy. But the banks that we own but don’t control who appear to not have changed a bit since the ‘crisis’ are an exposure of lack of democracy or accountability in the economics sphere. Re-modelling nurseries so that teachers can look after 6 kids not 4 is a sure sign of where austerity Britain is headed, and the Europhobia of UKIP and the Tories represents a culture and outlook quite alien in Scotland – and popular culture suggests we’re not really One Nation at all …
Suddenly Alasdair, Ruth, Johann and wee Willie have their work cut out.
If the case for the Union doesn’t make itself – if the argument that being part of Britain means security and stability suddenly looks highly questionable, these people will have to make the case, they’ll need to come up with specifics, and they’ll need to both be creative and agree on details. Whilst the Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Socialist Party and the SNP have had months if not years to settle into ways of working, and whilst thousands of people with very different political outlooks have begun to learn how to communicate around a common goal of Yes, the Unionist parties have had no such challenge. Now they will have to agree some post-referendum scenarios or reject the findings of the Electoral Commission, something they have been howling at the moon about for the last twelve weeks.
Perhaps this won’t be that difficult given that Conservative and Labour responses to austerity aren’t that different, and the Liberals have been in coalition, between Ruth’s line in the sand, Blue Labour and the Liberals surrender to Tory rule, the Unionist Front is in trouble. But here’s one or two questions the No camp have to resolve (with thanks to @AdamRamsay).
Cameron wants to renegotiate Britain’s place in Europe. So what will that look like? Can the no campaign guarantee that Scots who are sick or disabled won’t have their benefits cut any further by Westminster after 2014? Or that they won’t be driven into forced labor? Can the Westminster government guarantee that it will introduce sufficient changes to financial rules to ensure there won’t be another financial collapse? Can the no campaign guarantee that the Westminster government won’t alter the Barnett formula? Can the no campaign guarantee a future Westminster government won’t cut public spending even further? Can the no campaign guarantee that a future Westminster government won’t reduce further the number of Scottish MPs?
If we vote No what powers are you going to devolve and why? When will we know and if the Liberals, Labour and the Tories have these policies why did they not put them to the test? And why on earth should anyone believe you given that previously:
The Conservatives said: “There will be no more powers to Holyrood – that’s a red line” Labour has shifted from saying ‘Bring it on!’ to arguing against any referendum to then demanding that it be held immediately, and the Liberals are inventing a consensus and a processes that doesn’t exist. Willie Rennie has recently declared:
“We will not be saying no, we will be saying ‘yes to a federal UK’. There’s an emerging consensus: if you look at the Devo More report out from the IPPR … if you look at the Devo Plus report from Reform Scotland, they all come to broadly the same conclusions, which is up to two-thirds of our expenditure should be raised in Scotland.”
This has no basis, no standing and no future, despite the No to Yes cheerleaders in the commentariat.
Jardine concludes: ‘The choice is no longer between independence and the status quo.’ The reality is that it is precisely the stark choice we are faced with and the parlour game of possible future scenarios is a daft distraction.