Let’s Work Together, Not Walk Away

_70070672_70070309This article was first published in The Third Way magazine. It will be followed by it’s companion piece, by Justin Kenrick, from the same issue.


In just over a year voters across Scotland will go to the polls and make the most important choice in our country’s constitutional history.

It is a decision which will impact not only on Scotland but on the rest of the United Kingdom, particularly if the result means the break-up a 300 year old union which has seen experiences, objectives, risks and rewards shared across our family of nations.

Whether to remain part of the UK or walk away is an individual choice for each voter in Scotland about the future we want for our family, our children and grandchildren but it is also a decision about the nation we are and the nation we aspire to become.

So the coming referendum debate demands a different quality of imagination. Given the degree of integration between the Scottish and the British economies, our single market and shared currency it is inevitable that profound economic questions will be asked in the months ahead.

But this debate will, and must, involve more than accountancy. It will involve deep and profound issues about identity and community in the 21st century, about our values, and our beliefs.

The nationalists have sought to characterise independence as an enlightened act that should be supported by progressives in England in supposed solidarity with progressives in Scotland.

However this is an argument that Scottish pioneers for social justice, those on the political left, have for decades rejected, not least because the break-up of Britain would represent a defeat for progressive ideals and a retreat from a shared vision of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-national state.

The referendum instead is an opportunity to reaffirm the shared endeavour of sustaining a just and tolerant society across these islands and to uphold the idea of neighbourliness – being our brother and sister’s keeper – as an idea still worth cherishing.

It has never been in Scotland’s nature to walk away, to look inward or isolate ourselves from the challenges of the times: We would not become more Scottish by walking away from our friends, family and neighbours across these islands.

As partners in the UK, as Scots we can make our voices heard on big global issues, like climate change and global poverty, with a seat at the G8, the G20, the Security Council, the IMF and the World Bank.

And not only does Scotland benefit from our position within the UK on the world stage but I believe the voice of the UK would be diminished and the battle for social justice across the globe weakened if we were to walk away from our partnership and its collective endeavour.

If the establishment of our political, economic and social union over 300 years ago was derived from hard headed calculation based on specific interest it has evolved into something deeper and more enduring over the years.

The movement of people across our islands has seen family ties spread across our borders. Our shared political history demonstrates the very best of what working together can achieve: It’s not just that our grandparents stood shoulder to shoulder in the fight against fascism, but that they then built the National Health Service and the system of National Insurance that enshrined the principle that sharing of risks by all of us provides rights for each of us.

Those were forward-looking, radical, reformist acts and they were realised through a political economic and social union built on working together. Our most iconic and cherished institution the NHS was founded by a Welsh Minister and enacted by a UK Government to the benefit of everyone; the creation of a welfare state, the idea that taxes should be paid by those who can afford them to sustain public services for everyone was the inspiration of an English Minister; these ideas highlight the strength of our union.

Similarly, our Armed Forces, who come from every part of the UK and serve in every corner of the globe to defend our islands and keep us all secure – their bravery and their service cannot and should not be categorised by whether they are a Welsh Soldier, a Scottish Sailor or an English Pilot.

To my mind, just because we are to varying degrees Scottish, British and European, it does not follow that loyalty to one must come at the price of denial of the other. I am passionately Scottish but I have never felt that to stand-up for Scotland we should break-away from Britain.

I don’t believe that the values I grew up with in Scotland, our ideals and our vision for a fair and just society, stops at the border. I do not believe that families relying on foodbanks in Preston are any less of a priority than families visiting the local foodbank I helped establish with local churches in Paisley.

I believe we have a duty to care equally, and work tirelessly to support those struggling in every part of the UK. Of course I disagree profoundly with the economic approach being taken by the present Conservative led UK Government. Yet that government will have a mandate of just eight months to run by the time of Scotland’s choice. Our challenges are better combated by standing together.

So too, our successes are ones in which we can all share across these islands.

That was never more appropriately demonstrated than during the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, when the whole country cheered on Team GB, or more recently when Scottish born Andy Murray became the first British winner of Wimbledon in seventy-seven years amidst a roar of support from English, Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish supporters watching from around the country.

The truth is, on this rainy collection of islands in the North Atlantic; by geography we are neighbours, by history we’re allies, by economics we’re partners, and by fate, and fortune we are comrades, friends, and family.

It is in that spirit that working and cooperating together, not separation should be the future we aspire to and is an idealism worth celebrating.

The progressive story of the UK is one of common endeavour to build a just, tolerant open society where our collective resources can be shared.

The idea of a state pension – the concept of a Welsh liberal integrated into an English Minister’s national system of social security – means that if you retire in Lerwick your pension is paid by tax contributions of a young worker in Liverpool.

Being part of the UK means that resources are spread to provide public services for all people across these islands, from the most affluent to the poorest areas of the country.

To reject this principle of sharing risks, rewards and resources, to forsake our solidarity with our friends and neighbours and instead spend the coming years erecting new barriers between the nations of these islands would, for me, represent a fundamental separation from a progressive tradition that the nationalists have tried to falsely claim they represent.

A fundamental belief in human equality is the core of my politics, more than a fundamental belief in national difference. I am, and always have been, much more interested in abolishing poverty than abolishing Britain.

That’s why I believe now is the time for progressives on both sides of the border to stand together and vanquish a politics of manufactured grudge and grievance, to reject a politics that draws its energy from unhelpful assertions of difference rather than expressions of solidarity and co-operation.

I remain of the view that this United Kingdom, this oldest political union, embodies a quintessentially modern idea – that this coming together of family, friends, ideas, institutions and identities is a strength, not a weakness. And in an age defined by greater interdependence and connection, walk away nationalism is the wrong path for Scotland – and for the United Kingdom.

Comments (0)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Huh. So the Irish, the Canadians, the Australians, the New Zealanders and other nations were choosing “to walk away, to look inward or isolate ourselves from the challenges of the times” when they chose independence rather than having their affairs run by Westminster? I rather suspect they would disagree.

    As for the Armed Forces, maybe Scots would prefer to have them actually defending Scotland rather than throwing their lives away in useless and often illegal wars as they “serve in every corner of the globe”. I rather doubt those brave members of the Armed Forces, so often under-equipped and being threatened with redundancy, are “defending the island” in Afghanistan. Nor were they in Iraq. Nor were they in most of the wars where the Scots were used as shock troops and their lives so little valued.

  2. dcanmore says:

    Heard it all before Dougie, and we’ll probably hear it all again, and again… Brown, Darling, Murphy, Lord this and Lord that. Your party has failed Scotland, for decades the Scottish people voted for you, and for decades it has been a constant failure. Tories, child poverty, wars, food banks, unemployment, nukes, boom and bust (where the booms are shorter and the busts become greater). You offer nothing but history and nostalgia, the golden days that never were. Time for change, time to shake off history and look to a bright future, not austerity that you support with your Tory friends, time for independence which will shake the foundations of the British Establishment that you represent, because you certainly don’t represent the people anymore (if you ever did). Your motives are to save the Labour Party, its interests and your position within it and your words are meant to impress the Labour apparatchik, but nobody’s listening to the same old same old anymore, no ideas, no vision, no clue.


  3. George McGurk says:

    Douglas likes the “global stage”, being part of the G8, G20, UN Security Council, IMF etc. What do these do for Scotland, and how do Norway, Finland and Denmark manage without such “global clout”?

    I haven’t heard any talk of “isolation”. Scottish independence is about being allowed to manage our own affairs as best suits Scotland, not rebuilding Hadrian’s wall.

    The “cherished NHS” is under attack by the current UK government, our armed forces have been pushed into conflicts regardless, Scotland could be isolated from Europe in 2017 with no say in the matter.

    Independence is a big decision, it’s a decision about whether we want to reclaim the right to some choice in how our country is run.

    What will a “No” vote do for Scotland?

  4. Murray McCallum says:

    “reject a politics that draws its energy from unhelpful assertions of difference”

    Are you saying Scotland should introduce £9,000 tuition fees, introduce more private companies into NHS Scotland, accept the bedroom tax, cease to believe in the greater good of society, accept nuclear weapons on the doorstep of our largest city … ?

    New Labour’s quest to end the “something for nothing culture” and have uniform One Nation policies seems to place much of what Scots believe in on the political chopping block. We have all witnessed New Labour ditch long held core values.

    A personal observation – some of the most imaginative and radical ideas to come out of the last New Labour government included Alistair Darling’s expense claims.

  5. H. Price says:

    Not only that, but Douglas gets to keep his job, as do Darling, Curran, Davidson and all the other half-arsed union jocks in London who wouldn’t piss on Scotland if it was on fire.

    Vote No for Dougie’s career.

    1. M. Scott says:

      I agree entirely with your statement H. Price. That is what all this piffle that wee Dougie spouts is all about. Nose in trough and expenses fit to bust. Let’s hope it ends next September with a resounding YES.

    2. RedScotland says:

      Reckon they’d be up and in Holyrood after 2016. He’d probably be Labour Leader.

      As for all this “failing scotland” wouldnt “piss on scotland if on fire”, I think smacks of a skewed view of history – especially the work of Labour in Coalition in immediate post-devolution Scotland. The Centrist SNP are in nobway the protectors or door to a leftwing Scotland. In fact their blueprint will retain a neo-liberal agenda.

      1. “In fact their blueprint will retain a neo-liberal agenda.”

        What do we have now from Westminster from LibLabCons?

        In fact, the SNP are clearly a Social Democratic Party – which Labour used to be. Not that Douglas knows, or cares. His eyes are firmly on his career, and its eventual goal – the Golden Trough, aka House of Lords.

        If this was Dougie’s chance to say something positive about the union, he’s failed, with this tired retreading of Labour myths that pretend everything under the union is wonderful.

  6. Andrew Morton says:

    I searched this in vain for one original argument or viewpoint which might make me think again. Instead I encountered the same tired old set of cliches. In writing this stuff, Douglas sets out an unanswerable case for going our own way. His view that one more heave will bring a socially just and fair society in which Scotland receives her due is best summed up by a quotation from the immortal W. C. Fields:

    “If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then give up, there’s no sense in being a damned fool about it!”

  7. muttley79 says:

    Douglas Alexander has no shame. He rose through the ranks of Scottish Labour thanks to the patronage of Gordon Brown. He is the embodiment of the careerist politician. Alexander was happy to be in government when the gap between rich and poor continued to grow (continuing the Tories sorry misrule of the 1980s and 1990s). He backed the Iraq war, PFI, the various privatisations, and the whole New Labour schtick. Alexander apparently even helped get his sister the sack as leader of SLAB at Holyrood. Douglas will go in whichever direction the wind is blowing, unconcerned and untroubled about having any discernible principles whatsoever. He is a British nationalist that is for certain. However, judging by his political career to date, then it must be asked if it is not a completely self serving form of British nationalism that he subscribes to. If Douglas Alexander thought he could better his own position in an independent Scotland, then I am pretty sure that he would jettison his British nationalism in a flash.

  8. I see that one of his arguments for our remaining in this one sided Union , is so that England can continue to play with the “Big Boys” at G8 summits and be a Global power. This could be a direct Quote from G.Brown speech. No Thank you and take Trident to England !

  9. habibbarri says:

    This man is living in cloud cuckoo land. Are any of the benefits he claims for being in the UK real? NHS? Welfare? Scotland having a voice in the world by being part of the UK? etc, etc,

    Yes Scotland! We will be better together as two independent countries. Then all the benefits Doug claims for us being in the UK will become fact. Vote we’ll have none of those benefits.

  10. habibbarri says:

    “Vote we’ll have none of those benefits.” should read, Vote no and we’ll have none of those benefits.

  11. gordoz says:

    Just keeps proving he is a silly wee nonentity of a man.After the ref stay in London Dougie they’ll need your sort more than we do.

  12. gordoz says:

    Dougie; probably the ony place you might find some work after 2014 is at Stirling Council running the new flag up & down

  13. Iain says:

    What is depressing is that the Unionist/No/Better Together campaign seems to be motivated by a belief in more of the same. If Douglas Alexander is one of the leading thinkers of the Labour Party, then this is bad news for future governments at a UK level. It’s not that the Tories or Liberals are any more inspiring; the point is that there is so little difference between the three at present. If the UK does break up, perhaps politics in NIWE might re-form and offer some hope to its citizens. At present, the lack of vision is bleak.

  14. fordie says:

    So wrong in every way. ‘I don’t believe that the values I grew up with in Scotland, our ideals and our vision for a fair and just society, stops at the border.’ No, I don’t either and I’m sick to death of the suggestion that, because I believe that Scotland should be independent, I do. The UK was meant to be a partnership of equals. Given the population size of Scotland vs the largest partner, care should have been taken to prevent imbalance. It wasn’t and here we are.

    1. ‘I don’t believe that the values I grew up with in Scotland, our ideals and our vision for a fair and just society, stops at the border’.

      Ironically, the only way to revive them in Scotland is to get rid of Douglas and his ilk, and create our own state!

  15. I don’t believe that the UK was ever intended to be a partnership of equals. It was not a voluntary union on Scotland’s part. It was a cpnquest by England. They used economic and trade warfare, threats to Scots living in England, and bribes paid to corrupt Scottish MPs, who cared not for the Scottish people, but only cared to feather their own nests, to conquer us. The UK parliament has constently violated the Treaty and Act of Union by ignoring Scots Law in constitutional matters, and treating the Act as a mere act of English common law, which they can change any time they wish.

    1. They also had an army on the border “just in case”.

  16. Perhaps Douglas Alexander could take the time to explain how we are better together when the 8th richest country in the world (Scotland) has 1 in 4 of it’s children living in poverty as a result of the Neo Liberal policies pursued by successive UK governments.
    He claims to be keen to abolish poverty, what a pity he and his party never held office long enough to realise this goal, those 13 years must have been but a fleeting moment.
    His “fundamental belief in human equality” is at odds with the UK being the 4th most unequal society in the developed world, a statistic he and New Labour must bear some responsibility for.
    The only voters who will be taken in with this unionist propaganda will be those with no imagination and short memories. When a partner in a marriage is continually outvoted by 12 to 1 on issues affecting their children then it is only right and proper for them to “walk away”.
    Sorry Douglas, but Labour had 13 years to change things for the better and your abject failure is why former Labour voters like me will vote YES next September for a better Scotland which will have a government it’s people actually voted for. It will function on the world stage to foster peace and cooperation between nations and not as a willing poodle for others seeking global interests through illegal wars.
    As for Scotland in the Union punching above our weight around the world, I doubt if an independent Scotland will want to punch anyone!

  17. My goodness this is tired and dreary stuff. It reads as if he can barely summon up the energy and is just going through the motions. Unionism really is intellectually bankrupt!

  18. Sunshine on Crieff says:

    There are so many things wrong in Alexander’s analysis that it is difficult to know where to begin. Fortunately, some of the people commenting here have done a good job.

    Let us get this clear, though. The people of Scotland are not ‘walking away’ from anything should they choose to govern themselves. They are taking up the responsibility of controlling and developing their own nation rather than leaving it to the elites in Westminster.

    And that does not mean that Scotland will not work together with the other nations in our neighbourhood. As an independent nation we will have so much more to give!

    And one other thing. If there is any ‘walking away’ it is being performed by the Labour Party in Scotland. It was once on the side of Scottish people; it was once the mouthpiece and leader for those who thought that Scotland should control more of its affairs; it was once our distinctive voice.

    No more. Now its leadership, from Lamont to Curran, from Sarwar to Murphy, denigrate Scotland, its people and its ambitions at every opportunity. They conspire with their ‘One Nation’ leadership in London, and their Tory allies, to frustrate the desire of the Scottish people to govern themselves. whether in the current union or as an independent nation. Some of the more extreme figures within Labour want to roll back the gains made since 1999 and even abolish our parliament.

    When even the most lowly (and petty) of Labour’s councillors want to team up with their Tory friends to take down the Saltire and fly the Union Flag in its place, as in Stirling, then it is patently obvious that Labour has walked away.

  19. For someone who professes to care about humans everywhere, Alexander shows little sign of understanding the very humans he works with at Westminster. His ideas are typical of those who seek to keep power from the people of Scotland. At best, they are sadly delusional.

    Also, this is a problem with this sentence: “The progressive story of the UK is one of common endeavour to build a just, tolerant open society where our collective resources can be shared.” Perhaps changing that pesky “is” would help. Maybe Alexander has a problem with tenses.

    To be honest, as soon as he accused everyone who wants independence for Scotland of being a nationalist, I pretty much knew exactly what manner of tripe would follow. I would ask if he is aware that members of his own party seek the same thing, however clearly his awareness is as developed as his grasp of tense.

  20. jdmank says:

    There’s only so many times you can take a slice off the veneer that is in Douglas’s words

    “The referendum instead is an opportunity to reaffirm the shared endeavour of sustaining a just and tolerant society across these islands and to uphold the idea of neighbourliness – being our brother and sister’s keeper – as an idea still worth cherishing.”

    before it becomes so micron thin as to be invisible to the naked eye
    I think you’ll find Scotland is more than happy to “work together” Douglas but as equal partners and not as a client state waiting for the scraps

  21. revjimbob says:

    Is this the best he could come up with?

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.