Falling Over

Abandoned places photography

The biggest obstacle to a Yes victory is a credible alternative. Dave’s faltering pledges of love and miscued utterances won’t cut it. Not on the day when the climate change denying Environment Minister found his credibility washed away, and Barclays were doling out £2.4 billion in bonuses and Fife’s contamination was assured. This is isn’t a winning programme.

Two ideas are presented to excite. First is that in the next few months some coherent and detailed consensus will emerge offering more powers to the Scottish Parliament. The No campaign remains doggedly other-worldly. With one leg planted firmly in the past, the other dangles still less probably in an imagined future. The slogan ‘Better Yesterday’ sits comfortably with the mantra ‘Maybe Tomorrow?’ Anything but the here and now, anything but the present. Yesterday, definitely. Tomorrow: maybe (you never know your luck). Today? Sorry, no can do.

The second idea floated is that Labour will (re) emerge as a progressive force offering a new vision of a contemporary Britain on a different path from the Conservative and Liberal parties. The large Don’t Know contingent will be swayed, so the argument goes, by either of these emerging into some kind of clarity or certainty.

This week both of those ideas collapsed under the weight of their own improbability. The collapse comes in three parts.

Devo What?

Canon Kenton Wright, who headed the Constitutional Convention which formed the blueprint for devolution, said: “If the No campaign do not produce clear, binding promises as to what they would do should they win, then I would vote for independence.” The canny Canon was explicit. Making ‘The Case Against Devo Max’ he wrote:

I remain to be convinced by either side but it does seem that, if the vote is Yes, we already know what we are getting. If the vote of No, we so far know only what we are NOT getting. It is time for the No campaign to tell us of their Plan B. If they win, what are they committed to offer Scotland? But please, please, not more Devolution, even of the Max or Plus variety. There are two problems with devolution – a word that the Constitutional Convention which created the Scottish Parliament never used.

First, it leaves ultimate power over Scotland firmly in the hands of Westminster – “Power devolved is power retained”. Second, it leaves the UK as a whole unchanged and unreformed. The question is this: are the creaking, dated and failing institutions of the UK capable of the kind of radical reform that could recognise and adjust to Scotland’s secure autonomy (not devolution)?

Radical he is not. But he does point to a real problem for the No campaigns team of Devo Something enthusiasts. Coming up on the rails are the Labour Party with their Devolution Commission. This is looking increasingly barren and more and more like naked politics. The Scotsman’s Tom Peterkin has it: “a chasm is forming ­between some Scottish Labour MPs, who fear their power and influence will be ­diminished with the transfer of taxation, and many Scottish Labour MSPs, who believe that devolution of significant economic levers would be both good for Scotland and essential to a convincing case for voting No.”

The stand off over the first, and only detail of any improved powers settlement will reach a head very quickly with the party due to meet in Perth in a months time. There’s talk of a boycott from the MPs.

The Perth Posse

This is farce. Lesley Riddoch comments:

…this could be the nail in the coffin for Scottish Labour – already membership-lite, demoralised and rudderless. Of course, Scots may simply not believe that Labour at UK level will actually deliver. They may also doubt that Labour can beat the Conservatives at the polls in 2015.

But be in no doubt: a failure to deliver an effective devo deal will signal Labour’s lack of muscular intent towards Scottish Home Rule. And such a betrayal will not be missed by Scottish voters. Ironically, it will also harm the prospects of Labour MPs. If Labour don’t embrace taxation powers for Scotland, voters may desert the party at the Westminster election and increase the likelihood of another Conservative-led government. Such a result might just be the tin-lid for currently undecided voters in September’s referendum. So should income tax be devolved? A brave woman might say: bring it on.

As Cailean Gallagher wrote at Mair nor a roch wind the battle for the future of Labour’s devolution policy has begun, and Ken Macintosh has all but skewered the Lamont Commission:

The British future means ever-more dominance by London that works for hardly anyone. An independent Scotland is a route to a different end – so that we can use powers for the purposes our forebears set out, to build a system set on social justice. And it is also the start of a fragmentation of Britain, so that wealth does not stream down from London, but emerges from and fertilizes the countries and regions of these islands. If this is what Macintosh calls “cutting of our nose to spite our face”, then a facelift for Britain is long overdue.

Maybe instead there’s a notion of an emerging ideas-base from London Labour? Is there a legitimate prospect of a Labour government in waiting?

The Third Way

Last night Ed Miliband spoke at the Hugo Young Lecture, but unfortunately for the Third Way / Devo Something brigade all that is on offer is more austerity. Incredibly Miliband referenced Thatcher as the conviction politician he would try and emulate (‘Ed Miliband vows to govern ‘with same conviction as Thatcher‘) to give voters say on health and education’.

He argues: “So just as it is One Nation Labour’s cause to tackle unaccountable power in the private sector, so too in the public sector.”

Clearly the next Labour government will face massive fiscal challenges. Including having to cut spending. That is why it is all the more necessary to get every pound of value out of services. And show we can do more with less…Choice, contestability and competition have a role. Labour showed in government how the private sector could help to provide extra capacity and speed up hip replacements and cataract surgery for the NHS. And where existing services have consistently under-performed then alternative providers, including private, third sector or mutuals, are important as a way to turn things around.

Any of this sounding familiar?

It’s all very odd. Andrew Whittaker tries to disentangle Tory from Labour but explains its difficult (‘Miliband: More austerity if Labour in power‘). Even the Guardian fails to see what is actually being presented. “A plan, still under development, to create a new “middle tier” between Whitehall and individual schools is a signal of intent to add local accountability back in to a post-Govian educational ecology, in which academies are nearly ubiquitous. But the distinction between Conservative “free schools” and Labour “parent-led academies” will baffle all but experts; and it is far from clear what practical difference is made by transferring to patients and parents “ownership” of personal data which they can already demand to see.”

His speech is littered by references to Richard Sennett, Saul Alinsky and T. H. Marshall but in reality characterised by Blairite orthodoxy, without the patter.

Red or Blue it’s all a bit vague. It’s a sort of policy-wonks version of the coalition agenda, laid out for all to see. The harsh reality is we’re four years into Ed Miliband’s ‘leadership’ and you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody – anybody – who could tell you a policy idea or a notion that he stands for.

Well now, if you can decipher Miliband’s runes you maybe can. Last night he said:

Hugo Young and I didn’t agree with Lady Thatcher on most things. But I suspect he would have agreed with her on this: “Politics is more when you have convictions than a matter of multiple manoeuvrings to get you through the problems of the day.” I know that we are putting the right issues at the heart of our programme. …we are standing where the British people stand.

For those circling the wagons around the notion of a progressive Britain this is disastrous. The case for a progressive alternative to Yes has fallen over at its first attempt to stand. The Giant of Labour progressiveness has lumbered-over mouthing Thatcherite incantations about ‘More with less’, the mantra of ‘choice’ as it staggers towards the referendum members fleeing as it sheds credibility and shuts down options for change.


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  1. Flower of Scotland says:

    Good thought provoking article which I’m going to use in my discussions . Thank you !

  2. DougtheDug says:

    “Two ideas are presented to excite. First is that in the next few months some coherent and detailed consensus will emerge offering more powers to the Scottish Parliament.”

    Every proposal for devolved powers for Scotland which claims to be the next best thing to sliced bread founders on a simple principle, fiscal equality across the UK.

    If you read the various proposals, no matter how involved or excited they get about devolved and assigned taxes, they all end up with Scotland receiving the exact amount of public funding that it is due under the Barnett formula unless Scotland raises taxes above the UK rates.

    This model of devolution has been in place since day one of the Scotland Act 1998.

    The Westminster Labour MP’s threw a strop about Scotland controlling income tax rates and bands when the interim report came out last year even though it wouldn’t affect the amount of public funding Scotland receives so it will be interesting to see if control of income tax is in the final report as the same row on the same subject seems to be on the brew again.

    The other thing that Labour promised in their interim report last year was that Barnett as a funding formula would be unchanged. Since many Labour MP’s outside Scotland think that Scotland is feather bedded by the Barnett formula and that other regions of the UK are short-changed it will also be interesting to see if that promise also survives.

    In any case what the Scottish region of the Labour party propose in their commission will not set Labour policy because that will be set by the Labour party as a whole and any hint that Scotland is getting more money or power than any other region of the UK will not go down well with English based Labour MP’s, which is most of them.

  3. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

    Were there a credible alternative would be unwise enough to accept it? Being played for suckers, patsies and fall-guys has been our national métier (addiction?) for too long. By the means of independence, sovereignty and self-determination we shall be free of this debilitating dysfunction forever. There is no alternative.

  4. roddy says:

    Erm…run that first sentence by me again??

  5. I get more simple every time I think of independence,its vote YES for a country or no for a region,that is it.Labour have lied and fooled the people for as long as I can remember they use the double speak with a back door,to get out of anything they may say.I have never voted Labour never could,I saw through them when I was a boy,my vote has always been for the SNP and now it is needed more than ever.Independence before we are sold to some big international conglomerate!

  6. steven luby says:

    Thankfully for the sake of progression (whether it be Scottish/ rUK or both) there is no alternative. For any alternative to take hold it requires a majority backing in Westminster. It matters nothing about Labours Commission on more responsibility/powers, Lib-Dems Federal resurrection.again and again, Coservatives……..being who they are. Anything that is given to Scotland would demand a return, most likely higher than the benefit of what has been added to Holyrood. There is nothing on offer nor will there be a consensus between Westminster to carry forward anything that gives anything to Scotland. The Devo-Whatever doesn’t exist,its not wanted by Westminster. Scotland at this moment is being highly ridiculed within Westminster at this moment and by all Labour MP’s, Scottish & English. This pretendy lab commission can say and come up with whatever it likes,it will never see light of day as it would be ridiculed and forgotten before the printer stops printing the first copy. Listen to Labour,hear what they’re saying about ‘One Nation’. Read the words again and again. Is this the Labour Party?

  7. ronald alexander mcdonald says:

    Perhaps your best article ever Mike and you’ve written several good ones.

    Whatever way you look at it. Vote NO and we get a continuation of tory policies. More austerity and if Labour
    win a Maggie Thatcher love in to boot. Oh the joy!

  8. florian albert says:

    Mike Small has added his name to the short list of admirers of the ‘canny Canon’ Kenyon Wright. The Canon is correct on one issue, that you know what you will get with a ‘Yes’ vote. As it stands, you will get uncertainty; particularly over the future currency for Scotland and Scotland’s future membership of the EU.
    If this uncertainty were resolved, it would increase the chances of a ‘Yes’ vote.
    Not for the first time, there is a failure to understand the unique nature of a referendum. It is not a contest between two sides. It is a contest between the status quo and change. This, often but not always, gives an advantage to those favouring the status quo; better the devil you know.
    It is interesting to see attention being given to educational reforms in England. In Scotland, we have what Gerry Hassan has described as educational apartheid and we have new exams for which the teachers are unprepared. That does not appear to merit a mention.

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