Not Quite Meaningless

Former-Labour-minister-Brian-Wilson-1831222.pngThe Labour Party in Scotland, partly in response to needing to differentiate themselves from the UK party in the context of devolution, adopted a position against the renewal of Trident and in favour of nuclear disarmament.

In 1999.

Yes indeed. And there have been no debates on Trident in particular or nukes in general at any Labour party conference, Scottish or otherwise, since. Even the reflex of declaring a degree of “independence “ from the Westminster party line is nothing new in and of itself. We’ve already had the “New” Clause Four earlier this year…though that seems an aeon ago now…

So while there was nothing new in principle in the party effectively confirming what was already “policy” in principle, there was a good deal of difference in the context of the debate, and maybe even the meaning of its result. And again, a reflex that has been exercised with an immediate electoral objective has a historical significance, perhaps, that is the opposite of the intention of its shakers and movers.

First of all, as things stand, the number of elected representatives from the party in Scotland who will have a vote on the matter when it comes up for actual debate in yer actual Parliament is… Secondly, although his vote is welcome, as things stand Jeremy Corbyn is in no position to whip the rest of UK Labour Party into the No lobby with anything more substantial than Ken Dodd’s Tickling Stick. There is simply no doubt that when the renewal of Trident is voted on, the vote will be an overwhelming majority “Aye” including within the Parliamentary Labour Party.

So why does it matter? Why is there any difference between a heavily symbolic vote in 1999 and a similar vote now? Well, first of all, there is actually going to be a bill in the parliament of what I’m increasingly coming to think of as The Continuity UK. Second, the SNP were in nothing like the position they are now in either legislature in 1999. Third, the CUK Labour Party is now (sort of) lead by a sincere unilateralist for the first time since Michael Foot. (Though the Scottish Party, which is about to become Unilateralist, isn’t …Confused? You won’t be after the latest episode of SLAB!)

It would be easy, under the circumstances, to dismiss this weekends vote as an empty gesture. I don’t quite think that’s true. I don’t think the labour Party (both branches) are now in the traditional policy making position of the Liberal Democrats..that is, confident in the expectation of never actually being able to do anything about making their high-minded policy into actual…well…policy with actual…well…consequences, some of which are going to be hideously complicated.

And this is partly because the SNP are themselves going to have to get themselves beyond symbolism when it comes to “reserved” matters like welfare and taxation as well as defence. Let’s be honest, the SNP, who are never going to be in a position to run the UK are not untainted with empty symbolism possible with no prospect of power or responsibility. For one thing, there are going to a package of powers, and Iain Duncan Smith telling Mhairi Black this week that the Holyrood can always raise taxes to offset UK not the first or last to come up with that particular game of “Call My Bluff.”

And he’s not entirely wrong, either. The SNP government in Holyrood are nothing if not cushioned both by the ineptitude of their local opposition and their doubt very irritating posture of moral superiority on questions of little reserved matters like taxation, welfare, immigration, foreign policy, war etc etc etc all of which would become much more tricky and much more live issues were there to actually be a credible left-wing opposition in either polity, Not-Quite-Scotland
or the Continuity UK.

Like everything else right now, however, I think the real meaning of the event of the Labour Vote this morning is historic rather than immediate, of tectonic rather than “political” significance. Little by little, the UK as we have known it is ceasing to exist. And it is the emergence of a Scottish left opposition that will bring something like the Scotland most Bella readers voted for last year, slowly, messily, unpredictably…through a form “independence” …into being.

There is nothing about this morning, however, that alters my conviction that in one shape or another “independence” is the predicate and not the consequence of change. And that, unfortunately, it almost certainly has to come first

Comments (23)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. MBC says:

    Many people think the SNP need to be bolder than they are with the power they now have. But they’ve never been good strategists. For too long held on the defensive, their reluctance to venture out of their hard won redoubts and go on the attack (by, for instance, challenging reserved powers at their blurry edges, pushing and pushing at the boundaries) is understandable but may be a mistake.

    It’s good news that there is now a wider Yes movement, as it means there are now a variety of attack and defence methods, many of which can’t be laid at the SNP’s door, thus rendering them open to attack themselves and undermining their strength. Whilst the SNP hold the castles (and rarely venture out of their fortresses) there are others like Tommy Sheridan making occasional forays out in the open to attack the powers that be more directly.

    An old Viking law was: ‘Use varied means of attack’.

    As you note, this latest by the Labour conference may be just one signal that rebellion is slowly spreading, even amongst the disaffected of the unionist cohort.

    1. muttley79 says:

      Many people think the SNP need to be bolder than they are with the power they now have. But they’ve never been good strategists.

      Not sure that is either true or fair at all. If the SNP have never been good strategists then why have we just had a referendum on independence? Given the massive power imbalance between the British state and the largest section of the independence movement in Scotland, why and how exactly have we managed to get so close to independence, particularly since we have only had a devolved parliament for 16 years?

      1. MBC says:

        Salmond was a strategist, granted. The indyref was a high risk strategy which paid off. I just always felt that the 1970s were a lost decade when we should have pushed for more given that we held the balance of power and had all that oil wealth coming to us. Now we have 55/6 MPs but do not hold the balance of power at Westminster and the oil is all but gone but have a power base in Scotland. Just feeling that more needs to be done than to sit tight.

        1. muttley79 says:

          The 1970s were largely a lost decade because the Labour Party deliberately torpedoed the referendum of 1979 (well at least elements of the Labour Party). Remember the SNP were operating in that decade under FPTP at Westminster, no social media or the internet, and led the campaigning for an elected assembly in Edinburgh. The SNP was not yet a mature political party either. Add all these things together and you can see why we did not make as much progress as we would have liked in the 1970s.

          1. MBC says:

            I know, the SNP was not mature then. It should have thrust and strategised more. But having lived through all that, I have a feeling of deja vu now. I feel in my bones that a high water mark has come – 56 out of 59 MPs – that might never come again after the unionists have finished torpoeding us, and that we must do more than stand still and just take their knocks. Not quite sure what, but something clever, and forceful. Skillful means. I feel the excitement ebbing, I sense a return of the commentariat back to familiar lines, I sense the propaganda campaign turning minds, I sense it slipping away. Something is needed to re-energise the campaign. Some cleverness. Sturgeon is very capable at holding, running and fortifying castles but is not a battle leader or a strategist to break new ground or create excitement, buzz.

    2. willie says:

      The SNP have taken us to where we are today. Without their dogged determination we would never have got this far.

      But we are most certainly not there yet and once again we have a Tory government that no one voted for.

      The SNP strategy is clear. Take the majority of Westminster MPs ( achieved ) take the majority of MSPs ( previously achieved but to be remandated next May).

      With mandates in both assemblies and in speaking with one coordinated voice the opportunities will arise to take us to our destination.

      Independence and a socially just Scotland will only happen if we make it happen. Yes we lost the referendum, but the SNP have become our national movement.

      The prize has still to be gtasped but it is within our grasp.

  2. Andy Nimmo says:

    Reblogged this on

  3. Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:

    I agree that rebellion is slowly spreading, and I think that we in Not-Quite-Scotland should take matters into our own hands and act on our ‘unilateralist’ stance against Trident and the maintenance of the nuclear oligarchy of their untenable position.

    It is time to call time on nuclear weapons of any nationality; it is time to call time on the arms industry. It is time to set about creating strategies to develop alternative industries. It is time to take the lead in developing a mission to bring peace, rather than support the war industry. It is time to remember the damage and devastation, whether to people’s lives and bodies, or to their homes, and countries, wrought by war and armaments.

    We may not be able to ‘act’ within our devolved powers; but speaking is also an act, as is voting, as the Scottish Labour party did at the weekend.

    1. muttley79 says:

      The unilateralist argument for the scrapping of nuclear weapons is highly disingenuous, and is verging on the deceitful, which is why it is supported by the likes of the ludicrous Jackie Baillie.

      It is time to call time on nuclear weapons of any nationality; it is time to call time on the arms industry.

      All well and good, but nobody should seriously believe that the likes of North Korea, Israel, Pakistan and India are going to decommission their nuclear weapons any time soon. We had the chance last year to get rid of Trident from Scotland, and a Yes vote would almost certainly have resulted in the rest of the UK having to scrap them as well.

      1. muttley79 says:

        Apologies I meant the multilateral approach to getting rid of nuclear weapons.

        1. Broadbield says:

          Yep, Multilateralism is looking the other way and kicking the can into the long grass, doing nothing. Never mind North Korea et al, the USA and Russia are not going to get rid of them in the next couple of centuries.

  4. Steve says:

    The powers the SNP currently has are limited and the Tories and Labour want to see them used in the hope that their exercise would damage the SNP in the eyes of the electorate. Labour, at best, have no concern for their impact on the people of Scotland and the Tories gleefully hope/anticipate they will prove damaging. The only circumstances in which the SNP should use additional powers are when these powers amount to full fiscal autonomy. Only then can they make changes that would actually allow a comprehensive review of taxation and spending and introduce fairness into the taxation system. The peurile goading by the Tories and Labour that the SNP already have extensive powers but are too frightened to use them impresses only the gullible and the ignorant. The much trumpeted additional welfare powers for example will cover only approximately 14% of welfare spending in Scotland. it’s impossible to introduce a balances range of measures with such limited powers.

    1. Monty says:

      understandable that the SNP had no or very cautious policies on health and education in the lead up to the referendum. They needed to keep everyone on side and reform and modernisation whilst essential can often be messy in the short term and hack people off. Now it is over they have to more than simply keeping saying they are progressive at every opportunity. Labour’s platform is a muddle but is at least genuinely progressive which the nationalist at the moment, perhaps on purpose, is not.

    2. Broadbield says:

      Your’re right. The disingenuous goading is a trap. Of course the Tories and Blair/Brownites won’t raise taxes (other than stealth taxes and flat rate taxes like VAT) because the really do believe the rich need to be made richer and the poor punished.

      However, once we have independence and full fiscal powers we need to have a serious conversation about taxation and we need political leadership to explain why, if we want more equality and better services, we have to pay for it. The current UK Taxation settlement is a mess and favours the rich the wealthy and corporations, allowing companies and individuals not only to pay derisory levels of UK tax by employing devious and immoral lawyers and accountants, but to hide their wealth and profits offshore in tax havens, while at the same time awarding themselves obscene levels of “compensation”. The tax burden has shifted to ordinary taxpayers and has seen an increase in regressive taxes such as VAT and Council Tax.

      This has to change, but politicians and others need to grasp this nettle and persuade voters that a total overhaul of the taxation system is needed to make Scotland the fairer and caring society they talk of. Some will have to pay a lot more tax and receive a lot less pay. Companies will need to pay a lot more tax and less to executives and shareholders, while paying higher wages to ordinary employees.

      We need some politicians and opinion formers of imagination and courage to take this forward.

    3. John B Dick says:

      Unfortunately there may be more than few ‘gullible and ignorant” than you imagine. Have you seen the Telegraph letters page UKIP’ers grasp of logic, devolution and constitutional matters?

      Hopefully indiref2 will be as helpful as indiref1 in dispelling ignorance

  5. Jim Williamson says:

    It seems everyone is getting little impatient to see the new powers being used. It is understandable that people want to see things move on but how can they be if the powers are still in the process of being evolved? The SNP cannot go before they are satisfied with what is coming, much as the opposition would like them to. The next important event for Scotland will be the publication of the SNP manifesto.

  6. arthur thomson says:

    The first priority of the SNP has to be to win both the Holyrood and the local elections. Then will be the time to be more radical.

    For the past century the Labour party has been the principal barrier to independence and the advantages which would accrue from it. It is fully their intention, whether Corbynites or Blairites, to continue to be the principal barrier. Slab has to be further reduced from its present state of bumbling ineptitude (apparently evidence of their progressiveness!!!) to complete impotence. Only then will they be unable to maliciously exploit any attempt by the SNP to be genuinely radical – as they undoubtedly would.

    The effect of Slab’s vote on Trident remains to be seen. Apparently some people hope it will allow the Corbynites in rUk and those in Slab to congeal and form a clot that will strike at the heart of the the Tories in rUK and the independence movement in Scotland. Perhaps it will.

    Then again, perhaps it will just shift more red tories over to the blue tories and make Slab the second largest unionist party in Holyrood.

  7. tartanfever says:

    It doesn’t matter what SLAB, Corbyn or Scottish Labour members say – the decision over trident will be made by the PLP and Labour’s NEC and they all resoundingly want to renew. The Labour conference rejected the chance to debate Trident because the party feared ordinary members may vote against renewal.

    If this is a party on the cusp of a new identity then it’s a thin veil.

    Scottish Labour have one objective – to try and stop the SNP winning a majority at Holyrood next year therefore stopping dead any chance of a new independence referendum in the next parliament.

    The papers have been primed, the TV news channels as well, it’s going to be a onslaught of anti SNP rhetoric for the next six months especially on the NHS. Expect to see Eleanor Bradford on Reporting Scotland every night from now on in.

    Every Scottish Labour announcement is geared towards this one objective, stop an SNP majority at Holyrood.

    1. John B Dick says:

      … and it will be even more obvious and less effective than before.

      My worry is that the SNP will win too many constituencies and there will be no place in the parliament for outstanding SNP list MSPs. Good, experienced, sitting Labour List MSPs will be discriminated against to find a place for ex-MPs some of whom may be among those MPs who regarded MSPs as the ‘B’ team and the list as ‘the assisted places scheme’. Others will be novices put forward for gender balance.

      It has been said that some regions have put people on winnable positions onthe list in recognition of past service. I think I may have met a couple of them, decent caring people quite unsuited to PMQ at Westminster, but in touch with constituents and the third sector. I’d rather see them in the parliament than Oxbridge PPE SPADS from so-called ‘think tanks’.

  8. Kenny Smith says:

    I don’t really get this article. Not in the sense that I don’t comprehend what its saying but who is it for, who is it supporting or attacking. There seems to be a big dig at the SNP here and admittedly the SNP are a little soft on certain issues that we on the left would like to see pursued with a bit more vigour but they in my opinion have done a fairly good job with the limited powers we have and for all the attacks from left/right and the media their popularity has risen, that speaks volumes on its own. As for Scottish Labour, the people that were there to vote will never leave Labour for any reason, if they have not left after everything by now then they will always put their red rose before their own principles. The vote itself means jack diddily, the vote for trident will go through with Labour support and the Scottish position will be disregarded. I am a GMB member and I feel a bit let down by their position that they are protecting jobs, how many more jobs could be created with that money, could Faslane not have a future as a conventional naval yard with frigates as well as sub’s to maintain and protect. At the end of the day as much as I hate to say it trident is being renewed, they are modifying BAE at Barrow to build them and upgrading Faslane to keep them. As for helping our cause for indepence then maybe but there is still half of Scots that see us only as a region like Yorkshire and I don’t see trident being the straw that pushes them to vote yes

  9. Gregor McAdam says:

    Two short sentences uttered today by Maria Eagle, the labour shadow defence minister at westminster said it all:

    “This does not change our policy. Defence is not a devolved matter and labour party policy has to be set at a uk level.”

    What I find particularly relevant is her reference to “our” policy. As if the Scottish accounting unit is not part of the inner coterie, indeed not at the table.

    This sums up the uk, Scotland can seek to influence, but we will have to do as England wants, a natural outcome of an imperfect and unbalanced union!

  10. bill fraser says:

    As stated Scotland has no real power to influence matters in respect of nuclear and reserved matters at this time.It can only be achieved with upwards of 60% of the people voting for independence.This is our priority at the moment .

    1. elaine fraser says:

      I feel the Tories are the radicals – its almost unbelievable the rate of change even just everyday language now. ‘Welfare’ instead of ‘social security’ ‘bill -payers’ not ‘tax-payers’ ‘hard-working families’ ‘aspirational’ whatever that means blah blah blah … is white .

      They know they may have a short time and they are intent on transforming not just what people do but what they expect and what they think . In a way I feel it won’t matter to them if they lose the next general election because by then our world will have been transformed. The younger generation will no longer know what it is to have a full-time permanent contract or a council house ( social housing sounds like something to do with social work to me) .

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.