Keir Starmer’s Scottish non turn

Pre-released extracts of a long-awaited speech by Keir Starmer on Scotland and the Union leave English Labour Party member Mark Perryman nonplussed.

Keir Starmer in 2020 has got Labour back to neck-and-neck with the Tories in the UK-wide polls, all but those of an infantile disorder persuasion will applaud this.

He has done this principally by appearing as likely to prove at least as efficient as Johnson managing the Coronavirus crisis, a pretty low bar. Quite what Labour’s actual position on the crisis is entirely beyond my comprehension, does it actually have one?

Despite Johnson’s worst efforts the medical impact of Coronavirus will presumably pass at some point in ’21, the socio-economic impact however last considerably longer.

Apart from this Keir in ’21 will face three huge tests, the Labour Conference vote on electoral reform and should Labour finish third or a distant 2nd in the Scottish Parliamentary elections the urgent need to work with other parties towards a coalition government as the only way to defeat Johnson in ’24, on both he has had nothing to say.

On Scotland itself he is due to make a speech today which has been trawled in the weekend’s papers. It is profoundly disappointing. When will Labour get that the moment for ‘devolution’ and even more devolution has passed. Gordon Brown tried that as the Tories’ little helper in the ’14 Referendum, it reduced Labour to 1 Scottish seat in ’15. The Corbyn surge got Labour back to 6 Scottish seats in ’17 and turned a 18 others into SNP/Labour marginals but even that was nowhere near the 41 Labour used to win with considerable ease

Labour’s likely disastrous showing in Scotland in ’21 will be blamed on what looks like lacklustre Scottish leadership. Afterwards the most likely replacements will be bash-the-nats arch Labour Unionists. Which will only accelerate Scottish Labour’s decline and rule out a Labour General Election victory in ’24.

Keir’s ‘more devolution’ position is wrong on three counts.

First, if in ’24 Labour does enough to be the biggest party to form a government with other parties its biggest partner in terms of number of MPs willl be the SNP. Towards that end there has to be a fundamental, and long overdue, recognition of Scottish national self-detetminaton.

Second, it will take a generation for Scottish Labour to recover but that recovery will only begin once the party north of the border comes out as a party in support of independence.

Third, Keir’s sudden embrace of ‘No Borders’ as a slogan reeks of either opportunism or hypocrisy, or perhaps both. As far as I know Keir has never signed up to the politics of the ‘no borders’ movement so why does this now apply to Scotland but no other nation-state?

And why should I as a Labour member in Lewes, East Sussex be remotely bothered? Because, quite simply I don’t believe economic reform is remotely possible without democratic reform and fundamental to the latter is the break up of the Union. An early reading of Tom Nairn convinced me of this intellectually but it was a postgraduate student at Aberdeen University 1981-82 that the cultural significance of this became obvious. The raucous singing of Flower of Scotland on the buses back to the Hillhead halls of residence from town, the glares across the refectory when I grinned from ear to ear following England’s 4-1 thrashing of Scotland at Hampden. The pride in the social-democratic values of Scottish civic society while Thatcherism ripped through English society, which of course she infamously denied existed. None of this, contrary to popular mythology I found remotely threatening, we were different, and one day I hoped we’d be equal too, two states, neighbours, one island. I can’t tell the Scottish Labour Party what to do but rest assured those who fight for the cause of independence inside it plenty of us in England have your backs.

Keir doesn’t, there’s not the remotest hint what to do as support for Scottish independence, including crucially amongst Labour voters rises ever higher. Instead he offers a rehash of bad old-fashioned Labourism’s defence of the constitutional status quo. If this is what he delivers, eventually, with similar set-piece speeches on electoral reform and working with other parties a lot of people, including those who voted for him in the leadership election, are going to be disappointed. What a waste.



Comments (36)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Geoff Bush says:

    Mark, it is good to see a fairly realistic assessment of Labour’s future in Scotland from south of the border. The projected timelines are a bit confused however, and therein lies a serious problem for Labour in the UK – or maybe not. The only way for Labour to become relevant in Scotland, outside the Edinburgh Morningside space-time anomaly , is to change its constitutional policy and come out in support of Scottish Independence. That in turn makes independence more likely, and reduces the probability of Scottish involvement in the 2024 Westminster election. But by 2024 it will be a long long time since the number of labour seats in Scotland was crucial to an overall Labour majority in Westminster – I don’t think any Blair majority was dependent on Scottish seats so we are maybe back in the 1970’s – half a century ago – since a Labour majority depended on Scottish seats. So what’s the message for Sir Keir ? Don’t waste your time on Scotland because you can’t win, put the federalism fairy back in the box of Christmas decorations, concentrate on winning in England and Wales before Wales joins Scotland outside the UK.

    1. Mark Perryman says:

      Hi Geoff.

      I’d say it is pretty inconceivable the constitutional cogwheels will have moved fast enough by 2024 for there not to be Scottish constituencies represented at Westminster. If they are and Lab is the biggest party but unable to form a government on its own the SNP not the Lib Dems, would be the 2nd biggest party in any such coalition. As for Labour winning without Scotland yes it has been possible but only when Labour has done considerably better in England. I just can’t see Starmer winning an overal majority with the Scottish Labour non-recovery he has all but guaranteed today. Gordon Brown as his chief adviser, has Keir not noticed what happened in ’15 thanks to Brown in ’14 ?

      1. Axel P Kulit says:

        If the SNP Held the balance of power Labour would form a coalition with the Tories. They have proposed such a grand coalition already.

        Labour and the tories are pretty much indistinguishable anyway

  2. Michelle Shortt says:

    Very interesting read Mark. Thanks for taking time to give a realistic analysis of the situation. I hope that Scottish Labour and Starmer take heed.

  3. Julian Smith says:

    In 2014, I was a polling agent for Yes and I remember saying to my counterpart, a Labour councillor, that if there was a “No” vote, Labour would be finished in Scotland and that, to have a future, Labour should have backed Independence. Nothing that has happened since has given me reason to change my view.

  4. Axel P Kulit says:

    Mark, we need people like you campaigning for England to become independent by leaving the UK. There are already a few FB pages of keyboard warriors advocating this. It needs more.

    1. John S Warren says:

      England cannot leave the Union. Only Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales could leave the Union. This seems odd, but it is reality; which is different from illusion or theory. This is the difference between ‘form’ and ‘substance’ in international law. The realpolitik is that England and the Union are symbiotic. Think of the Union and England as a single organism; two aspects of a single entity. Why do I say this? Because whatever happens to the Union, only England within the Union can sustain the whole framework of Union commitments with the outside world; from UN Security Council membership to the currency (£ sterling). England leaving the Union would be a total, unconscionable catastrophe; for England, and every constituent part of the Union. That is why when Scotland leaves the Union, it cannot be done in the form implied by the rules of an Incorporating Union, as defined within the Treaty of Union (1707); it can only be done by pretending that the incorporating union is in fact a federal union, and Scotland can leave, without abolishing it, because the consequences of abolition are disastrous for everyone. That is just how it is. England was always the centre of the Union, it is fated to be stuck with the Union that it has commanded and manipulated for three centuries – no matter what.

      1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

        I don’t follow your logic here, John. If Scotland left the Union, the Union would be dissolved anyway, leaving England (and Northern Ireland) to shoulder the international commitments of the former UK, as (as you say) only England would be capable of doing.

        What is there to stop England from similarly dissolving the Union by leaving it and subsequently assuming the commitments of the former UK in the absence of any of its other former members having the capacity to do so, including things like the UK’s membership of the UN Security Council?

        Wasn’t there some proposal back in the run-up to the 2014 pseudorendum, to the effect that a separated England (and Northern Ireland) could assume responsibility for the entirety of former UK’s international debt? Or was this just a piece of Salmondonian chicanery?

        1. John S Warren says:

          Because the international commitments are with the UK. Period. That is a matter of law. You can’t just switch it gratuitously at your sole convenience. What are they going to say? We are England, we are diffferent. English exceptionalism prevails! Nobody is interested. There are serious interests at stake. You can’t store all these agreements while you sort them out. Those with investments in UK bonds will be highly suspicious of the switch, that their position is affected adversely in some way; they would want to tooth-comb it. There are international political interests which may also block a new agreement, that say for example only, gifts UN Security Council membership to England over other large, fast growing aspirants. And so it will go on, for I think around 1,000+ agreements round the world; some, big and serious agreements. Why on earth do you think that Cameron made clear that if Scotland left, rUK was taking over all the UK debts; guaranteed, no matter what? Because keeping the UK whole and intact, and pretending it was not, after all an incorporating union was the only way to do it. Break-up was too bad to contemplate.

          1. John S Warren says:

            For the avoidance of doubt, the Union is not dissolved; as I said, we are doing this by presenting an incorporating union as a federal union. The Union continues and Scotland secedes. It is the only way to do it. Beyond the result, 2014 proved that this is how it will be done.

          2. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Fair enough. The Union wouldn’t be dissolved; England would continue as the UK and enjoy all the international benefits thereof.

            Can England do this? Isn’t there any similar legality – the Treaty of Union, say – that binds the UK as an incorporation and would prevent its disincorporation even if we were to pretend it’s not a corporation at all but a federation rather?

            But even if there is, I’m sure there are lawyers who could get around the problem.

          3. John S Warren says:

            All that was rehearsed in 2014. The easiest demonstration of that, was Alex Salmond’s rehearsal of “the pound is Scotland’s currency” and his shared currency proposal. That was true under the Treaty of Union, but de facto it cut no ice and the proof is his policy collapsed. It was simply not acceptable to rUK (England), and it was based on a misunderstanding of the nature of sovereignty, especially in the field of currency. The SNP has never managed to work out what it needs to do over currency since, and has frankly made a mess of its monetary and currency policy; then and now.

            It has already been accepted (from 2014) what will happen when/if Scotland secedes. rUK will control the currency; but that means all the assets of currency, and all – all – the liabilities. Scotland begins, either by using £ Sterling as its currency, over which it has no control (seriously restricting its economic independence, with no real control over monetary policy), or it starts with its own currency. The advantage is, it will begin from a postion of having no debt; ironically, exactly in the same place it began in 1707; it brought no debt to the Union (it was broke, not indebted), and was actually paid by England to take its share of England’s debt. The problem here is, everybody was looking – largely – at the wrong things in 2014, and missed some really big decisions. All of that has been decided. The lawyers are not interested. It is all over.

          4. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Sorry, that should read ‘…all the international costs and benefits thereof.’

      2. CM Morris says:

        It is panic which fuels John S Warren’s false arguments and statements, for fear always distorts the truth. He creates a biased fiction as a defence for England’s vulnerability to truth and justice, aka its criminal record, created by its Imperial history of monumental crime, not least against the Celtic nations of these islands.
        The Kingdoms of Scotland and England will soon be separate once again.
        The attempt by the English Establishment to stop this separation is as futile as attempting to stop an Alpine avalanche with bare hands.
        I cannot relieve England’s growing panic, with it’s desperate flight into authoritarianism , it is their affair. But for the Celtic nations, the time has come.

        1. John S Warren says:

          Mr Morris,

          Who writes your gags? They are really funny. I would normally, happily leave you to it when I read this kind of impenetrable stuff; I have no idea what on earth you are talking about; but hey, its Christmas in Covid, a time for good cheer when everything is grey; so happy to respond. All I want to say is that whatever you think of my arguments (feel free!), I should make it clear that if you think that I am defending “England’s vulnerability” or trying to keep Scotland in the Union; sorry, but you clearly did not understand my argument at all, and have probably lost the plot. Maybe you are just in the wrong thread, or even the wrong field of activity for your very arcane interests, as far as I can fathom what they maybe (and no, I don’t need or require help on that front thanks, I think I’ll leave it there!).

          Never mind; stay safe, take care and enjoy Christmas in these difficult times.

    2. Mark Perryman says:

      English independence wil be a product of Scottish and Welsh Independece, a united Ireland. Anglo-Britishness has too much of a pull until then for a mass, civic nationalism, which we look to with envy in Scotland and Wales

      1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

        I don’t think so, Mark. As John points out, England will soldier on as ‘the UK’ (and will have to soldier on as ‘the UK’, to save the world all kinds of inconvenience) notwithstanding the latter’s disincorporation. It will be able to do this by pretending the UK wasn’t really and incoporation at all, but was in fact a federation all along, and the rest of the world will connive in this pretence.

  5. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    ” I can’t tell the Scottish Labour Party what to do”

    Nobody can tell the Scottish Labour Party what to do, because the Scottish Labour Party believes that only it knows what the people need. There is need for any meaningful democracy other than to vote Labour and let them do what they KNOW needs to be done.

    Even though its vote has collapsed, The Scottish Labour excoriates former voters as ‘suffering from a mass delusion’. Even as its membership shrinks, the narrow clique circles the wagons ever more tightly, and accepts money from the Tories via ‘Scotland in Union’. Its members prefer to work with the Tories (Aberdeen City Council – anyone except THAT ESS _EM_PEE. However, they actually have a coalition with THAT ESS_EM_PEE in Edinburgh despite that being the location of its only MP, the rabid, union-jack-suit-wearing Ian Murray, from the People’s Republic of Tory Morningside.

    Labour has no intention – or, indeed, any chance – of devolving more powers, becaue Labour KNOWS what people need. What is the point of democracy?

    1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      ‘Nobody can tell the Scottish Labour Party what to do, because the Scottish Labour Party believes that only it knows what the people need.’

      Such is the nature of the party system of politics: every party believes that only it knows what the people need and that there’s no need for any meaningful democracy beyond voting for them and letting them do what they know needs to be done.

  6. robert Hughes says:

    Thanks for that intelligent and honest assessment of Labour’s stance on Independence Mark , which I believe is more widely shared among Labour supporters North and South of the border than you would glean from MSM commentary on the subject . The problem is no English party leader wants to be the one who ” loses ” Scotland ( as if it’s theirs to ” lose ” ) and when you have Union flag suit wearing buffoons like Ian Murray saying how he thought Labour in Scotland were right to self-immolate in 2014 to ” protect the Union ” – someone give that man a knighthood ( and a dummy tit ) – you know there is still a long way to go before Labour accepts it’s best , only , hope for a revival in Scotland is by supporting Independence

    1. Mark Perryman says:

      Labour menbers in England need to ‘come out’ to support those in Scottish Labour backing Independence, or to coinn a phrase ‘we’ve got your backs’.

  7. Martin Rodgers says:

    As an ostensibly, but not proudly, English, Labour Party member, from the north of England who voted for Keir Starmer, I agree with Mark’s analysis. I believe electoral reform is crucial and just, as would be another devolution referendum but I am profoundly depressed by England’s prospects. I certainly can’t envisage Keir taking the bold steps needed to make anything better.

    1. James Mills says:

      Sir Keir Starmer is a Tory cuckoo in the Labour nest . Do not put your faith /trust in him .

      As far as Scotland is concerned , he has shown in a remarkably short time that he is a staunch Unionist and will not ALLOW the Scots to decide their own fate . Imagine any thinking politician asking Gordon Brown for advice on how to win back Scotland !

  8. Foghorn Leghorn says:

    ‘Nobody can tell the Scottish Labour Party what to do, because the Scottish Labour Party believes that only it knows what the people need.’

    Such is the nature of the party system of politics: every party believes that only it knows what the people need and that there’s no need for any meaningful democracy beyond voting for them and letting them do what they know needs to be done.

  9. John O'Dowd says:

    An interesting read and some further interesting comments. But it is a real enough problem. As we can see all too clearly both in its membership and its report, Andrew Wilson’s Sustainable Growth Commission has done the groundwork for the continuation of Neoliberal business (and it’s ALL about business) as usual in the event that we become independent.

    The SNP government, if you examine its policies in detail, is beneath the increasingly threadbare social democrat surface, a thoroughly neoliberal entity.

    Meantime, the Left is in disarray.

    We really do need a ‘Labour’ party – or a credible successor to it, shorn of Blairites and other Neoliberal entryists, readying itself for a post-independence future.

    Scottish Labour is a thoroughly dead body. Its only remaining purpose is to provide well-paid employment to the otherwise un-employable.

    I was a member of the Labour Party for the first 17 years of my adult life. It had lots of decent left-leaning, and even some socialist folks in it at that time, who knew the history of working class struggle, and the need to maintain it. It also had a hard-core of scoundrels, chancers and brain-dead eejits.

    Only the latter remain.

    I left when Kinnock betrayed the miners. A year working in London after that cured me of anti-SNP tribal antipathy, and I joined the SNP immediately on return to Scotland. That was over 30 years ago. I am still (but only just) a member. But I was never under any illusions. The one and only reason for the SNP is to gain independence for Scotland. Full Stop.

    A taste of running the Devolved Branch of Her Majesty’s Government (Scotland Division) seems to have turned the heads of some in the leadership, and the sinecures formerly enjoyed by Labour Apparatchiks have apparently softened the will to be an insurgency against the British State (which is what the SNP needs to be) in the minds of some of the leadership. There has also been a predictable influx of the eejit and trough-snouting tendency that was/is so dominant in Scottish Labour.

    This is inevitable when a party remains in office for so long without fulfilling its sole raison d’être.

    There is an urgent need for the true democratic left in Scotland to get its act together. Pronto.

    Because when we do get independence, as the Sustainable Growth Commission demonstrates, the bankers, landowners, business so-called leaders and their PR and academic subalterns and agents – many already operating in the SNP – are ready and waiting.

    And what we will have will be neoliberal Business As Usual – with a saltire and a kilt on.

    But that will NOT be INDEPENDENCE, and the poor and dispossessed of Scotland will still be poor and dispossessed with new landlords (and the same old landlords) under new management.

  10. Paddy Farrington says:

    Good to read you here, Mark!

    I think that Scottish independence with progressive majority support could provide a fresh impetus for the Left in England. It would mark the demise of the Unionism that defines the Tories, and would put an end to that particular historical project of theirs. It could open up potential for new progressive alliances with new agendas, completing the stalled democratic revolution that Nairn wrote about. But this will only happen if Labour, in England and in Scotland, ends its entanglement with that very same Unionism, and the reactionary democracy-denial it now represents. Otherwise that new terrain may be captured by altogether more sinister forces.

    1. Dougie Harrison says:

      Paddy, there is one very clear way that Scottish independence will greatly assist the left in England to grow. As soon as the Scottish government starts the process of ridding us of the US-controlled Trident subs at Faslane, someone in England (assuming that England wants to keep its pretence at an ‘independent nuclear deterrent’, will have to decide there to put them. They daren’t locate them in Wales, for obvious reasons. Will Plymouth and Devonport, or ANYWHERE ELSE in England, be prepared to accept them?

      If for no other reason, Scotland’s commitment to independence will inevitably herald the end of the disunited queendom forever.

      1. Paddy Farrington says:

        I agree. Ridding Scotland of Trident could be the impetus for ditching it altogether. This then raises the issue of how the people of England sees their role in the world, and what kind of country they might want it to be. Big questions, which the English left need to be ready to grapple with, and help set a radical, democratic agenda. None of that at all in Keir Starmer’s woefully inadequate speech.

  11. Alistair Robertson says:

    Thanks for this piece Mark. I can’t say I disagree with any of it. I’m not a Labour supporter and it’s clear from Keir Starmer’s speech yesterday why that is.

    There is nothing new and in that loudly declared and clearly delievered nothingness is an abject poverty of both realism and ambition – for Labour and for Scotland. It smacked of yesterday’s man bringing up newly polished but still tarnished yesterday’s promises, no more than the intention to have the Scotland strategy fronted by that epitome of yesterday’s behemoth, Gordon Brown, who’s regular, ponderous and gravitas laden interventions are jumped upon for amplification by our predominately unonist media while most of the population switch off, turn over or cheerfully label it as yet another meaningless ‘Broontervention’, by a man guaranteed to have nothing new to say and even less power to deliver it. He had one realistic shot at that, back in 2014 when those grandiose words made grandiose promises that he gave a personal guarantee of delivering. Those promises fell on stoney ground and whatever shoots of hope may have been were stamped upon by the Scottish Labour Party who, through the Smith Commisssion process, did more to prevent the creation of ‘the most powerful devolved parliament in the world’ than any other. This, coming after standing shoulder to shoulder with the Tories, making the same arguments for the same self-interested reasons is why the Labour Party is fineshed here, possibly until as you say they embrace independance and prove themselves to be an effective opposition reflecting the wish for a dynamic, progressive society determined to do things differently.

    Perhaps, if that comes to pass, that would highlight a way back for the UK party too. As things stand this ‘business as usual’ approch just ain’t going to cut it in my opinion.

    Thanks again.
    Awra best.

  12. MacNaughton says:

    Getting Gordon Brown to head up a commission to carry out a “listening exercise” on how power should be distributed in UK is quite a plausible punchline to a decent set up on a satirical show like Have I Got News For You or something like that….

    …But no, oh no, no, no it’s real! This is K. Starmer’s big idea for Scotland….to get a guy who has been wittering on about devolution / federalism in town halls, bingo clubs and car boot sales for years to keep talking about it even though everyone in Scotland stopped listening to Brown on precisely September 19th 2014 after the fiasco of David Cameron ‘s post referendum appearance when he announced he was sick of hearing about Scotland and wanted to concentrate exclusively on England for the rest of the century….

    In Xmas present terms, Brown on Constitutional change in these isles is like getting a 3 pack of Marks & Spencer socks…

    1. MacNaughton says:

      ….without any wrapping…

      1. MacNaughton says:

        …and the price tag still on the cardboard flap, and, “it was a last minute thing, I was in such a rush” and “they always come in handy” and “I just nipped into Marks”…and “It’s the thought that counts, Keir….”

        1. MacNaughton says:

          My Christmas track dedicated to Keir Starmer and the Labour Party in Scotland….

  13. JP58 says:

    Having lived in England I genuinely believe that if Scotland became independent whichever party was in power at Westminster would get hammered at next general election.
    The majority of folk I met in England including good friends had a mixture of ignorance & arrogance to Scotland. They genuinely struggle to differentiate between UK & England so never underestimate the deep psychological impact on them of ‘losing’ Scotland.
    In Wales, where I also lived, I found more just ignorance of Scotland not arrogance (except for rugby justifiably)
    So if Labour said it was up to Scots and there was a Yes vote before next general election Tories would be big losers.
    This needs a bit of insight into different nations outlooks – not a strong point of Keir Starmer or current Scottish Labour mob. Honestly think Donald Dewar would be spinning in his grave if he could see what’s happened to Labour in Scotland.

  14. Gordon Peters says:

    But the EU/UK deal has trumped the lot — seed potatoes are out ; seed potatoes are us; the seed potato country is strong on Tories, and they are cut out. Indendence beckons.

  15. John Monro says:

    I don’t know for sure, but does Labour’s prior dependence on Scottish voters to return many Labour MPs to Westminster still colour that party’s attitude to Scotland, even though the UK Labour vote in Scotland is now so poor that this hardly applies any more? Is UK Labour just hoping for better times? Has anyone calculated what the long term result for a new English and Welsh Labour party would be if Scotland did become independent? Would a Tory majority become a permanent and increasingly anti-democratic fixture English politics? Of course something that would help democracy in the UK (or England/Wales) is voting under a proportional representation system – is Labour still opposed to this obvious aid to democracy – a Green party might well do well under this system, and could be a natural coalition partner for an English/Welsh Labour party. So the UK Labour party is in a difficult place, that’s undeniable. But Keir Starmer’s anti-democratic actions in his own party don’t augur well for Labour’s place anywhere, especially Scotland.

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.