Sarwar’s Big Idea

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar delivered a ‘major speech’ about Scotland to the Fabian Society in London today. It was described as “Scottish Labour’s first paper on reform of Scotland and the UK.”

It was hilarious and confusing with wildly different messages coming from Starmer and Sarwar on the same day. Labour would be simultaneously all about cooperation and harmony while also not talking to anybody about anything. Starmer was explaining how he was going to “make Brexit work” while Sarwar was explaining how he was going to “make Britain work”. Both are irredeemable multi-dysfunctional entities, but Sir Keir’s English audience and Anas’s Scottish one meant they had to pretend otherwise. The key notes were that ‘the SNP and the Tories are essentially the same’ and ‘only Labour can heal and unify’. It was an orgy of meaningless centrism a bland mixture of grand-sounding ideas, that, on closer inspection mean nothing at all.

Sarwar said: “Our proposals are guided by the starting point that the UK is a redistributive union, which works in the interests of every community in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Together, we share wealth, risk and opportunities. And the best forms of government empower local communities and do not hoard that power in our parliaments and governments.”

This is code. This is broad shoulders stuff. The logic of Labour Unionism is this: “You are poor, you are by your very nature poor. You can only survive by the benevolence of the Union.” No-one explains why Scotland should be permanently so impoverished, we just are.

“First, we are proposing a legal duty to cooperate. This would require joint working between governments in areas of shared interest.”

This doesn’t make any sense and reduces and distils the conflicts of interest between governments and nations into ones that can be ‘magicked away’ by ‘forced cooperation’.

“Secondly, we are proposing new joint governance councils – or whatever we ultimately decide to call them. They would be designed to heal the bad relationship that exists today and provide a constructive forum for dispute resolution. Too often, the current UK government keeps the Scottish government in the dark. And too often the current Scottish government deliberately seeks disagreement with the UK government. This does not lead to good governance – it undermines the union. And the Tories and the SNP do it day in, day out.”

This is a false equivalence, the main storyboard of today’s announcements.

“Instead, the joint governance councils we are proposing, would be set out in statute and replace the consultative joint ministerial committees which have failed and collapsed. They would be designed so that every nation operates as an equal. They would bring together the leaders of the UK and the nations on an equal footing, with a finance council to explore the economic challenges we collectively face and a trade council to unlock opportunity and growth.”

“And thirdly, we propose a fundamental change here in Westminster. The House of Lords, in its current form, as an institution has no place in 21st century politics. It is unacceptable, and has been for far too long, to have unelected representatives wielding such power. The House of Lords must be abolished and replaced with an institution which better reflects the make-up and the identity of the United Kingdom.

“In calling for its abolition, we must recognise the vital role that members of the House of Lords have played as the revising chamber of the UK parliament. We shouldn’t forget that it is Labour Lords who have stopped some of the worst excesses of this Tory government.”

Wait, what? The House of Lords is both completely unacceptable and undemocratic, but also the Labour Lords are great and vital.


As Open Democracy’s Adam Ramsay observed: “Labour have been promising an elected  House of Lords for over a century.”

It was like a big political blancmange of political nonsense. The newly equal nations would meet – and Starmer’s “making Brexit work” plan would presumably be imposed, with a “legal duty to co-operate” making it all fine.

Decent People

It seemed like the SNP’s announcement last week has unleashed a demented response from the political parties, and the punditry. Alex Cole-Hamilton jumped on the bandwagon thundering: “No new independence referendum even if nationalists win election!” in The Times before a torrent of Op-Eds by people who know little or nothing about Scotland.

In The Telegraph Tim Stanley reckoned: “Scottish devolution was a disaster, and the English are letting the SNP get away with it.” His colleague Tom Harris took it further declaring Scotland a “failed state” …



… while Carole Malone over at the Daily Express gushed at the Queen’s visit to Edinburgh: “At 96, she looked gorgeous in her lilac coat and hat, she was wreathed in smiles and seemed to be on tip-top form. And, without saying a single word about referendums or independence, she slapped down those nasty Nats who are always screaming that they don’t want the Queen in Scotland because “the union is dead”.

“But then, they are too thick to realise that every vile insult they spew at the Queen, every glob of bile they heap upon her, will strengthen that union. Decent people will look at those bad-mouthing a woman who has dedicated her life to the British people for 70 years and realise they don’t want that rabble running their country. Nicola Sturgeon, of course, must have been livid about the Queen’s visit because it entirely overshadowed her announcement about her “pretend” referendum in 2023.”


Very little of this held together to be coherent. A central idea, like an old folk-memory nurtured by the pundits was the idea of the SNP ‘letting the Tories in’.

Follow the logic.

Starmer has assiduously developed the idea that he would do nothing different from the Conservatives. This is essentially his great USP. On Rwanda there’s barely a murmur, on Brexit he’ll “get it done”. On the constitution he’s 100% Unionist. Diehard. Then, having established his impeccable Conservative credentials, the SNP are told they must support him without question.

You following?

Labour’s shambles also didn’t make sense for it’s own processes. Months ago – years ago? – it’s all a bit of a blur – Gordon Brown was tasked with going away and coming back with a ‘blueprint’ (‘Brownprint’ surely? – Ed. You are the Ed stop interrupting!). We’ve not heard anything about it for a very long time and now along comes Sarwar’s ‘series of papers’.

From Sarwar’s speech we were told: “These papers will form Scottish Labour’s vision for change, complementing the work that Keir Starmer has asked Gordon Brown to do, exploring how we change the UK” – but you sense not everything is happy in the Labour family. This is like a gushing torrent of bad ideas thrown out in response to Sturgeon’s announcement. They make little sense and only cohere around the idea that democracy must be suppressed regardless of the result of any elections. somehow that’s going to be the basis for renewing British democracy. Are you following?


Comments (24)

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  1. Norm says:

    And to add to the contradictions, in 2014 didn’t Gordon Brown promise that the result of (what became) The Smith Commission was home rule and as close to federalism as the UK could ever get?

  2. Squigglypen says:

    Um….we are a dreadful nation. We don’t listen to vicious halfwits and dare to want to run our own beautiful country full of smart talented folk.
    Now wot else could we do to annoy the excrement…hard border?…mmmm…or….ye huv tae wear a kilt and nae knickers if ye come here ….an’… where’s yer passport tae get in here? huvne got ane!..why I’ll set a haggis oan ye…Sorry just being facetious…. but thank you for your amusing diatribe…cheered me up no end.

    Take a look at Betty Windsor resplendent in lilac..grinning ear to ear….no wonder ..she’s been ripping us off for 96 years…now that’s talent. Set a haggis oan hur!

  3. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    This morning on Good Morning Scotland, Sarah Boyack was interviewed about Mr Sarwars’s proposals. Gary Robertson asked her about Brexit, or rather, that it did noit feature in Mr Sarwar’s forthcoming speech. Ms Boyack replied that many Labour and SNP voters had voted for Brexit to which Mr Robertson said that a large majority in Scotland had voted Remain. Ms Boyack said ‘a lot of Scots voted to leave’. Ms Boyack then went on to assert that if Brexit has been difficult independence will be “ten times worse, even SNP’s economists say that.”

    This was dire stuff.

    1. Jim Taylor says:

      Placing a minority voting for brexit before a majority against it proves againt Labour pays lip service to democracy.
      How do Labour politicians sleep at. Ight knowing they too have abandoned their standards.

      1. 220710 says:

        In the 2016 referendum, didn’t a majority vote to leave the EU?

  4. John Marshall Bryden says:

    Really, do they sincerely believe that the public will believe this Labour guff, either north or south of the border? What a tragic finale for a great political party.

  5. Jim Taylor says:

    Confirmtion Labour are a busted flush. I’m enbarrassed to say I voted Labour in the pasr. Never again. I cringe with every democracy denying pronouncement they make.
    I can remember many formerxstalwarts from Clydeside to the coalfields who must surely be squirming in the graves at what the Labour party has become.
    As for Carole Malone, she would advance the case for women if she just kept her mouth shut. Her utterings are childishly puerile.
    Clearly Sturgeon has wrongfooted unionist gurus, forcing them to flap about in an ocean of ignorance, poor judgement and desperation.
    The stunning aspect izs how these paragons of democracy would deny Scots their democratic rights.
    Vote democracy, vote indy.

  6. Willie Lawrie says:

    ““Secondly, we are proposing new joint governance councils – or whatever we ultimately decide to call them. They would be designed to heal the bad relationship that exists today and provide a constructive forum for dispute resolution” – so what happens when the Scottish representatives on the new joint governance council decides that we do not want Trident in Faslane or anywhere else in Scotland – who wins?

  7. Jacob Bonnari says:

    Thanks for this Mike, good form.

    Labour’s starting point:
    “Our proposals are guided by the starting point that the UK is a redistributive union, which works in the interests of every community in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland”.

    This is an assertion offered without proof and in fact is more of an axiom within Labour. It is flawed because it makes no allowance for the Tories being in power 70% of the time, and because as a starting place is demonstrably untrue.

    The Union is presently working against the interests of Scotland. The evidence for this is that Northern Ireland’s economy is growing while it is in the Single Market and Currency Union. Scotland voted against Brexit, England voted for it and Scotland’s economy is now suffering because of that consequence while NI strives to mitigate the Brexit vote.

    There’s nothing in Anas Sarwar’s speech, nor in the words from.Sir Keir Starmer tonight to offer any compensation to Scotland to address the damage England’s Brexit is causing our economy.

    For me the real test for Anas Sarwar and his “Scottish” Labour Party is whether he will argue in public that Scotland can have the same deal on membership of the SM and CU as Northern Ireland. As supporters of Unionism with ‘ambitions’ for Scotland ((c) Cat Headley) then they should be pushing for the maximum amount of mitigation of Brexit’s damage. But they’re not, because *they will always be subordinate to UK Labour leadership*.

    This really is an open goal for all people who support independence, “If Labour as a Unionist party with ambitions for Scotland to do well, will they press now for Scotland to be in the SM and CU, so that we too can mitigate the damage that Brexit is doing to our economy?” An answer of anything other than yes, or any dissembling confirms that in fact they do remain a branch office.


      The ‘redistributive’ nature of Labour’s union didn’t work. I worked around the local government sphere in the central belt. Dominated by labour councils, pork barrel politics allied with judicial application of Urban Aid funding kept politicians in power (including some on the labour still hanging about labour as elected politicians). While Urban Aid did at times do some good, the arguments about not doing anything outside the central belt was that poverty levels weren’t bad enough and weren’t concentrated enough to do anything about it. The collective cross party thinking behind Skye Bridge Tolls highlights that more than most. Redistributive my a**e.

  8. SleepingDog says:

    That would be the Vampire–Thrall model of Anglo–Scottish relations, then?

  9. James Mills says:

    Who are Sarwar and Starmer talking to ?
    Would any normal voter listen to this rubbish and think – ”That’s the clincher for me – I’m voting Labour !” ?

    Actually , how many voters would even hear what was said by these two sharlatans ? Precious few !

    Look at who their audiences were today – The CER and The Fabian Society – hardly your average man/woman in the street . They might as well have been talking to a brick wall for all the effect their words will have with the general public .

    They are completely out of touch .
    Starmer is going to ”Make Brexit Work ! ” , ignoring the reality that he is flogging a dead Tory horse , while his alter-ego in Scotland is dismissing more than half the voting population by responding ”La La La La …” whenever Independence is mentioned .

    They are worse than two bald men fighting over a comb – they don’t even have a comb !

  10. john burrows says:

    The incoherence is the point, I’m thinking.

    The object is to bury people in bs. Lawyers do it all the time when they try to hide facts in a blizzard of paper.

    It can be hard to think straight in a room full of hysterical people. At the moment, most of the opponents of independence can certainly be described as being hysterically funny.

    I’d say, let them get on with it. Never interrupt your opponent while they are making a blunder. Don’t even engage with them.

    They are establishing the need for a referendum all by themselves. Everything they blather on about is just nonsense anyway. “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” – to quote the English bard.

  11. David+B says:

    One of my friends (a civil servant) has recently taken a bill through the UK Parliament. She said the Lords she dealt with were excellent – they asked insightful questions and understood legal and practical details in a way MPs didn’t. I don’t think there’s any logical contradiction in saying some Lords do their job very well, while at the same time arguing that the institution is archaic, undemocratic and needs replacing.

    1. Niemand says:

      I have noticed this for a long time. Time and again stuff coming out of the Lords is superior to the Commons, sensible, well-reasoned, and important check, and much less tainted by party politics. The contradiction, if you like, is in scrapping it for something elected and then finding it becomes mired in party politics and the quality of its recommendations nose-dives. If it had powers to insist it would quite likely also lead to endless log-jams like in the US.

      So we end up with an second elected chamber of little merit and the loss of an unelected one that had real value. Would that be good for ‘democracy’? The problem for me is not that the Lords is unelected but how its members are selected. That has improved over the years but the chamber is undoubtedly mired in old money, old land-ownership, and ancient hereditary privilege. But focussing entirely on that and not the actual good it does, is pretty short-sighted.

      1. BSA says:

        The Lords look superior because they have nothing to lose. Their days of scrambling for their seats, parliament or boardroom, are over.

        1. Niemand says:

          It is one way of looking at it, yes. I would argue that is not necessarily a bad thing and you could re-spin it as less partisan and so less compromised.

    2. 220705 says:

      It would make an interesting anthropological study to investigate comparatively why this is so. Why is the behaviour of elected legislators in general functionally less effective in the UK parliament than that of non-elected legislators?

      1. 220706 says:

        Maybe, the members of the upper house are somehow more pragmatic than partisan in their decision-making. If so, it would be interesting to find out why this is the case so that the conditions might be replicated elsewhere in our parliaments and assemblies.

        1. David+B says:

          My friend commented that (1) many are cross-bench peers, so non-partisan; and (2) many have professional expertise outside of politics.

          On a related note, I remember reading a stat saying something like: in 1992, 80% of MPs had previous careers outside of politics or journalism, and by 2015 it was 20%. (Can’t remember the exact dates and numbers but it was that sort of shift).

          1. 220707 says:

            Yes, there’s a lot to be said for participating in politics out of a sense of civic duty rather than as a career. But how many people can afford to take time off earning to fulfil a civic duty?

            I reckon that to make it more accessible to ordinary people, political participation should be sabbatical-based; employers should grant employees paid time off to attend to their civic duties on the precedent of jury service for the duration of that, with only associated out-of-pocket expenses being met by the state. It shouldn’t be salaried, and participants should be discharged from future service at the end of its term.

  12. Alec Lomax says:

    Tom Harris, Brexiter, ex-Labour MP who turned Tory. He’s still around ?

    1. 220706 says:

      Aye, he’s now the lead non-executive director of both the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Office of the Advocate General for Scotland; an ‘adviser’ if you will.

  13. Jim Taylor says:

    Published today in the National.

    Are Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer living in a parallel universe; strangers to reality and common sense?

    Pseudo democrat Johnson melodramatically tells us that independence “would be utterly tragic for the whole world” (The National, July 5). How completely ludicrous is such a puerile pronouncement from this nincompoop Prime Minister?

    Was there a seismic shift in global fortunes when America, Canada, India or any of the other 60 colonies binned British rule, sufficiently disadvantaged they sought to reinstate their colonial status? Certainly not!

    So, why would the global world be troubled by our wee nation of five and a half million souls deciding it’s had enough of Westminster domination and doing what every free independent nation does naturally – manage its own affairs?

    Only vested interests benefiting from Scotland’s subordinate status will rightly be perturbed, which Johnson in his incredible, myopic parallel world assuredly understands and fears.

    Starmer is another case in point. Obtusely he opposed Brexit, campaigned for a second vote and now proclaims he won’t, as Labour leader, consider reversing it, joining the customs union or single market (Keir Starmer commits to hard Brexit as he rules out re-joining the single market, July 5).

    Shouldn’t Starmer rather be advocating a public inquiry to establish how Brexit is expensively failing us and considering how to restore the EU benefits we enjoyed?

    Between them, these two jokers and their inept parties have destroyed the credibility of the UK union, even before one considers how Scotland has had to play second fiddle to the inept machinations of the blue and red Tory parties, and how their docile and ineffective branch managers in Scotland put their party interests before those of the people of Scotland whom they’re supposed to represent and, as captain Scotland reminded us, are supposed to work for us, but don’t.

    What Starmer fails to understand is Labour’s ship has sailed in Scotland. We haven’t voted Tory for 50 years, and now with poor leadership and corrupted ideology contrary to Scottish interests the Labour party’s gone the same way. Deluded Starmer thinks Labour can persuade us to vote for him and make the gains needed to win them power in Westminster.

    Fact is, this is not going to happen. Scotland has weaned itself off supporting an undemocratic Labour party it knows is working only its own political ticket, intent on doing so by denying Scots their democratic right to self-determination.

    Contemporary Westminster politics has descended to a fantastical parallel universe where farcical 20th century politics are being played out by political dinosaurs trying to appeal to a 20th century audience that no longer exists, because it’s all their witless corrupt ideology knows.

    Scots recognise the world has moved on while they haven’t, and our ambition is to build a country for the 21st Century and beyond, where our talent and resources can bring prosperity, where our young people can expand our influence in a global world that affords the platform for them, and us to succeed.

    Independence will only be won when we understand that the UK status quo has failed, it’s no longer an option, and we can visualise the vastly improved alternative independence offers us.

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