Just Say No

“The United Kingdom is not one nation. We are four nations” – David Cameron, 2014

Reading Iain Macwhirter in Edinburgh Review 130. It’s largely a homage to Alex Salmond and an obsession with the Calman Commission. But it reminds us of where Scottish Labour were back then. He writes: “…back to the drawing board. The independence plans had to be shelved and the Nationalist government lost the political initiative after the 2010 general election. Labour’s rebound in Scotland, winning over a million votes and forty-one seats against the SNP’s six, has made them favourites to win the Holyrood elections in May 2011. In a sense it is back to the 1980s; you can almost feel the Scottish political world returning to its default settings.”

Morally dubious and tactically inept

This sense of a keening for a return to ‘default settings’ has been in place in most of the Scottish commentariat from about 2007. I mention this not to deride Macwhirter for getting it so wrong (hindsight and all that …) it’s more for remembering how recently Scottish Labour hegemony was just assumed, and how far they have fallen. It’s worth remembering this when Keir Starmer explains solemnly that he will “never talk to the SNP”, a position Neal Lawson of Compass calls ‘morally dubious and tactically inept’.

He writes:

“It’s morally questionable because we still, just, live in something called a democracy. And in a democracy, if the SNP keeps winning majorities in Holyrood and returning the vast majority of Scotland’s MPs to Westminster, then it has a legitimate mandate for a second referendum – that at least has to be engaged with. To deny not just the mandate or the party but the people of Scotland, who voted for them, is to deny democracy as a process of negotiation. Instead, it to practise politics as coercion.”

That’s exactly where we are, witnessing the politics of coercion. As you watch the Tory leadership battle unfold in all its glory remember that the dregs of the discredited Johnson regime lining up to promise you massive tax cuts and falling over themselves to outbid each other in far-right excess and Anglo-British nationalism, that Labour not only have no basis to suppress democracy in Scotland – they lost forty of the forty-one seats Macwhirter cited – but they offer little real alternative under Starmer.

This isn’t just about Starmer’s ineptitude, it’s a choice Labour have made.

As Lawson notes: “The hypocritical irony is, of course, that the Tories will say and do anything to stay in power – even trying to do a deal with the SNP, just as they did with the Lib Dems and the DUP. The perplexing tragedy in all this is that what the Tories fear most is a hung parliament that backs PR, because for them the game is then up. So why is Labour doing their bidding by running away from exactly what hurts the Tories most?”

His explanation is that Labour would rather be second place than change the way Britain works:

“There is a raw truth: there are some at the heart of Labour who never want to see a politics of negotiation or the fair voting system that underpins it. Instead, they first want to ensure the continuation of a two-horse race that guarantees second place and remaining Her Majesty’s Opposition. They never want the system opened up to fair competition.”

“Their principal offer to the country will always be: “The Tories are worse than us, so you have no option but to back Labour.” For them, the two-party system must be enshrined, even if that means losing.”

This is the same methodology from the party that sabotaged their own leader at the last election and is a challenge to the very people who claim – ad nauseam – that an incoming Labour government would ‘reform everything’ and repair Broken Britain.

We expect the cold contempt from the Tories who say – Sajid Javid: “No referendum for a decade” – Jeremy Hunt: “No referendum for a decade” – Tom Tugendhat: “I won’t allow a referendum” – Penny Mordaunt: “We won’t allow a referendum” – but we used to at least expect Labour to have some inking of constitutional reform. Perhaps an Andy Burnham led-party might be different? He has talked of  “rewiring” the UK, by carrying out a thorough reinvention of how power and politics work: replacing our voting system with proportional representation, getting rid of the House of Lords. According to John Harris Burnham argues: “This transformation would only happen if Labour was prepared to abandon ingrained habits, and cooperate with other progressive parties – the Greens and Lib Dems, and Plaid Cymru and the SNP – and stake out common ground.” 

But that’s not going to happen. That’s just a nice wee story.

Labour and the Conservatives are in lockstep again.

Taking Back Control

As the Tory MPs jostle and smear each other in political excrement, the future for Scotland is being mapped out by a bunch of disgraced charlatans and the entire British political class is unifying around supressing democracy. It’s not clear whether Andrea Jenkyns was signalling a V for Vendetta or for Vichy but there’s more than a whiff of the dystopian about post-Brexit Britain.

The Better Together campaign never really participated in 2014. Meeting after meeting was empty-chaired, invitation after invitation was declined. This ‘active withdrawal’ was coupled with a raw contempt that the event was happening at all, a stream of disinformation, dark money and a campaign so negative its own architects dubbed it ‘Project Fear’.

Now, its far worse than that.

The No campaign doesn’t have to campaign at all. They have no arguments. The only argument they have now is: ‘this is not happening’, and increasingly, ‘you don’t exist’.

There’s a new narrative forming among the Unionist foot-soldiers and Britnat shire-volk. It’s gone from “this is the most successful Union in the history of the world” (2014) to: “It’s not really a Union at all” (2022). This volte-face ends up in: “It’s not a union. We’re one country and have been for a very long time. It’s not normal to allow bits of a country to break away from the rest.”

This can be seen in Penny Mordaunt’s ‘territories’ messaging and in Alister Jack’s faithful lingering at his boss’s leaving-do. As Mr Cosgrove so cutely put it: “There is not much to like about the ‘bool-in-the-mooth Scottish Secretary, as he embraced ideological contradictions, hanging around Downing Street, like a parcelled rogue, loyal to the end.”

It’s not clear if this is just a few stupid folk on social media or ra pepul internalising their leaders messaging, but is a change and you hear it more and more. It may be a result of the emboldened and amplified British nationalism, a sort of hangover from the Brexit-Jubilee era.

In Simon Jenkins cod-history: “There was no Celtic solidarity, never one nation, language or culture, let alone a military or political alliance. To the English these peoples should see themselves as what amounted to English counties, like Yorkshire or Kent, to be assimilated into a “great British” union. Wales was forced to join in 1536, Scotland in 1707 and Ireland in 1801. Wales came into union peacefully, Scotland grudgingly and Ireland never.”

I’m not sure this assimilation and erasure will be successful. It didn’t work when Britain was it’s very peak (though it very-nearly did as maps with ‘North Britain’ testify) and it’s certainly not going to work when Britain is at its final convulsion. Your Scottish Secretary being a shameful recreant, or being told you are British when nobody under 65 feels it, isn’t going to work.

It’s a strange place to be. We might reflect that it is only possible because Scotland has been eroded and elided, but because England has too.

I don’t think people have really taken on board where we are now and what it might mean.

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Comments (30)

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  1. Derek says:


  2. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    In Wales Labour has been the largest – but never the majority – party in the Senedd since it’s inception. It has shown significant independence of mind, with regard to the UK Labour Party and has made an agreement with Plaid Cymru to ensure the implementation of policies. In addition, it is not a matter for expulsion to declare support for independence for Wales.

    Recently, the Senedd voted to increase its number of members to provide for the representation of a wider range of views. Welsh Labour gained support for this at its recent conference. However, a number of trade unions, such as USDAW, opposed the change because ‘first past the post’ was being ended and, in the unions’ view, this could reduce the number of seats Labour would win.

    So, it is clear that, as you indicate, many in Labour want the retention of the current Westminster arrangements because it will have the second largest representation in Parliament, and occasionally, will be the largest party. It also has a substantial number of peers in the Lords.

    Labour is a paradigm example of ‘goal displacement’, in that it has ceased to be about the redistribution of wealth and power, but serves the selfish interests of the narrow clique which are in charge of its dwindling membership.

    1. 220712 says:

      But that’s the nature and function of every political party: to pursue power on behalf of its community of interest. The Labour Party is unexceptional in this respect.

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        But, who is Labour’s ‘community of interest’?

        Labour, like The Tories, LibDems, Greens, SNP, aspire to appeal to people who are not members of the party as well as to the membership. They also claim to be acting, to various degrees, for ‘the common good’. And the common good is often different from what is a party espouses.

        Your rather trite argument, if pushed to its logical conclusion is that once the party has power, then to serve its community of interest it would henceforth have no more elections.

        1. 220712 says:

          It used to be the industrial proletariat and its unions. But, alas, those days are gone now with the passing of traditional ‘working-class’ industries in Britain. Maybe that’s at the heart of Labour’s problem; it’s lost its ‘natural’ constituency and is having trouble finding another.

          And, sure, to gain the power they need to further the interests of their respective constituencies, all political parties need to appeal to voters who are situated outside of their ‘natural’ constituencies; they do need to present themselves as seeking power in the interests of a more common good. Even at the height of industrial Britain, Labour had to appeal to bourgeois voters in its pursuit of power. Perhaps the heart of the SNP’s recent electoral success in Scotland lies in its success in appealing to voters who are situated outside its ‘natural’ nationalist constituency, in becoming a successful ‘catch-all’ or populist party.

          Once a party has power, then it would indeed be tempting to serve its community of interest by arranging to have no more elections. But that’s precisely why we have a democratic regime: to preclude that very possibility.

      2. JP58 says:

        ‘Scottish Labour’ does not adhere to your dictum.
        Having lost up to 50% of its voters post 2014 it appears hellbent on antagonising it further to ensure they do not vote Labour again in future.

        1. 220712 says:

          Yep, Labour has certainly lost its appeal as well as its ‘natural’ constituency.

          1. Niemand says:

            There are clear distinctions to be made around the UK for Labour. In Wales it has been in charge for a while, in England it is the official opposition and though dealt a bad blow at the last election, is still a viable party of government and the most likely to replace the Tories of any other party by a distance; in Scotland it is nowhere. Outside of the independence question, the SNP is basically like New Labour these days so Scottish Labour has only niche appeal. What does Labour offer that the SNP does not, apart from its unionism? This is not true in England where their ‘constituency’ is much broader and despite frustrations around its centrist agenda (see the SNP too), does offer a real alternative the the current government. It is a mistake to think Labour’s position in Scotland is remotely mirrored in England as it is not, not least because the issue of Scottish independence is way down most voters’ concerns. If Labour in England is only seen through the prism of their unionism, then genuine understanding will be elusive.

            But I do think Starmer is making a mistake with this won’t talk to the SNP business. As others have said and the article talks about, there is a movement in Labour that embraces constitutional change if not the break-up of the union as such. I think to many sensible people, this would be a good thing and very much worth putting on the table.

  3. Adrian Roper says:

    Regarding the union of Wales with England in 1536, this was the result of a number of factors that might be worth noting:
    1. The king at the time was Henry 8th, a Tudor (a Welsh name inherited from Owain ap Maredydd ap Tudur who married Catherine of Valois, widow of Henry 5th.)
    2. Henry’s dad, Henry 7th, won the English crown at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, with an army significantly bolstered by Welsh (and Breton) soldiers intent on restoring “British” rule after a thousand year glitch.
    3. The Tudor court was full of Welshmen who did two significant things.
    4. They provided quasi-historical arguments for the idea of Britain.
    5. They pushed for the ending of discrimination against Welsh people (especially the gentry such as themselves).
    6. The consequences were mixed.
    7. Wales was absorbed into England (at least from a legal perspective). There was no Union. It didn’t escape until the 1960s.
    8. The idea of Britain became the useful tool of English expansionism, starting with Wales but by 1600 offering King James of Scotland and England a unifying concept. First for the island, and then for “the colonies “.
    9. On the plus side, Queen Elizabeth 1st (prompted by fears of Catholicism rather than Welsh aspirations) commissioned the Bible to be translated into Welsh and thereby secured its future as a language of mass usage into the modern era. Something that sadly never happened to Gaelic or Cornish.

    I share this partly to correct the record. The integration of Wales into the Union was not “peaceful” but arose from a war….that the Welsh thought they had won. However the aristocratic leaders that the Welsh rallied behind quickly adopted English identities and policies.
    And partly to offer Welsh apologies for feeding the British concept into an England-centred aggrandisement project, in which Wales was the first “victim” but not the last.
    And perhaps mainly to suggest that life and the fate of nations is complicated.
    Wales was absorbed (legally) but it’s language thrived.
    Ireland became independent but…the language struggles.
    Scotland is especially complicated. Multiple languages, including the Welsh spoken by Wallace’s granny. A footprint based on old aristocratic struggles. The contentious Stuart inheritance. Etc etc.
    But whatever….Scotland is a story that isn’t done yet. Keep writing, and see what happens.

    1. Jacob Bonnari says:

      Nice insight Adrian.

      1. Adrian Roper says:

        Thanks Jacob

  4. gavinochiltree says:

    Labour has had a long relationship with an Irish nationalist party (the SDLP), and a good relationship with Plaid in Wales. It has stated it will remain neutral in any “Unity” referendum, and one of its most staunch British nationalists is Brian Wilson, also an Irish nationalist who openly boasts of having sung Irish rebel songs in Hillsborough Castle whilst a government Minister. He was totally against Scottish devolution.

    Labour has dumped its Home Rule heritage, and has adopted the fascism ( bound to the State) that has so disfigured Spanish politics.
    As some 40% of Scottish labours supporters are reputed to be pro-independence, there policy makes little electoral support.
    What electoral bar will be required to give either Labour or Tory parties a “mandate” to govern Scotland from London?

  5. Jim Taylor says:

    We now have 10 Tory hopeful Boris Johnson clones who intend to deny us our identity as a nation.
    They’re all spouting the generation lie and not for another ten years.
    They are all fascists denying us our right.
    There needs to be pan Scotland outrage at this.
    Surely in these more enlightened times we don’t have to replicate the civil disobedience, wild protests and even worse that was the path of other nations freeing themselves fron autocratic westminster domination?
    Is that what the English want?

    1. 220712 says:

      ‘There needs to be pan Scotland outrage at this.’

      There does, but there isn’t.

      The problem you face is that ‘pan Scotland’ isn’t that bothered, and its becoming increasingly inured to folk running around like heidless chickens trying to stir up that bother. It grows weary of all the seemingly never-ending agitation, to the extent that the agitation itself is becoming counter-productive.

      It’s a similar sort of syndrome to compassion fatigue. Maybe you just have to ‘gie it a rest’.

      1. James Mills says:

        Scotland has spoken – now ”gie it a rest !”

        1. 220712 says:

          More a case of: Scotland has spoken – ‘Do I look bovvered?’

          Jim’s talking rather of the apathy that comes from outrage fatigue.

        2. JP58 says:

          Ignore the number. He pops up all over the place.
          He is a troll (probably Tory from the gie it a test quote).

          1. 220712 says:

            That’s right, I’m a ‘Tory’ and a ‘troll’… whatever name you want to call me, it disnae signify.

      2. Jim Taylor says:

        And what do we do with the anger before we gie it a rest. Like America, India, Ireland and the rest do we go down the road of civil disobedience, strikes. Marches riots and warcdeath and destruction?
        You thonk you’re smart. I think you are a fool
        Be careful of what you wish for.
        And there are many like me who won’t gie it a rest. Pat attention and learn the lessons of history.

        1. Jim Yaylor says:

          Typos edited. Why no edit facility?
          And what do we do with the anger before we “gie it a rest”?
          Like America, India, Ireland and the rest do we go down the road of civil disobedience, strikes, marches riots and war, death and destruction?
          You must think you’re smart. I think those like you are fools.
          Be careful of what you wish for.
          And there are many like me who won’t “gie it a rest”. Because we’re hacked off with Westminster rule and blue and red tories.
          Please pay attention and learn the lessons of history.

        2. 220712 says:

          Your anger-management is your own affair.

          You fear that Scotland will ‘go down the road of civil disobedience, strikes. Marches riots and warcdeath and destruction’ like America, India, Ireland, and the rest. I suspect Scotland isn’t that bothered.

          But time will tell. We’ll see, shan’t we?

        3. JP58 says:

          Jim – ignore the wee fool – he is only interested in his own hot air.
          We have the only democratic mandate that counts for another referendum. Westminster will block because they are frightened they may lose this time. Their anti democratic stance will:
          1.help keep current 50% of population pro Independence engaged and make more resolute.
          2.keep the 20% who are persuadable engaged and more open to Yes case.
          3.give Yes side time to make case for Independence.
          This could be a process that takes some time but democracy and demographics are on Yes side.
          Do not despair or even think about any violent routes. There will be plenty more s**t stirrers trying to rile people on this journey. Stay calm, open and reasonable- this will allow the Yes side to win over the soft No’s until it is overwhelming and Westminster opposition will then collapse.
          Do not waste your time and energy on idiots like the number.

          1. Derek says:

            “..the revolution will put you in the driving seat..”

          2. 220713 says:

            Indeed, the Scottish government has had a mandate for independence for some time now; the ‘Yes’/’No’ question has long been settled in the government’s favour. It should now publish its road-map (how it proposes to govern the independence process going forward) and submit that to the electorate.

          3. 220713 says:

            It’s hardly a revolution, Derek. The politicians and bureaucrats will still be in the driving seat; our own wee Westminster in Edinburgh; a Number 6 instead of a Number 10.

            Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

      3. Alec Lomax says:

        In other words, the status quo.

  6. Andrew Penny says:

    As an English person, I consider this to be an excellent summary of the current dire situation we find ourselves in. A hundred thousand Tory members getting to decide who will be the next PM, while Johnson is to remain in office for another 6 weeks. And the Labour Party, the ‘official opposition’, does f*** all. The Sri Lankans have shown the route to follow when it comes to removing ousted leaders.

  7. Robbie says:

    The YES side are getting a big help from the torys,R Sunak is promising to run the economy like Margret Thatcher , I mean what more help could the SNP ask for ,that’s even better than clown Boris staying as PM,it’s going to be a huge yes FOR US.

  8. Iain Brown says:

    if the UK is 4 nations how can one of those nations try and tell the rest what they can and can’t do, why does one nation think it has power over the other three nations,

    1. 220716 says:

      Because its nationals comprise a majority of the UK electorate and there are no federal checks and balances within the union to prevent the tyranny of this majority.

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