For independence supporters, Former Labour minister Brian Wilson’s comments (Herald, paywall) at a weekend Fabian event during the Scottish Labour conference are important. Wilson is a serious man with successful careers in journalism (he founded the West Highland Free Press) and politics behind him, and with a successful present career in business. He helped save Harris Tweed. He’s a dyed-in-the-tweed opponent of independence and, it seems, of ‘federalism’. He’s now crystal clear that the credibility of Scottish Labour’s anti-independence argument rests upon the notion that people find it realistic that Labour (or, to lower the bar, let’s say an anti-Tory coalition) can defeat the Tories at the next general election. Amongst his words are these:

“To me, the biggest danger on the constitutional front doesn’t come from people wanting independence, it comes from people’s frustration that eventually they think they’re never going to have another Labour government. If they think there’s going to be a Labour government, they won’t vote for independence. If they don’t think they’re going to have a Labour government, then it’s a lot more difficult”. 

Labour’s in its worst condition in its history, of course. It lost Copeland to the Tories when rather than lose seats to the Tories they’d need to gain 100 from them in 2020. Officially, the party’s celebrating beating UKIP in Stoke when UKIP’s ‘defeat’ (in a supposedly safe Labour seat, after all) came because that party couldn’t move people across from the Tories. The simple fact is that it’s the Tories, not UKIP, Labour has to beat in England. And as we all know, the real story of those two by-elections last week was that the Tories were enormously successful while even that Stoke heartland seat looks vulnerable to a resurgent Tory party now taking votes back from UKIP.

The English result for the next general election is a foregone conclusion now, and since that’s all that counts then if Scotland is still part of the UK and returns no Tories at all we’ll have another government of English Tories responding to English right-wing, populist imperatives. Indeed, if Labour takes fewer than 200 seats as presently predicted, then the following result in 2025 is an equally foregone conclusion. Meanwhile, in Scotland, Labour’s sitting on 15% in the polls and the resurgent Tories, miles ahead, are the champions of the union.

Plenty Labour folk have moved across to both the SNP (if they’re towards the left) and the Tories (if they’re towards the right). Most SNP folk don’t think the persistent 15% who remain for now really matter that much. But for the broader independence movement, those people are important.

Some on Labour’s left will stick with Corbyn’s Labour Party regardless of the likely election result because they want to re-model opposition politics in the UK and bolster harder-line socialism across the world; to them, election wins are not the priority. These folk seem likely to continue to oppose independence. Others, though, will be moved more by their desire to be free of long-term English Tory rule. Of that latter group, and on Brian Wilson’s terms, some will come to understand that the only way they can do that is by supporting independence.

For Scottish Labour, particularly after the latest local authority elections end in disaster (Herald, paywall), the question is whether or not it wants to continue to exist. If the party supports independence, it’ll hang on at least some of those folk who are moving from No to Yes. If it doesn’t, it’ll haemorrhage even more supporters and form a rump which looks more like the old SSP.

For independence supporters, those regular Labour folk who just want rid of the Tories now should be a priority. If you’re an independence supporter and know anyone in that bracket, chat to them the train or in the pub, help them make the journey from No to Yes. And if you’re a Scottish Labour person thinking about making that move, well done for putting Scotland first regardless of how you might see the party political landscape.







14 Responses to Good news for independence supporters: Labour’s anti-indepenence rests upon its electoral credibility…..
  1. I really can’t understand why Labour in Scotland persist in being so anti independence. Surely it’s where the grass roots are.

    As you and others have pointed out, we can look forward to another 15 years, or more, of Tories running the UK. By which time the country will look very different and not pleasant and WE won’t have voted for any of it.

    Many people in the age band that tends most to be “Britnat” won’t ever see another Labour government. They can’t even see a Labour opposition at the moment as they vote with the Tories or abstain. They are, I suspect too busy backstabbing themselves to bother about what the Conservatives are doing..

    After the 2014 referendum Margaret Curran said that she would tour Labour constituencies and promise them that Labour would move back to its roots. I applauded that. I don’t know if it ever happened, but shortly afterwards they elected (or appointed) Jim Murphy to the leadership, and Jim and Labour roots don’t really go together in my book.

    I don’t know much about Kezia but I don’t think she’s heartlands material.

    If we want to see more social democracy we HAVE to have independence, and move towards the Scandinavian model while Britain falls over itself sucking up to Trump, Netanyahu and Erdogan..

    I really enjoy this blog. Intelligent and honest analysis. Thank you.

    • Thanks very much for this, Tris. As things stand, I suspect that the supply of older folk who’ll never vote SNP or for independence, along with Corbynite folk in Scotland, will keep Scottish Labour above the 10% mark and that’ll be enough to sustain maybe over a dozen regional list MSPs. The only way that kind of figure could ever be politically relevant would be if they did what the Lib Dems did (!) and say they might support either side; but that older group wouldn’t allow them to support the Tories formally, so that would leave the whole show pointless. Like a bigger SSP but without Tommy Sheridan and the newsworthy bluster. It’s a shame, but that seems to be the way things are going. I hope it’ll be different but…

  2. You can talk politics all you like, but when you have insulted and belittled and outright lied to your supporters, bright new shiny policies are not going to be listened to.
    Labour is dead for a generation unless they do an immediate* purge of all the Unionists in the Scottish branch of English Labour.
    *I say immediate because they might want to win some council seats.

  3. I have high hopes from the number of previously anti independence bloggers that have seen cause for a change of heart and direction . I pray it will be enough, but we know the fight will still be a hard one , I hope these same people will have an up front opportunity in the coming referendum , they carried some sway before and I believe their like can be persuasive to some of that 15% of labour voters yet to be convinced .

    • Yes I think there’s evidence of change in the wind. Another important group will be those who voted Yes last time but now say they would vote No. A complicated bunch, but I think a lot will come back to Yes.

  4. I think you are right to identify the importance of the thrawn 15% who still have allegiance to Labour.

    Those of us who want Scotland to be an independent country need to persuade a number of those who voted No last time to switch.

    Unlike a substantial chunk of former Labour supporters, they have not switched to the Tories, and, I assume, partly for unionist reasons.

    As you have indicated, it is likely that a continuing UK will have Conservative governments for many years into the future (indeed, it would appear that the editor of the New Statesman and some of his staff would not be unhappy with this, if Mrs May follows the more-embracing policy which he discerns in her statements). Therefore, if we accept Mr Brian Wilson’s reasoning, and, as you have indicated, he is no intellectual slouch, then the thrawn 15%, if they accept that a continuing UK is likely to be governed in an anticommunitarian way, then they should vote YES in any future referendum and seek to establish a party of the left in an independent Scotland.

  5. Good stuff. I could only add that we should (for emphasis) be reminding these same people of the constituency boundary change implications for Labour.

  6. “Labour’s in its worst condition in its history, of course.”

    And with local elections looming, it’s likely to get even worse. One thing is certain, by Indyref2, they won’t have the Scottish MPs, the same number of MSP or the numbers of council members and activists.

    Be ready for the influx of Labour Party folk from Darn Sarf.

  7. I am afraid for many in Scotland Labour’s problems run even deeper than simply defeating the Tories in England.
    What sort of Labour manifesto could beat the Tories in England and what sort of Labour government would that result in.
    Too many have memories of Blair and co who wanted power at any price and hang the principles.
    England and Scotland are now two different polities and any party calling itself Labour will be unelectable north of the border.
    Likewise,in England,any party supporting social democracy looks unelectable there for the forseeable future.
    Labour,in particular,need to realise that it is impossible to have one set of policies which will satisfy both polities and,if they haven’t already decided,time to shut up shop north of the border and concentrate on their home land.
    Thanks Eric.

    • Thanks; your point about two polities is clever and right. The same policies can’t win on both sides of the border and for as long as Labour tries it’ll hold power in neither. The brand thing is interesting, though. There seems to be a view that it’s nigh on impossible to create a new brand in England and there Labour would be well advised to keep that unchanged. In Scotland, things may be different. It’s still a strong brand compared to how hard it is to create a new one, but at present it does seem to be being led into oblivion….

    • Absolutely right. Labour cannot be two things. The two nations in the union are now heading in very different directions – I foresee only pain for rUK, and a lurch towards the USA (easy to spot), but for Scotland, I hope its a drift to Scandinavian comfort.

      Labour in England are amazing me at the moment. A left-wing leader allowing the Tories total control, free reign. A party validating that leadership with supine skill.

      In Scotland – it may be a ‘brand’ – but like Ratners, its horribly tainted. The game of trying to be an independent party is over – Corbyn nailed them to the altar of the union at the weekend.

      Cheap and nasty.

      • It’s hard to forsee a meaningful future for the Scottish Labour Party unless it backs independence. At present, opposing even a new referendum when Brexit has created a manifestly fair case for it, seems virtually designed to see it confined to irrelevance in future.


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