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.