I’ve been a Labour Party member for some decades now. I should probably mention that I voted Yes in September’s referendum.
Note that I didn’t preface the second statement with “despite that” or any qualification of that kind. That’s because I didn’t see any contradiction there, and I still don’t. Indeed, I think that one follows from the other. Of course, it does all depend on what you think the first statement means in terms of philosophy, outlook and attitude.
Since the referendum, some sixty thousand have joined the SNP, with it being clear that many of those are refugees from Labour. I’m not one of them. For now at least, I’m sticking with the Labour Party. From correspondence I’ve received, that’s something that’s deeply puzzling to many folk.
So let me try to explain. See, independence is not the most important aspect for me. It’s not my prime policy objective, which is why I’ve never been drawn to join the SNP. I’m not consumed by the notion of independence. What is important to me, rather, is the kind of society we live in. The important question is: how do we get from here to there?
There is a whole range of possible futures. Some of the good ones involve an autonomous Scotland thriving in a prosperous and fair UK. The problem then is that those particular outcomes look more and more unlikely . . . and that’s where independence comes into this.
I’m of a generation that – to be frank and now to be somewhat embarrassed – struggles to take the SNP seriously as a party. It’s a movement, perhaps, but one without a coherent ideology (beyond – trivially – independence). The mantra from folk like me was that the referendum was not about the SNP. We were right then, of course, but it’s equally true now that it does increasingly look like the immediate future will in fact be dominated by the fortunes of that particular political party.
You’ve said that you intend to unite the Labour Party in Scotland and that you will work for a “Labour answer to Scotland’s problems“. You’ve referred to the energy displayed by party members during the referendum campaign, urging that it all be kept up in order to pursue solutions to the problems Scotland faces. All of that is good to hear.
On the other hand, you’ve said nothing so far that reaches out to those who voted Yes. What’s not part of your existing rhetoric is any acknowledgement of the new reality that the party finds itself in, which is that Labour is now seriously out of step with what used to be its natural support.
The Yes camp has been rightly mocked for an inability during the later stages of the recent referendum campaign to look outside its own bubble of enthusiasm. It misjudged the mood of the majority, the 55%. Going by the comments made since, however, the Labour Party is failing to look outside its own bubble of post-result complacency.
The danger with that approach is that a great many of the 45% are also traditional Labour voters and they’re looking lost to the party going forward. There have even been calls to expel Yes voters like myself. (Oh, what a smart idea that would be in terms of holding on to votes in the future . . .)
If you make the mistake of thinking that the challenge now is to make people see the error of their ways, then you’re in for a rude shock. Like it or not, there has been a generational shift in Scottish politics. If it wants to survive, then it’s the Labour Party that has to change.
And, of course, Jim, there’s first the small matter of winning the leadership contest before you can deliver anything at all. I’m looking forward to being wooed, but be warned that I’ll need a fair amount of convincing.
1. John McTernan said in a piece on the Scotsman website that the SNP was “in danger of irrelevance in Scotland at the next General Election.”. Strewth! You couldn’t parody that.