Cracks in Labour support for Better Together are widening

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By John McAllion

The three opinion polls taken in May on voting intentions in the independence referendum show an average No vote of 53 per cent as compared to an average Yes vote of just 32 per cent.

A year on from the launch of the Yes campaign these figures should have been music to the ears of “Better Together” campaigners. We might have expected plaudits for the campaign’s chair Alistair Darling and all round satisfaction with a job so far well done.

By John McAllion

The three opinion polls taken in May on voting intentions in the independence referendum show an average No vote of 53 per cent as compared to an average Yes vote of just 32 per cent.

A year on from the launch of the Yes campaign these figures should have been music to the ears of “Better Together” campaigners.

We might have expected plaudits for the campaign’s chair Alistair Darling and all round satisfaction with a job so far well done.

Instead, we have seen the first serious split in the “Better Together” campaign. The launch of “United with Labour” to make the Labour Party’s case for the UK and to operate separately from the cross party campaign is a clear sign that all is not well inside the unionist camp. It was no accident that Gordon Brown, once likened by Darling to the Labour Government’s mad woman in the attic, was the star of the Labour launch.

Split

It was also no accident that the most significant Labour absentee at the high profile launch in the Commonwealth Arena was none other than Alistair Darling himself.

Brown and Darling disagreed over the economy when they were in government together and now they clearly disagree with each other on how the referendum will be won. Yet the split inside the unionist camp runs deeper than the personality clash between these two neo-liberal politicians.

At Scottish Labour’s conference in Inverness there was widespread unease among rank and file party members about sharing a no platform with the Tories. Dave Watson, a senior figure in UNISON, made it clear that many unions also “had difficulties” about campaigning with Tories.

This rank and file revolt demanding that their party distance itself from the “Better Together” campaign is easy to understand. Labour’s two main partners in “Better Together” are the two parties who together form the ConDem Coalition currently waging class war against working people across this island.

It is bad enough that Labour councils have already started eviction proceedings over the hated bedroom tax, without Labour leaders then being caught on camera in a unionist embrace with the Tory authors of that tax.

So Gordon Brown’s appeal at the launch to ditch the Tories and not the Union was undoubtedly an attempt to pacify a restive rank and file.

Likewise, his verbal onslaught against a Powellite Tory party spinning off to the right for fear of UKIP was meant to put as much distance as possible between Scottish Labour and Cameron’s Tories.

It was factually wrong – since 1945 Scotland has only once voted Tory (1955) but has suffered 9 Tory governments thanks to English voters.

It is because of the Union that we can’t ditch the Tories. But Brown here wasn’t dealing in facts. He was telling the party faithful what they wanted to hear regardless of the facts.

Unfortunately for him it didn’t work. Within a week of “United with Labour” being launched Alistair Darling announced he would be sharing a platform with Tories at their Scottish party conference in Stirling. As thousands gather outside of the conference to protest against the bedroom tax, Labour’s former Chancellor will rub shoulders with the authors of the tax inside and join with them in setting up a military wing of the “Better Together” campaign to be called “Forces Together”.

Darling, one of Labour’s most senior figures in Scottish politics, appears determined that “Better Together” will continue to lead and to dominate the No campaign.

This will cause Scottish Labour no end of problems. It is now clear that the general secretaries of Scottish trade unions are failing to deliver their unions’ official backing and support for the No campaign.

The general secretaries of the Labour affiliated unions are themselves already on board the No campaign but are unable to deliver their members who look at “Better Together” and see only the Tories and the Lib Dems.

Key battles

So far only ASLEF has backed the Better Together campaign while the STUC refused an invitation to join the cross party campaign.

It is inside the trade union movement that one of the key battles over the referendum is now being fought. While the Tories and Lib Dems are a total turn off for most trade unionists, so too are Labour’ continuing support for anti-trade union laws along with the leadership’s acceptance of austerity and its ditching of universal benefits.

“United with Labour” is a feeble attempt to cover over these cracks and to con grass roots trade unionists into believing that the Union will deliver for them. Like all cons, it is destined to fail.

John McAllion was formerly the Labour MSP for Dundee East.  He later resigned from the party and is now a member of the Scottish Socialist Party.

This article appear courtesy of Scottish Socialist Voice