Ed has yet to realise that Scotland has moved on


  By Lesley Riddoch
So was that it?  Was Ed Miliband’s stiff, arrogant and highly contentious appeal to Labour voters the ultimate weapon in Better Together’s armoury?  If so, it was a blunderbuss that backfired spectacularly.
Earlier this week, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson surprised viewers by suggesting that David Cameron might find re-election difficult — a move clearly designed to persuade Scottish voters that Labour might still be in with a shout.

  By Lesley Riddoch
So was that it?  Was Ed Miliband’s stiff, arrogant and highly contentious appeal to Labour voters the ultimate weapon in Better Together’s armoury?  If so, it was a blunderbuss that backfired spectacularly.
Earlier this week, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson surprised viewers by suggesting that David Cameron might find re-election difficult — a move clearly designed to persuade Scottish voters that Labour might still be in with a shout.

Rather than let that seep gently into the public consciousness however, Comrade Ed couldn’t resist making political capital.  He crowed repeatedly at rallies in Scotland and on TV that Labour was now a dead cert for Westminster victory.  And since he’d be along in a jiffy, Scots had no need for “separation” to achieve social justice.

The history-defying arrogance behind that weary exhortation to trust Labour “one more time” prompted assertive challenge from STV and BBC presenters.  No wonder.  Ruth Davidson’s predictions don’t count for a lot in Scottish politics, yet here was Ed Miliband telling Scots to hang their hats on a few of her most suspiciously staged-sounding words. It was beyond weird.

For one thing, if the Tories are starting to look unelectable in 2015, it’s got more to do with UKIP’s challenge and the prospect of losing Scotland than any Labour assault from the left.  Indeed, Miliband’s need to fight the SNP on social justice is a back-handed compliment to Alex Salmond because it attests to a very different political culture north of the border.

Would Labour campaign for votes in Tory England by promising to tax the wealthy till the pips squeak?

Even if Labour does win an outright majority in the 2015 General Election – and pollsters currently don’t have Ruth Davidson’s nose for an imminent Tory collapse — there’s no guarantee a Labour government elected by Tory swing voters would be free to push social justice very far.

Jim Murphy was recently unable to guarantee Labour would keep university education free in Scotland and the party’s position on holding an in/out referendum on membership of the EU remains fuzzy while the SNP’s desire to remain within Europe is crystal clear.

So why did Ed make his foray north?  Why did he think another wooden speech with the same empty assertions would stem the tide of thoughtful voters from tired, finger-wagging, scaremongering Big Brother towards new possibilities in a new state with a new re-energised way of doing politics?

Indeed, what made Ed think the referendum debate has anything to do with party loyalties anymore?  This isn’t Labour versus the SNP.  This isn’t even Nationalism versus Unionism.

Admittedly the Yes campaign began as a top down, SNP, party-led creation.  But it has long since morphed into a genuine grassroots movement of optimistic, creative and independent-minded Scots who feel less and less identity with the old, rigid tram lines of British political control.

Has Ed not sensed this change?  Could he not at least try to respond?

The answer to both questions is No.  Yes campaigners have been on a long shared journey outside their comfort zones in pursuit of a political goal most people dismissed a few short years ago as completely unattainable.  The beauty of a difficult journey is that it develops skills, demands learning, requires creative thinking and builds relationships.

So on the Yes side new films, graphics, poems, plays, artworks, groups and friendships have been created on a near daily basis.  The No journey has been far easier – relying on existing hierarchies, past loyalties, old arguments and former authority figures.  And therein lies its current difficulty.  There has been gey little new energy created and now there is nowhere left to go.
On July 1st the Daily Record reported “Ed Miliband will be staying in Scotland in the build-up to September 18th.  The Labour leader said he would set up camp north of the Border during the final push before the historic vote.”

Interestingly, Ed didn’t move north.  Even more interestingly, no-one either remembered the pointless pledge or noticed it hadn’t been kept.

No wonder then, that on his latest and perhaps final journey north, the Labour leader was determined to get noticed.  And he was – but for all the wrong reasons.

Within 24 hours of his keynote speech in Blantyre, Miliband was forced to deny striking a pact with Tory cronies to portray a Labour victory as inevitable and then creating a schism in the Better Together campaign by rubbing David Cameron’s nose in it for party political advantage. 

Evidently all’s fair in love and General Election campaigning as Labour eyes up the real political prize – not safeguarding the Union but preserving Ed’s shaky grasp on the Labour leadership by boosting his party’s chances of winning the 2015 election.  Not an edifying spectacle.

According to Alan Cochrane in the Daily Telegraph “Alistair Darling phoned his party leader and thought he’d got an assurance that Miliband would stop making references to Ms Davidson’s view of Tory election chances.  But within hours … Miliband returned to the same subject at a Labour Party rally.” Nice work. 

“Fellow” travellers in Better Together were outraged, the wider public was made aware of a cynical stitch-up to hoodwink hesitant Labour voters and the RMT union – till recently Labour Party backers – made a bad day truly terrible for Ed Miliband by announcing their intention to support the Yes campaign.

Momentum.  It’s like comic timing.  You’ve either got it or you haven’t.

But away from the intrigue — which often interests only the anoraks — Miliband might have succeeded in stirring the conscience of some Labour voters.  He might have landed some punches on Alex Salmond who has indeed guaranteed to cut corporation tax in the name of job creation but has not similarly guaranteed a 50% tax rate on the wealthy.  Did he?

Sadly for Labour it seems this latest salvo on the SNP’s trustworthiness is far, far too late.

Over recent years the SNP has established left credentials at least as solid as Labour’s.  Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon abolished Margaret Thatcher’s right to buy, restarted council housing, championed a living (not minimum) wage, have committed to abolish Trident and introduce top notch childcare after a Yes vote, acted meantime to buy out the bedroom tax, provided free prescriptions and free university education, revolutionised travel to the Western Isles with RET and maintained initiatives like free personal care introduced by Labour and the Lib Dems.

It may not be clear how the SNP plans to finance high quality Nordic style public services with a British style tax regime– but most Scots believe such a shift will be gradual as Government and citizens learn to have faith in one another after decades of trust-destruction courtesy of privatising governments at Westminster.  Labour sneers about the high standards achieved by fellow social democrats in neighbouring nations have only served to demonstrate how low the party’s aspirations have become.

Of course, now that Ed has failed, Gordon Brown will be rolled in.  Again.

In his latest contribution to the independence debate, Brown has urged David Cameron to set aside a day straight after a No vote to discuss increased powers for Holyrood.  That’s fairly priceless on several fronts.
Firstly, the elusive former Prime Minister graces the Chamber so rarely one wonders if parliamentary staff will still recognise him. 

Secondly, it’s rich for the party offering the feeblest package of extra devolved powers to try and lead any post-referendum process. 

Thirdly, if Alex Salmond is thought to have a problem with women voters (and that’s largely a media construct) the “clunking fist” has an infinitely more macho reputation.

Sure his winter fuel allowance is gratefully recalled by many pensioners – even though the former Chancellor more than recouped that cash hand-out with his swingeing tax raid on pension funds.  Even so the man whose government oversaw the collapse of unregulated banks and a property-based UK economy will doubtless reprise his Greatest Hits when he next lectures Scots, conjuring up the spectre of worthless pensions and a demographic time-bomb in an iScotland where young folk leave to work abroad and the country struggles to meet its pension commitments.

The trouble for that doom-laden message is that voters now know both UK and Scottish Governments are committed to paying out pensions at the current rate.  And alternative models of the future question Labour’s stern insistence that without UK support to mitigate decline, Scotland will be sunk.

Firstly, Scots are not ageing much faster than anyone else. 

Secondly, an independent Scotland could act to reverse decades of stagnation where non oil-related investment has focused on London and the south-east.

Thirdly, Scots could tackle the Catch 22 whereby younger workers can’t get a start because jobs are still occupied by older workers by lowering the retirement age.

Fourthly, transformed childcare would release more women to become full time members of the workforce – raising tax contributions.

Fifthly, a Scottish immigration policy would attract smart economic migrants.

These and other measures could end the shameful situation where Scots youngsters are heading south just to find work.

We’ve listened to Labour non sequiturs long enough.  If Scotland is an economic basket case why is it unfair to leave English comrades behind?

Surely such a hopelessly ageing, geriatric, oil-cursed nation would be widely praised for doing the honourable thing and staging a rapid Captain Oates style exit into the cold blue yonder, saving rUK the burden of carrying our near lifeless nation any longer?  Or perhaps politicians know Scotland’s current and future earning potential is vast.

Ed Miliband came north to tell Scots one thing.  There is no need to vote Yes because Labour will be in power next year.

Yes campaigners have one thing to tell Ed.  There is no need to vote No because Scots will be in power next month.

Only one of those scenarios can be delivered exclusively by the folk who live, work and vote in this land.  Folk who can then go on to decide the contents of a written constitution, vote Labour in 2016 if they wish or set up brand new political parties.

Can Ed Miliband and the political structures of the UK hold a candle to that exciting possibility?

Labour Party members must soon decide.