The coalition has hijacked Scotland’s referendum


By Joan McAlpine

Newspapers do not come more loyal to a political party than the Scottish Daily Record, the tabloid that puts the red into red top.

But when Labour politicians lined up to congratulate David Cameron for his intervention in Scotland’s independence referendum, even the ultra loyal Record could not stay silent.

“Another day, another own goal for Labour,” were the opening lines of its leader column.

The Record knows its readers and that Ed Miliband’s fulsome backing of Cameron would be incomprehensible and offensive to the man on the Sauchiehall Street bus.

One of the most popular jokes being circulated in Scotland right now is that we have more pandas than Tory MPs.

It is this cultural antipathy to anything in a blue rosette that prompted Cathy Jamieson MP, formerly Labour’s deputy leader in the Scottish parliament, to declare last year: “The Tories’ mask has slipped. They have an anti-Scottish agenda and they simply can’t be trusted to treat Scotland fairly.”

Labour former first minister, Henry McLeish, similarly warned his party not to be drawn into supporting a Westminster Tory agenda that was “not just against independence but against Scotland”.

So when I stood up in parliament and said it was anti-Scottish to support the Tory coalition’s arrogant bid to hijack the independence referendum, I was following in the finest traditions of the Scottish Labour movement from Keir Hardie, through the Red Clydesiders to the recent past.

For it is a hijack. Cameron – backed by Miliband and Nick Clegg – wants to restrict the questions, determine the time, the franchise and the rules. But threatening a legal challenge to the referendum, in the eyes of Scots, is belittling their own parliament and ignoring the historic election result that gave the SNP an overall majority.

This is what I said:

“The Liberals, the Labour party and the Tories are anti-Scottish in coming together to defy the will of the Scottish people and the democratic mandate that they gave us to hold a referendum at a time of our choosing.”

But the subsequent attack on my comments by the other parties was fast, furious and false.

My full quotes were not used, in an attempt to suggest I was attacking anyone who disagreed with the SNP or independence. I was not – it was aimed at the political elites determined to deny Scotland its democratic choice. It was a Holyrood bubble story that would probably have floated into oblivion, had Tom Harris MP not got completely carried away on his bedroom computer.

Harris, a prolific tweeter and Scottish Labour’s social media strategist, posted a Downfall spoof on his YouTube site with the first minister, Alex Salmond, depicted as Hitler, imploding at news of my remarks. But it was Tom who imploded, and he resigned. Labour, however, continued to repeat the false allegation that I had attacked anyone who disagreed with me on independence.

The party would be better reflecting on its own downfall in a land they once dominated. Nobody is terribly sure what they stand for anymore – apart from the union. But the union looks increasingly unappetising – nuclear weapons on the Clyde, hammering disabled people with the welfare reform bill, isolation in Europe, years of grinding austerity, one of the biggest gaps between rich and poor in the developed world. The SNP alternative – a fairer, green, more prosperous country that is an equal partner in Britain and part of the family of nations looks increasingly more attractive than the status quo.

Douglas Alexander’s key role in the events of last week is particularly disappointing because he raised hopes in a significant speech last November. He told students in Stirling:

“If the Scottish people believe that we hate the SNP more than we love Scotland we will continue to lose. For Scottish Labour to win, we must be more than the anti-nat party.”

But the only conceivable explanation of Labour’s position on Scotland’s future is hatred so deep, they’d rather join the Bullingdon club and risk oblivion.

This article was first published in the Guardian newspaper on Wednesday 18 January, and reappears here with kind permission of the author.