Scottish Labour … what happens if we vote Yes?


By G.A.Ponsonby

Jim Murphy authored an article which appeared in the Scottish Sunday Express at the weekend.  The piece was the Labour MP’s latest contribution to the independence debate.

Murphy’s article was the appetiser for UK Labour’s cavalry ride into Scotland this week in order to save the beleaguered Better Together campaign.  Gordon Brown will follow on Tuesday and Ed Miliband will bring the circus to a close on Friday.

By G.A.Ponsonby

Jim Murphy authored an article which appeared in the Scottish Sunday Express at the weekend.  The piece was the Labour MP’s latest contribution to the independence debate.

Murphy’s article was the appetiser for UK Labour’s cavalry ride into Scotland this week in order to save the beleaguered Better Together campaign.  Gordon Brown will follow on Tuesday and Ed Miliband will bring the circus to a close on Friday.

Jim Murphy’s intervention, Like Brown’s pension scare, is a rehash of the tired old clichés that have brought the No campaign to where it is … contemplating the very real prospect of defeat.

The headline of the article though was intriguing – If I thought independence would be good for Scotland then I would support it. But it isn’t & I don’t.

In stating he would back Yes if it meant a better Scotland, Murphy at least was admitting that Unionist claims a Yes vote is based on ethnicity and/or identity are untrue.  Lest the MP for East Renfrewshire himself be accused of harbouring such xenophobic feelings.

But what of Jim Murphy’s claim that he’d vote Yes of he thought that Scotland would be better off?

Prior to revealing his support for independence, at least in principle, Murphy writes: “I am a patriot not a nationalist.” He then adds: “Nationalists believe in a ‘for richer or for poorer’ type of separation.  They want independence regardless of the costs or consequences.  Most of the rest of us will do what we feel and think is the best thing for Scotland.”

I’m not so sure pro-independence backers, if that is what Murphy means when he uses the term ‘Nationalists’, do indeed support independence for better or worse.  There are it is true a minority who would back Yes come what may, as there are Unionist fundamentalists who would vote No even if Yes meant things got better in Scotland.

But Murphy’s claim was merely a segueway into another of the anti-independence canards – the myth of the subsidy junkie Scot.

He continues: “But being part of the UK isn’t just a cold analysis of a nation’s financial balance sheet.  If it was then the referendum would be a non-contest.  That’s because Scotland pays £53 billion in taxes into UK coffers but we get even more back – £65 billion – a £12 billion UK dividend.”

It’s a reworking of the ‘too-poor’ argument.  It’s also flawed as it fails to explain the borrowing by the UK that makes up the so-called ‘dividend’.  Borrowing that Scotland has to pay back through taxes and because Scots contribute more per head in taxes, we end up servicing more debt than we would if independent.

What if you had a mature and reasoned debate with Jim Murphy and explained to him the error of his calculation and, that far from being the recipient of a generous UK benefit, Scotland was actually losing out.  Would Murphy back Yes?

The answer is almost certainly no, he wouldn’t.

From observing Murphy over the last few years, he seems too loyal to himself to publicly contemplate the pros and cons of independence in a mature and honest fashion.  For all we know he may well privately believe a Yes vote is indeed the best option for Scots.  But to publicly acknowledge this, is to end the Westminster gravy train that is the career of a Scottish Labour MP.

Murphy displays all the traits of someone who is looking after number one and that means holding onto the lucrative salary, expenses and other benefits he has strived so hard for.  His article in the Sunday Express, reproduced on the Better Together website, is simply Murphy going through the motions.

There are plenty of Jim Murphy types in the Labour party these days.  Anas Sarwar often strikes me as someone who is out of the same Murphy mould, Douglas Alexander is another.

But are all Scottish Labour MPs like Murphy, Alexander and Sarwar?

No is the simple answer.  There are Scottish Labour MPs who I believe are fiercely Unionist.  Ian Davidson is one such, and they are fuelled more by their constitutional leanings than thoughts of self-aggrandisement.

That’s not to say that politicians like Davidson aren’t seduced by Westminster’s power and influence, but the Glasgow MP who chairs the Scottish Affairs Committee is probably one of the more honest campaigners on behalf of the Union.  I actually have a grudging respect for people like Davidson.  He’s fighting for something he truly believes in.

Johann Lamont is another who falls into the Ian Davidson category of fundamental Unionist.  Her well-documented opposition to devolution in the seventies is indicative of someone who sees Scotland as a mere regional appendage to the lower half of Britain.

But careerists and Unionist fundamentalists cannot alone explain the almost rabid opposition the Scottish Labour party has, not just to independence, but to the now redundant Devo-Max.  Devo-Max, or full fiscal autonomy as it was previously known, would have allowed both of these Scottish Labour wings – careerists and fundamentalists – to continue.

The fundamentalists could have rested, assured that the Union was still intact.  The careerists could have continued to enjoy the trappings of Westminster which would have included the dream of a lifelong seat in the expense rich and tax-free club known as the House of Lords.

But they blocked the compromise the SNP proffered prior to the eventual signing of the Edinburgh Agreement.  The three Unionist parties refused to allow Devo-Max on the ballot paper and instead forced Scots into a binary choice of all-or-nothing.

There are echoes here of Tavish Scott’s suicidal refusal to enter into a coalition with the SNP after the nationalists won their first election in 2007.  It was meant to weaken and eventually bring the fledgling SNP Government down.  I wonder how that plan went?

The Labour party in Scotland could have insisted on more powers being included on the ballot paper, so why didn’t they?

The reason, I suspect, is that the party’s hatred of the SNP and Alex Salmond prevented it from giving what they may have considered was an insurance policy to the nationalists.  The Labour party in Scotland now despises the SNP more than it does the Conservatives.

This pathological loathing has rendered it incapable of looking at anything the Scottish Government proposes in an objective way.

From minimum price for alcohol through to childcare, we see a Labour party in Scotland unable to back policies that its MSPs know benefit Scotland.  Instead the hatred for the SNP has festered to a point that even on areas where there is outright agreement such as the Bedroom tax, Scottish Labour has contorted its own view in order to divert its attack from the Tories onto the SNP.

It’s this mindset that forces Scottish Labour to oppose the devolution of welfare from Westminster.  Instead of fighting for some of the massive oil revenue to be diverted into a fund, Scottish Labour forms a pro-Union alliance with the Conservatives to argue against such a plan.

Areas that require mature cooperation between parties because of their controversial and delicate nature are also routinely hi-jacked by Labour in an attempt at scoring political points.  The Megrahi release was perhaps the most blatant example of this small-minded opportunism.  Scottish Labour’s behaviour over the problems of sectarianism at football was another, when it ended up attacking proposals it had initially called for.

This re-shaping of argument to fit with the Willie Bain principle that says Labour must oppose anything proposed by the SNP, is what has led to the Labour/Tory alliance that calls itself Better Together.  It’s joining up with David Cameron’s Tory party has actually little to do with a belief that Scots and Scotland will be harmed by independence and more a result of a psychological block that prevents Scottish Labour countenancing anything it believes might benefit the SNP.

If the SNP benefits, even if Scots do, then Labour will oppose.

But let’s go back to Jim Murphy’s claim that he would back Yes if he thought it would create a better Scotland.  It actually undermines one of the key arguments often put forward by Labour MSPs and MPs when seeking to justify their opposition to Devo-Max and independence.  They claim that they want to see social equality throughout the UK and not just in Scotland.

Murphy, in his article, said nothing about a better rUK and in doing so exposed the lie that Scottish Labour are, by opposing independence, somehow fighting for the poor, the old and the vulnerable across this island.

Labour, at UK level and in Scotland, are a sham.  It’s a vehicle for unprincipled careerists driven by fundamental Unionists and it can never be turned around – at least not as long as the Union persists.

As Nicola Sturgeon said in her speech at the SNP conference in Aberdeen, a Yes vote will wrench the Labour party in Scotland away from these imposters and hand it back to the people who really care for the party’s soul.

The current crop of Scottish Labour politicians would do well to monitor the growth in support for Yes and reflect on how a Yes vote might affect their careers if they are seen to be trying to block the re-birth of their own nation.

What happens if Scotland votes Yes, this article asks?  The party survives and returns to its roots.  Whether the current crop of MSPs (or indeed MPs) are returned by constituents is anyone’s guess.

[Newsnet Scotland has operated on a reduced news content over the Easter break.  We will be returning to normal service from Tuesday evening onwards.]