Wikileaks: Labour ‘exploited’ economic crisis to halt growing support for SNP

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Labour in Scotland planned to exploit the economic crisis in order to try to regain support lost to the SNP and dampen support for independence, new files released by Wikileaks reveal.

The latest raft of secret documents to be published by the controversial website show that in December 2008 ex Secretary of State for Scotland Jim Murphy indicated to American officials that the credit crunch would be exploited by Labour in an effort to stem both the flow of support to the SNP and moves towards independence.

From the secret papers:
The question of Scottish independence does seem to have quieted with the on-set of the credit crunch, which apparently prompted Scottish public reflection on what independence would truly mean, especially in financial terms. And Labour is working to exploit these trends and capture any ground it may have lost in Scotland during the SNP’s “honeymoon” period.

The Labour MP for East Renfrewshire, who is described in the secret papers as “an up-and-coming Labour leader from Glasgow” is said to have told the Americans that “economics is changing the politics in Scotland,” and in his opinion “the economic crisis has embedded for a generation the idea that Scotland will be better served as part of the United Kingdom.”

Mr Murphy is said to have cited Labour’s by-election victory in Glenrothes as evidence of a shift away from independence and insisted the looming economic crisis has persuaded Scots to remain in the union and keep, what he termed “security in the United Kingdom”.

From the secret papers:
Labour won, he [Murphy] said, because the looming economic crisis shifted the Scottish public’s political thinking in favor of unity and security in the United Kingdom and because the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) honeymoon period in power in Scotland was over.

Murphy is also said to have described the SNP government’s time in office as “mixed” and claimed that the public hadn’t been impressed by the parties ability to govern.

The papers also contain references to conversations with Scotland Office head David Middleton who is said to have suggested that devolution was “working pretty well” and there were “no huge areas of debate”.  The Scotland Office head said that the Barnett formula was a problem given that “Scotland currently receives more money per individual than the rest of the UK.”  And one that needed a “political decision”.

From the secret papers:
The only remaining problem was the Barnett Formula, which is roughly based on population and determines the amount of money Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland receive from Westminster in the form a block grant.  Middleton noted that Scotland currently receives more money per individual than the rest of the UK.  The Muscatelli Report, drafted by an independent group of economists as part of the Calman Commission’s inquiry into devolved government services financing, concluded that reforming the Barnett Formula would require a political decision on how much autonomy Scotland should have, particularly with respect to taxation authority.

Middleton is also reported to have told the Americans that most Scots were not supportive of independence and that they gave “solid support” to Gordon Brown.

From the secret papers:
Because of the economic crisis, Middleton said most people in Scotland now find the notion of independence “dubious” and Prime Minister Brown has gained “solid support” for his handling of economic issues. The challenge that remains is how the Labour government will politically handle the issue when the Commission’s final report is released in mid-2009.

Middleton is also said to have told Americans that most Scots were “embarrassed” about the failings of HBOS and RBS and that this had dampened Scottish nationalism.

From the secret papers:
Middleton said many Scots are “embarrassed” over the struggle of banks with a “Scottish identity,” like Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of Scotland.  For a while, Scotland was “punching on the world’s stage” in the financial sector.  The “thinking classes” in Scotland are depressed about the banks’ slump, and that is likely going to put a damper on Scottish nationalism.  “Independence,” he suggested, “is less alive than a year ago.”

The Scotland Office head claimed the planned independence referendum had been “slated” and told Americans it would be defeated if held.  He also predicted little appetite within a financially uncertain Scottish public for a 2010 referendum on Scottish independence.

From the secret papers:
Middleton predicted little appetite in a financially uncertain Scottish public for a 2010 referendum on Scottish independence … The slated 2010 referendum on Scottish independence, one of the SNP’s main planks, is unlikely to happen, Middleton predicted.   If it does happen, it will be defeated.  He said pro-independence support generally increases in campaign periods, as is often the case in Quebec, simply because the question is being asked.  At present, however, polls show perhaps 25 percent of Scots favor independence a level of support to [sic] low for the SNP to build on successfully in a campaign leading up to a referendum.

The contents of this latest raft of secret documents offer a fascinating insight into the mindset of the Labour party in Scotland.  It reveals a pattern of thought that has identified Scottish vulnerability as a means of reinforcing the Union and an acknowledgement that the demise of respected Scottish institutions can serve to undermine Scottish confidence, and with it, the desire for independence.

It also portrays the Scotland Office as a highly politicised institution perhaps more concerned with monitoring Scotland’s place in the Union than with assisting the democratically elected Scottish government to carry out its duties.

Mr Murphy was regularly accused of using the office of Secretary of State in order to mount attacks on the Scottish government, the release of these secret files will do little to dispel such views.

View the documents here