By Derek Bateman
Yet another community gathering to debate the referendum and no one from the No campaign present.
It really is well named No Thanks. Four times the people in the Borders made polite requests for a Better Together guest to represent the Unionist case in West Linton, four times they were ignored and eventually turned down. The explanation, after the rudeness, was that they only send speakers to events they themselves organise.
And there in a sentence is the ethos of the top-down, controlled, PR-managed project that is afraid of the people and the heat of debate. Project fear indeed – fear of democracy. I suppose as long as the landowners and corporate moguls bung in their cash and the conventional media spreads the word, there is no need of positive engagement. Just what real Labour people make of this estrangement from the people is anyone’s guess – they’re remaining quiet, or is it comatose.
I’ve said before, Labour’s involvement in this tawdry and insulting affair will be long remembered after any No vote and if, as now looks likely, they fail to win the UK election next year and can’t deliver anything for Scotland, derision will be poured over them up to and beyond the Holyrood vote in 2016. Labour could ‘win’ the referendum and lose their soul.
It’s a pity too because in a well-off, picture postcard village in the Borders there were No voters, some English-reared, who have happily settled in Scotland and are at ease with extra powers but who can’t quite grasp the concept of losing Britain which, as one man said, is his real identity, not England. They would have benefited from hearing a rational case against national self-determination from a committed No spokesman. It doesn’t do the Union cause any good that their own natural supporters who are sufficiently engaged to turn up in the village hall on a sunny evening, have only Yes voices to answer their worries.
But then it isn’t comfortably-off English folk making a contented life in Scotland that bother the No side. (I now call them Better Together? No Thanks). Their job is to terrify Labour voters into line. They have the numbers to swing this vote, they are vulnerable to appeals that a better life must be possible and they have no respect for their party leadership north or south.
They do have concerns about making it work but they’ll take that risk because, frankly, the UK fails them. They look around at their surroundings, their lifestyle, falling income, long hours, friends and family reliant on benefits – now being cut – and a Britain run by Tories every 10 years, and have nothing to stop them voting Yes.
The only hurdle is that to them this is the SNP’s project and they’re not SNP, not nationalists, not natural bedfellows. Which is why No constantly refers to independence as Salmond’s project – aided by lazy BBC journalism, I notice. They must brand it as a dangerous nationalist dream otherwise Labour voters might wake up to the truth – that Yes is an all-encompassing, left-of-centre grassroots movement that wants to spread our national wealth across all communities, changing lives and caring for all.
Last night’s meeting was addressed by Carol Fox, three times a Labour Party candidate, with social work experience and now an employment lawyer, committed to women’s rights and equality in the workplace. ‘I am not a nationalist’, she says.
Here is a Labour woman who sees the current party and the current UK system have been proved to be ineffective in lifting people up. She sees how Scotland making its own decisions can mould policies to meet our needs. Not cutting ourselves off, but simply by taking the power that allows us to run our affairs and co-operate where that is mutually beneficial.
Labour voters ask if that can’t done within the Union. The answer is Yes. If there was a will to make that happen, the skeleton of Union could be retained and virtually all decision-making devolved. But no Westminster politician will surrender those powers, that’s not why they’re in politics – to give it away. Their offer is scant, stripped down it means raising more tax in Scotland with a cut in London support funding. That cannot transform Scotland and cannot overcome poverty or dismal lives. It doesn’t deliver more funding, as Johann Lamont admits.
And if that was their plan, they could have put it in the referendum to get it endorsed and to make sure it would happen.
So Labour is reduced to what every thinking voter knows is a scandalous and mendacious campaign of threating people’s incomes and jobs – Johann and Margaret Curran are in the papers today proudly announcing that their mighty Union will declare Clyde shipbuilders foreigners, throw them out of work and close the yards. And they’re smiling…Johann wears the same smile she had when opening the food bank. What pride.
Any socialist, no matter how disillusioned with the party, must realise this is the end game…that even in victory, if it happens, this can’t go on. These are not the politics of inclusion and progress, this is managing decline. With Balls, Rachel Reeves and Chris Leslie all spelling out the grim truth – that Labour will not reverse a single Tory cut and Reeves boasting they will be tougher than the Tories – Labour is shackled like Houdini, writhing for escape before the air runs out.
No one I know in Labour thinks Lamont is a leader or that she will carry on. No one believes Miliband will be Prime Minister. We now know that if, by accident, he was, his spending policies are those of Tory austerity.
When you consider what Labour could have been offering with their own Devo Max, the dreams they could have ignited, the triumphant campaign meetings across Scotland – even in West Linton – this is a puzzling and depressing episode for historians to pick over.
We can’t wait for history. It’s time to make some of our own and people who can’t even stand up and defend their view don’t deserve our respect. That includes you, Prime Minister.
Courtesy of Derek Bateman