There is fear at the heart of Labour politics: of being too Scottish, of embracing identity, of stealing the SNP’s clothes, of having a vision for Scotland and of giving the constitutional question the importance it deserves. The net effect? A hesitant, unconfident party not ready to put Scotland first. Already, the Union campaign sounds confused. ‘Better Together’ is OK but lacks inspiration and what will it mean to Scottish electors?
Any campaign should have three elements: No to independence; a stronger Scotland which has radically new, substantial fiscal, reserved and economic powers; and the promise of a better Union. So far the campaign falls short on two counts.
More surprisingly, what does the Conservative Party bring to the table? The Conservative-led coalition remains detached and ambivalent about devolution in Scotland. This could be a politically expensive mistake by the Labour Party and a gift to the SNP! The ‘Yes to the Union’ campaign should recognise that Scots want a radical alternative to independence not just the status quo. They won’t be bought off by the offer of defeating independence today for promises of constitutional jam tomorrow and of, “trust us, we know better”.
The Labour Party could offer an alternative to the status quo now. But already the campaign looks fragmented because each of the unionist parties will be able to offer what they want, when they want, in response to demands for an alternative while campaigning together to say ‘no’ to independence. The independence and unionist campaigns lack any vision for the future of Scotland.
The Union today is far from being fit for purpose. Scots want an answer to one important question: what is the vision for the future of the Union and Scotland’s role in it? Supporters of the Union talk about a shared history but what is likely to be our shared future? The Union has, to date, provided political, economic and financial stability and security. Shared sacrifice, as the two world wars attest, costs many lives.
The Queen has been the focus of national unity and a sense of pride for many Scots. We have enjoyed the single market of the Union and the cultural, social and family ties between Scotland and England remain strong and enduring.
Improved standards of living for all have been achieved.
As Scots, do we feel inspired, excited or enthused about the future? Is there a real sense of solidarity, common purpose, ambition or identity within the Union? Undoubtedly, much of the sentiment towards the Union/UK has diminished over the past 20 years and certainly in the post-devolution era. However, it augurs well for a radical realignment of thinking and of Scotland, the nation, becoming a greater focus for Scots as they consider their future and vision for Scotland and not the Union. The importance of the UK may remain but the emotional and sentimental ties to it are likely to diminish.
Much has been made of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the carrying of the Olympic torch around Scotland as examples of the ties that bind. Surely, these events have more to do with HM the Queen as a remarkable and inspiring person and the rightly acknowledged local heroes who were carrying the torch.
It is, however, the state of the Union which is the concern and likely to be on voters’ minds over the next two years. Again, there is a compelling case for a more inspirational alternative which captures the imagination of Scots and provides the economic, fiscal and reserved powers that will help shape the kind of society Scotland wants to be.
The Scotland Act 1998 was a monumental interruption to the well ordered running of the Union by the Westminster Parliament, institutions and Government in London.
Westminster is not an institution that welcomes change!
So what does the Union mean for Scots in 2012? What kind of society can the Union offer when its various parts are so different and still diverging? We need a more federal structure, one where each of the three nations and Northern Ireland can build on a common past but look forward to a very different and diverse future.
What kind of values would an unchanged Union embrace when the politics of identity are fused with the aims and aspirations of a rapidly changing society and demography? We need to recognise the importance of identity – nationality, culture and tradition – and fuse this with modern economic thinking, progressive social development and a modern democracy.
The ‘Better Together’ campaign has to inspire Scots to seek a future within a Union. The best way to do that is to offer a better alternative than either independence or status quo unionism.
Believing in Scotland, as a distinctive and successful nation, is consistent with being in the Union. Labour should bring a radical set of ideas to the campaign. Not least, it needs to end the ludicrous political schisms that exist between UK Labour and Scottish Labour, and within the Scottish Labour Party itself, on the future of Scotland within the Union. There will be a radical transformation of the powers and responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament.
Labour should lead, inspire and create this future – a stronger Scotland in a better Union – and not waste another two years. That is what the Scottish people want! So why can’t we have a ‘Stronger Scotland and a Better Union’?