Sketch: Scottish Labour, nationalist traps and indyref2
In a guaranteed vote winner, Labour both supports and opposes holding a second referendum on Scottish independence.
It’s quite brilliant, when you think about it. Opposed to holding a second referendum? Vote Labour. Support holding a second independence referendum? Well, we can do that one for you too.
It’s really one of the biggest advantages to having two parties within one party – you can have at least two positions on anything. Don’t like the music in the kitchen? Go to a different room.
And so, while Labour has spent the last five years arguing the UK Government should not back holding another referendum on independence, the party has now opened up another option for voters, by arguing the party should back holding another referendum on independence if people want it. Why vote for anyone else? The other parties are in deep, deep trouble.
John McDonnell got things started. “We would not block something like that. We would let the Scottish people decide. That’s democracy,” he said, before adding, in what may be the greatest act of understatement in history: “There are other views within the party, but that’s our view.”
Are there other views, John? It appeared so, with the comments prompting a furious reaction, including from Scottish party leader Richard Leonard. If anyone is going to contradict an official Scottish Labour position it should be him.
As he explained: “I met with John this morning, and I made clear to him that a second independence referendum is unwanted by the people of Scotland and it is unnecessary. The 2014 referendum was a once in a generation vote.”
It was a good, clear statement. It was a once in a generation thing and Labour opposes holding a second vote. And by meeting with him personally, Leonard ensured his message got through. So how did McDonnell react? By walking on stage, less than an hour later at the Edinburgh festival, and insisting the decision should be “up to the Scottish people and the Scottish Parliament”, and “I’m not into blocking democratic exercises, by any means”.
As he explained: “My view is we shouldn’t be allowed in this way to be manipulated by Nicola Sturgeon in that referendum debate, by trying to accuse a UK parliament of blocking the will of the Scottish people.”
OK, fair enough. It was confusing to see them all saying different things, but at least that was the end of it.
Or it was, for a day. Then Gordon Brown awoke from his slumbers and, presumably enraged that someone other than him had launched an intervention, released his wrath, like a dragon descending on the local townspeople.
The problem, as he saw it, was that McDonnell was worried about being manipulated by the SNP because he himself was being manipulated by the SNP.
As Brown then explained, in comments which raise real questions about why these people keep approaching the press: “John McDonnell also fell into the nationalist trap by suggesting that a Scottish Parliament should not be frustrated by what he termed the ‘English parliament’.”
So at least everyone agrees it’s some sort of nationalist trap, it’s just a shame no one can agree which one. Is the idea of recognising the democratic mandate of the Scottish Parliament a trap? Or is the idea of backing a second referendum, when the First Minister hasn’t even requested one, a trap?
It actually could be both. Maybe the trap lies in getting Labour to repeatedly tear itself to pieces, publicly, without provocation, for weeks on end?
No, wait, that’s too simple. That’s what the nationalists would want them to think. Whatever Labour is doing, it should stop doing it. Or possibly do more of it. Or maybe the whole thing is part of a wider plan, drawn up by Labour strategists. First, they repeatedly attack themselves, then something, then the party gets to power.
It’s quite a mess. If someone doesn’t do something soon then there’s a real danger the question of separation could in itself see Labour separating. But fortunately, there is a solution at hand, if only Labour strategists have the strength of will to seize it. In fact, it’s obvious. They should hold a referendum.
One side of Labour, led by McDonnell, can argue for holding the vote, while the other side, led by Leonard, can argue against it. Under the terms of the agreement, Gordon Brown will be allowed to burst into anyone’s office, anytime he likes, to walk up and down delivering an impassioned speech, and everyone else can let them get on with it.
Then, depending on public reaction, a second, confirmatory referendum could follow, to decide whether to stick with the position, or roll the dice once more. Again, there would be two sides, with one based in remaining in support of the stance, and another based in leaving the policy position, and adopting another entirely.
Of course, it would likely become very messy, leading to a series of brutal, aggressive, pointless factions emerging. Labour will love it.