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Reopening the independence debate shows Sturgeon is out of ideas

NICOLA STURGEON’S bid to restart the debate on Scottish independence looks like a ploy to avoid facing up to the failings of her administration and the real problems facing Scots.

Confronted with a resurgent Labour Party, which under Richard Leonard is asking tough questions about the nationalists’ refusal to use devolved powers to stop cuts to public services and the continued funnelling of public money to outsourcing firms that use fake self-employment and umbrella companies to “dodge tax, cut costs and exploit workers,” Scotland’s First Minister prefers to maintain the fantasy that her government is powerless to act until the country separates from the rest of Britain.

She claims the independence debate will be one of “ambition and hope,” rather than “based on despair” as she describes the debate on leaving the European Union.

Sturgeon does not pause to consider that it is the unambitious and defeatist approach to Brexit she shares with the Liberal Democrats and the right wing of the Labour Party that is “based on despair.”

The glum prediction that Brexit is a blank cheque for a Tory bonfire of our rights and social security systems rests on an assumption that working people are totally incapable of defending or extending rights they won through collective struggle in the first place.

It also depends on the bizarre assertion that the Tories are somehow unstoppable despite their party being mired in its own disagreements on an exit deal and led by a lame-duck Prime Minister who can’t dictate to her own Cabinet, let alone to the country or other EU member states.

Her attempt to reopen a proposal that was rejected by the Scottish electorate less than four years ago is of a piece with the repeated attempts we see to turn the clock back on the EU referendum debate rather than assessing where we are and what potential the current situation holds.

For Sturgeon, as for the Labour right, this is less because she can’t see that potential than because she is determined to close the window of opportunity for radical political, economic and social change opened up by the Labour Party in the era of Jeremy Corbyn and Richard Leonard.

Others in Scotland are less despairing.

For an ambitious and hopeful debate, we could do worse than look to the way the Radical Options for Scotland and Europe (Rose) campaign is exploring how we can build a future that democratises our countries and empowers our peoples.

A new constitutional settlement could include the abolition of the House of Lords, perhaps with its replacement by an elected chamber that would be responsible for cross-UK decision-making in a federal Britain in which England, Scotland and Wales enjoy equal rights, as sketched out by the newly ennobled socialist campaigner and Morning Star campaign committee member Pauline Bryan — a life peer whose democratic vision, if we can make it a reality, will certainly rule out her being a peer for life.

Negotiating a deal that gives us access to the European market and a customs union, as supported by Unite leader Len McCluskey yesterday, rather than seeking warts-and-all membership of the single market and existing customs union, gives us a chance to detach ourselves from restrictive EU regulations on competition, public ownership and state aid that would clip the wings of an incoming Labour government.

Leonard’s proposals to bring social care back into local government control, outsourced staff back into public employment and cap rents in a new Mary Barbour law show a commitment to use powers Scotland has to change things for the better, just as Corbyn’s programme does on a Britain-wide basis.

All their liberal critics have to offer instead are replays of movies that weren’t that interesting the first time round.

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