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THE Scottish Labour Party leadership may, in time, find that John McDonnell did them a favour when he said Labour would allow a second referendum on Scottish independence, if, after sufficient time, the Scottish people were not persuaded that Scotland was flourishing under a Labour government.
It is hardly surprising that they will not be thanking the shadow chancellor right now. His comments provoked a seemingly endless torrent of bad press as a result of the reckless and self-indulgent comments by Ian Murray MP and his gaggle of political familiars in the Scottish Labour parliamentary group.
As Stephen Low pointed out in a recent Morning Star, we were treated to the usual poisonous invocations drawn from the great cauldron of right wing potions, cackled in the eager ears of the harbingers of doom for socialism, otherwise known as the Scottish media.
There are three key toxins in the right-wing recipe. With nothing to say on the core economic elements of Scottish Labour’s manifesto, the Labour right in Scotland have focused on accusing Labour’s leadership being soft on anti-semitism and not enthusiastic enough about the EU. In this they have mimicked their English counterparts. The ingredient that gives it a distinctly Scottish flavour is unionism.
According to Scottish Labour’s right, if you are not out banging the drum (allusion intended) for a Labour Party that is prepared to defend the union at all costs, even if, as in 2014, that means allying with the class enemy, then you are not to be trusted. If you think that the unalloyed support for the constitutional status quo that this implies is a long way off from a transformational programme that irreversibly shifts power and wealth in favour of the few, as both John McDonnell and Richard Leonard fervently believe, then you are right.
For economic transformation cannot be delivered on the back of an undemocratic and highly centralised state designed to sustain the unequal society we live in — unequal on the basis of class which is reflected in the inequality of the geographical distribution of power and wealth to the regions and nations of Britain.
There are no doubt many Scots who voted for independence who would be open to a federal Britain that seeks to address this democratic deficit, if Scottish Labour could only get them to listen. To do that two things need to happen.
Scottish Labour has to show that it is open to the possibility of changing the constitution in a radical way, away from a unionist monolith. That is what John McDonnell tried to do. The “Better Together” campaign, combined with a slow-burning disgust with Labour as the party of war, privatisation and privilege, inured many “traditional” Labour voters and, perhaps even more, new, young voters to the possibility of voting Labour.
It would have seemed like a betrayal to consider such a thing. John McDonnell gave those voters permission to think about it. Since McDonnell’s comments, independence supporters could vote Labour at a general election with confidence that they are not blocking the route to a second referendum.
Labour certainly needs the votes of those who voted for independence to consider voting for Labour at a general election. Leaving aside the poor European election results where Scottish Labour fell to fifth place with just over 9 per cent of the vote, polling evidence by Electoral Calculus since 2017 suggests Scottish Labour’s average polling is just under 25 per cent, not enough to hold the seats they won in 2017. And if Labour fail to win a Westminster snap election that seems increasingly likely to be called, then Scottish Labour’s prospects in the Scottish parliamentary elections of 2021 are bleak indeed.
If Scottish Labour wants to make more permanent inroads into the anti-unionist vote, especially the working-class vote, it is all the more important that it makes a serious offer on the constitution, along with the powerful programme for economic transformation based on Labour’s plans for a green industrial revolution that would create 50,000 good, sustainable jobs in Scotland.
Those of us supporting a federal solution are therefore working hard to get the following motion debated and agreed at the Labour Party conference in September. Please give it all the support you can:
“This conference believes that to secure a politics for the many we need an overhaul of our broken political system. The UK’s undemocratic and highly centralised constitution is stacked against working people.
Long-lasting change is needed to ensure sustainable economic and social justice for the whole of the country. The majority of voters want to see politics overhauled to work in the interests of the many.
Corporate lobbyists, concentrated media interests and unelected elites have too much hold over the state. If power continues to be hoarded by an unelected elite we cannot advance the goals of a radical Labour government to deliver vital social and economic change across Britain. 200 years after the Peterloo massacre we must carry on that unfinished struggle today.
This conference agrees that:
Power must be devolved from Westminster and Holyrood. We should start by building from the ground up with a federal state starting with the abolition of The House of Lords replacing it with a fairly elected Senate of the Nations and Regions holding the centre to account.
We must have a detailed and transparent register of lobbying so that we can see who is trying to pull the levers of power.
A constitutional convention to look at wider reform of our state and politics to make it fit for the 21st century and to ensure that the people have a say in the way they are governed.
Rights of local councils guaranteed within the constitution.”
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