Labour has allowed itself to be painted as the UK’s guys in Scotland, says DUNCAN HOTHERSALL


Unionism is not a Labour value.

I say that not because I oppose the union – I don’t – but because in the coming independence debate I want us in the Labour party to engage on our terms rather than as the de-facto anti-SNP party. Labour values show how our close ties with our neighbours benefit us all, and we can construct a very strong argument for maintaining the union on that basis; but Labour values would be as important and applicable in an independent Scotland as they are in today’s devolved nation.

Labour values make us what we are. But one of the biggest problems facing Scottish Labour today is that we have allowed ourselves to be defined instead by what we are not. So when the SNP pick fights with the UK government our knee-jerk reaction is blanket opposition.

This is partly because too often the SNP fight-picking is deliberately misleading, like the idea that “English” courts are overruling Scots law. We must be robust in our dismissal of such barefaced distortions. But we are too often as robust in our dismissal of real bones of contention too.

This creates a damaging spiral. When genuine concerns arise about, for example, how representative of Scottish interests is the UK’s delegation to the Fisheries Department of the European Commission, we find ourselves appearing to argue against the interests of our fishing industry. When calls come for a Scottish Six, we find ourselves justifying the confusing and irritating London-centric media and their inability to identify anything below the nation level north of Hadrian’s Wall.

In order to challenge the SNP, we let ourselves be painted as the UK’s guys in Scotland. In reality nothing in Labour’s policies, ethos or membership makes us any such thing.

What makes this ridiculous is that we all know it is perfectly possible to be a unionist whilst at the same time being chippy about how Scotland is represented in the UK – because we all do it, all the time.

We need a sea-change in order to address this imbalance. In my view we need a devolved Scottish Labour Party, entire of itself, organised around the constituencies of the Scottish Parliament, and offering genuine opportunity in Scotland to the best in our party.

That new Scottish Labour Party needs to form itself according to Scottish needs – recognising rurality, focusing on the unique shape of Scotland’s challenges. It needs to reflect the concerns of Scots and offer a clear, positive image of the future for Scotland.

And most of all it needs to stop being the Westminster excuser party. Make ours the loudest voice for the Scottish Six, and against the paucity of Scottish political coverage. Let us stop holding back from criticism when UK institutions aren’t effective at representing Scots. But let us celebrate and acknowledge the benefits we accrue from the union too, and offer Scots the balanced, fair-minded option they have been denied for too long.

We’re not the defenders of Westminster – we’re the architects of a successful devolution which has given Scotland an optimism and an opportunity to thrive in a fairer United Kingdom. It’s a record we can be proud of. And if Scots, when given all the facts, want to choose separation from the UK, we can still be the Scottish Labour Party, fighting and winning elections on the basis of Labour values.

I believe the union offers Scotland the best of all possible worlds as a devolved nation. I believe Labour offers Scotland the best of all possible values on which to base the governance of our nation. But I don’t think those two things are, or need to be, linked.

Duncan Hothersall joined the Labour Party in April 2010. When he’s not arguing on Twitter or knocking doors in Edinburgh East, he spends his time running a distance education business in Edinburgh. He was the founding chair of Pride Scotland and a founding director of the Equality Network, and still retains a keen interest in LGBT rights. Follow Duncan on Twitter at @dhothersall.