The vision thing
Staying in the UK isn’t less than what the SNP are offering, says GREG WILLIAMS; it’s more
In my previous article I wrote of the need for Labour to articulate an alternative positive vision for Scotland – a vision that would win over the aspirational members of Scottish society who voted SNP in this year’s election. Talk about setting yourself up for a fall!
Here, however, is my attempt at that vision. Next week I’ll be attempting the equally herculean task of revealing just why it is that people pay £80 to watch a cricket match then spend it reading a newspaper.
Scottish Labour should not be content with the Dewar devolution settlement. Neither is our vision simply for devolution max. We should be advocating devolution plus: Dewar’s devolution with enhanced economic powers plus all the benefits of the union. Having our cake and eating it; sharing the common ingredients with other countries in the Union but baking to our own recipe; knowing that we have the security of sharing that cake if need be.
I even think the SNP already know the attractiveness of this recipe. Anyway, enough with the cake analogies. I’ve grouped some details for this vision around four key themes before further articulating the vision of devolution plus at the end.
Labour’s Scotland, unlike the SNP’s independent Scotland, would not define itself “in opposition to our neighbours, but by ourselves and our basic values.” “We know our worth and take pride in it.” We are a bold and confident nation in the world and we exhibit that confidence as part of the United Kingdom. In our view, the “countries of Scotland and England stand together as equals.” We will not seek a role for Scotland in the constraints of 19th century nationalism and revel in “the memory of battles that no one alive fought in”, but face 21st century globalisation as partners, stronger together, supporting each other. Our Scotland will take an “active and positive membership of the EU”, but with the weight of the United Kingdom, not Latvia or Lithuania.
Scottish Labour recognises that “external trade, investment and the flow of knowledge and skills are crucial to our future as a dynamic, flexible and modern economy.” That’s why we embrace the Union as a trade market, knowledge base and investment source five times the size of our own and to which Scotland alone has the best access. Scottish Labour also advocates the strength of Sterling instead of embracing “the success [sic] of the Euro”. We want to maintain “security of employment”, not go it alone “in a cold world, but a community that is united to protect all of our people.” We want to continue to enjoy a broad economic base and the backup of a stable welfare state, not bet our future on oil, a fluctuating commodity, vulnerable to bankers and traders.
Business and energy
Scottish Labour sees “barriers to business as barriers to national progress.” But we will not engage in a race to the bottom on corporation tax, taking money away from the state and handing it unearned to big business. Scottish Labour’s business policy will reward companies who train for the future and pay their fair share. Indeed, we will “make Scotland an attractive place for investment.” We won’t turn investment away right now when Scotland needs it most through the uncertainty of independence and unaffordable public spending commitments.
“Green energy…is at the heart of our economic policy.” But Labour’s Scotland will have a guaranteed export market for its electricity in the Union, with an already established transmission infrastructure. Scottish Labour will seek to “reindustrialise our country through marine renewable energy”, but we won’t jeopardise existing industry like navy ship building on the Clyde.
The Scottish Labour party harnesses the benefits of the Union, and achieves “equality for Scotland” within it through our strong cohort of MPs in Westminster in a way no other party can. We will not be a “lobby group…begging Westminster for what should be ours”, but together as MPs and MSPs we will deliver those benefits. We will be the party that exhibits the strength of the devolution. Scottish Labour will “never lack in ambition for Scotland” and we will proudly “fight exclusively in the Scottish national Interest.” We would not dither about the fossil fuel levy – we would deliver it.
There’s a Manic Street Preachers track off their album The Holy Bible, released back in 1994, called ‘Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart.’ I think if Salmond told the truth for one day, his party would fall apart. Because he knows the best thing for Scotland is devolution plus – he’s already articulating it. All the quotes in this article, if you hadn’t guessed already, are from Salmond’s speeches since becoming First Minister. The clues have been there since 2007, but we’ve never effectively tackled the SNP on it.
Allow me a brief digression on this point: Labour is currently obsessing over how it finds a leader to tackle Salmond. Well, perhaps we should come at it from a different angle. Why don’t we start presenting a new, broad, articulate and confident team to take on this one man band? Our difference is our strength here – the breadth of the Labour movement and the quality of its advocates. A team of MSPs, MPs and even those not elected with collective responsibility for confronting nationalism.
And we need a large, quality team because it’s so difficult to offer an alternative vision as compelling as independence with no negative arguments or language. One of the main, if not the main, benefits of the Union is security, as I’ve highlighted above. The SNP will obviously paint our advocacy of security as negative; as fear. But it’s not. It provides Scotland with the foundation to be positive and thrive without the fear of standing alone in a rough, tumultuous world. It provides us with the security within which to pursue our own uniquely Scottish take on health care, education and public services. It gives us the foundation on which to revel in and foster our identity, not to be consumed and burdened by it.
So, let’s get to it. What’s my alternative positive vision? Being part of the UK is not less than independence, but more. Scotland should be bold, confident, empowered and aspirational with the security and the benefits of the Union. Scottish Labour listens to and acts for a Scotland that believes in better because we are a party that always aspires for better, for all of society.
And we are a nation that knows that we are better off together.
Greg Williams was Scottish Labour’s candidate in Aberdeen South and North Kincardine in May.