What you can do for Labour
Mark McLaughlin, a PhD student in International Law and a supporter of Scottish independence, says in the event of a second independence referendum the Yes campaign needs the Scottish Labour Party.
Some of my Yes colleagues trolling prominent No campaigners risk committing the second nation-defining act of self harm this week. Preferring to launch bricks from inside the tent rather build a bigger one, they are the Yes campaign’s equivalent of the ‘Tom Watson is a Blairite’ and ‘Margaret Hodge is a Tory’ wing of the Labour Party.
If Scotland had voted to leave the UK in 2014, it would have voted to leave the EU, too. The House of Lords Advisory Committee, indeed anyone who had ever opened a book on EU law, could have told you that. On the balance of probabilities, it was reasonable to argue that Scotland’s EU membership was safer in the UK.
Gleefully or furiously repudiating Labour supporters with whom we share genuine grief at the loss of our European identity is vacuous and vindictive. Such repellent arrogance does as much to buttress support for the union as Scottish Labour has ever done. For some, a big, tall glass of shut-up-juice is in order.
At the outset, I must confess to a tinge of zealotry in support for Scottish Independence. The economic claims of the vapid White Paper were carefully dismantled by the Financial Times, the IFS, Kevin Hague and others, and I voted Yes anyway. Scotland would have had a significant deficit. It would have had to reapply for EU membership. A currency union was not certain. In my view, it would have been rough in the beginning, but worth it.
Ironically, I might have characterised my support for independence not by addressing the issues raised by skeptics, but by appealing to arguments of democracy, a distinctive culture, or ‘taking back control’. Hoist by one’s own petard, there. In that context, perhaps Chris Deerin was right when he said that it is the poorest in society that pay the price of middle-class Utopianism. Indeed, I wonder if we had voted Yes, how many of us would have looked rather like Michael Gove did on Friday morning, who, having spent 3 months squeezing the toothpaste out of the tube, looked gaunt and terrified when it wouldn’t go back in.
But here we sit, toothpaste everywhere. The United Kingdom to which Scotland voted to remain enjoined no longer exists. A Polish cultural centre has been daubed with racist graffiti in Hammersmith. Ciaran Jenkins of Channel 4 reports three separate people shouting ‘send them home’ in the space of five minutes on a Barnsley high street. In Newcastle city centre, the EDL has held a rally calling for the repatriation of immigrants following Brexit.
And it’s not just here, either. The far-right has been emboldened across the continent. French National Front leader Marine Le Pen has changed her twitter profile pic to the Union Jack. The Netherland’s own Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders, has praised a ‘fantastic result’. As the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush said, all of the wrong people are clapping.
A friend of mine in Vienna sent a picture of a typed-up sign in a shop window that read: “We kindly ask all British citizens to pay an additional 10% surcharge. This as solidarity to help cover the loss and the damage to the European economy”. But the Leave vote doesn’t make us any less European. Right Boris? Right?
The most terrifying part of it all, though, is what happens when there is no reduction in immigration. Because there won’t be. In the renegotiation, business will demand we have access to the single market. In return, we will agree to the free movement of labour. Before the ink is dry on that agreement, Nigel Farage will be in front of a camera, telling the white working class of England that they have been betrayed. When UKIP purple cascades through Labour red in the North of England at the next election, riding a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, I don’t want to be around to witness it. Call it a lack of solidarity, defeatism, abandoning my fellow citizens, whatever you like. That’s not my country, and I want no part of it.
In 2014, Tom Devine argued that it is the Scots who have succeeded most in preserving the British idea of fairness and compassion in terms of state support and intervention, and England has embarked on a separate journey. Generalisations aside, that has never felt more true than it does now. Whatever Scotland’s major parties think of each other, every leader is vociferously pro-
immigration, and as we have seen in the past few days, rhetoric matters. That journey looks like it may take Scotland out of the European Union against the expressed will of a majority of its citizens.
European citizenship was a part of my identity, in the same way that, for many, Britishness is part of theirs. The collision of these two identities will be even more emotionally fraught than before, and I can’t say I’m hugely looking forward to the ferocious arguing between people who have already made up their minds. But if those in the Scottish Labour party, self-avowed and historic internationalists, can look south of Berwick and claim that Scotland and England have the same vision for the future, then they are made of sterner stuff than I am.
Having said that, the general aversion to flag-waving lunatics is healthy. A mere glance at the Trumpian disaster across the pond should give pause to those who attach their causes to the Saltire and claim there is no adverse effect on rational, evidence-led policy making. At the same, symbols do matter. Flags matter. Identity matters. Labour’s failure to grasp this has contributed to a Conservative majority in the UK, and an SNP government in Holyrood.
I appreciate that it is a difficult truth for policy wonks, or those who fear the ugly underbelly of arbitrary support for abstract ideals, but we are who we are. That is why Andy Burnham’s “Love Scotland, just don’t get nationalism… People matter more than borders” is perhaps the worst misreading of the vote from a Labour politician post-Brexit. The European Union stood in direct opposition to the imposition of arbitrary borders, and Scotland voted by a 24 point margin in favour of remaining. It is because I care about the welfare of people over borders that I believe in the EU, not in spite of it.
Mr Burnham, while justified in his concern for blood and soil expressions of isolationism, would be advised to be look more closely at the increasingly anti-immigrant sentiment in England, and reassess how many nations of the UK he doesn’t understand. I make that two so far, but I’m yet to hear his views on Wales and Northern Ireland, so a clean sweep may yet be possible.
If Labour truly is an internationalist party, and Labour supporters are truly not driven by unionism, then it may be the case that their vision for Scotland is not best realised from inside the United Kingdom. That is, of course, dependent on where the pieces fall in the next few weeks. I suspect this is the axis on which opinion will turn for those whose driving motivation is for their country to be an outward-looking one.
On the economic argument, the position is more nuanced. Scotland has more trade with the UK than the EU, while many Scottish businesses do depend on access to the single market. A border between England and Scotland would not be desirable, but being outside the single market isn’t desirable either. The currency question still hasn’t been answered, and to be perfectly honest, looks more difficult to solve now than before. Oil is not a reliable source of income. We may have a deficit of around 9%.
But the notion of making Edinburgh the new financial capital of Europe must be somewhat of an incentive. An English-speaking, low-tax city in the European Union could put rocket boosters under the Scottish economy, as it has done for London.
What is crucial for the Yes side this time, is that all claims must be reasoned, credible and above all, examinable. Arguments in favour of economic strength would be a powerful weapon in the arsenal of the Yes campaign, but there is, let’s face it, a healthy skepticism of outlandish claims by the SNP, and I would like to see a proper economic analysis of a Scotland-in-EU vs Scotland-in-UK. This may well be on the ballot paper by 2020.
For those who feel their unionism runs deeper than their Europeanism, I suspect there is little I can say to cause you to waver. For those who seek economic refuge in the safety of pound Sterling and a UK in which business has prospered, it is a justifiable decision. To you, I say good luck, and I’ll see you out there. And let’s be friends after.
But to those who based their support for the union on a sense of internationalism or economic stability, it may be the case that you are reconsidering your vote. And it is in relation to this group that I offer the following advice to my friends who support independence.
The Yes campaign needs the Scottish Labour Party for whom the United Kingdom is not an end, but a means. The Yes campaign needs unionists for whom this new isolationism leaves the British values for which they fought and won in a mangled, vitiated heap. The Yes campaign needs experts in law and economics who looked askance at speculative claims on increased childcare and a currency union. The Yes campaign needs business and trade unions who must be assured of unhindered trade and worker’s rights. This is the coalition that will need to be assembled, and platitudinous appeals to abstract ‘Scottishness’ and furious screeches about ‘Scotland’s voice being heard’ (38% of whom voted Leave, by the way) will not be enough.
When the smoke has cleared, it is possible that a social democratic and internationalist consensus on a new vision for an independent Scotland may emerge from the rubble of Brexit. But for Yes campaigners, the question must not be what the Labour party can do for you, but what you can do for the Labour Party.