UNIONIST responses to Nicola Sturgeon’s intention to seek a second independence referendum have ranged from the predictable to the nonsensical.
In between these there have been stops at “peculiar”, “eccentric”
and “bizarre”. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, said that a second referendum would bring “more uncertainty and division”: this from the woman who has presided over the biggest omnishambles in UK political history.
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The UK Prime Minister, of course, is perfectly placed to know what happens when people play parlour games with the country’s political future. The chaos of Brexit resulted from Boris Johnson and Michael Gove using the EU referendum as a shortcut to furthering their political careers. What a merry jape this would be, they snorted.
Even Professor Adam Tomkins, a formidable and eloquent opponent of Scottish independence, chose to offer a curious critique. “There is neither justification nor excuse for a second independence referendum,” he averred. The SNP secured almost 48 per cent of the vote at the Holyrood election last year. Their manifesto included a commitment to seek a second referendum if material changes in the UK’s political climate warranted it.
Brexit happened against the will of the Scottish electorate, and less than two years after EU membership was deployed by Unionists as a reason to vote No during the first independence referendum. Even the urbane professor Tomkins would find it difficult to disagree that this constitutes a material change in circumstances.
Kezia Dugdale, singing from the same hymn sheet as the Scottish Tories (the standard position of Scottish Labour these days), said: “The last thing we need is even more uncertainty and division.”
Labour activists availed themselves of social media to suggest Nicola Sturgeon would inevitably be forced to resign in the event of another No vote. Returning 56 out of Scotland’s 57 MPs to Westminster in 2015 and a year later leading the first party in Scotland ever to secure more than one million votes in any election would suggest otherwise.
Indeed, it won’t be the First Minister’s political future that’s at stake during the second independence referendum; rather it will be the future of what remains of Labour in Scotland that’s determined. The party’s strategists and policy chiefs don’t require to be reminded that its conduct during the first independence referendum led to a wholesale evisceration in its own heartlands. The party have never been forgiven for the mystifying antics of Jim Murphy and Baron Darling of Roulanish throughout 2013 and 2014 as they matched the Conservatives stride for stride during their wretched campaign of fear and manipulation.
They failed to understand that preying on economic uncertainty was never going to wash in those sprawling working-class neighbourhoods where financial anxiety is a fact of everyday life.
This was a gross error of judgment caused by complacency and being detached from the party’s core voters. What was worse was the intimidation and harassment loyal party members faced when daring to declare support for an independent Scotland. More than 30 per cent of traditional Labour voters backed independence and many of these were in the vanguard of the subsequent surge in SNP membership.
Two-and-a-half years later, there are still many Labour supporters who back independence.
Yet what are they to make of Kezia Dugdale’s immediate reaction to the prospect of another referendum? To observe Labour’s Scottish leader oppose the prospect of another exercise in democracy so vehemently must be depressing and painful. The party occupy a place in Scottish politics somewhere between “irrelevant” and “peripheral”; still they insist in alienating many among what remains of its core vote.
The ground that Scottish Labour have chosen to occupy going into this second referendum leaves them with no alternative but to campaign with the Tories once more, even if Labour refuse to share platforms with them physically. With a little more imagination and courage, the party could have pursued a far more honest path. No-one would have expected Scottish Labour to be anything other than a supporter of the Union but to be seen to be opposing the very notion of a second referendum is sheer political madness.
To do so by predicting division and uncertainty is simply a failure of imagination and self-awareness by the party’s policy-makers and managers. What sort of a world do they imagine we live in? Uniformity and certainty are only to be found in military dictatorships and totalitarian states. In these places the populations crave division and uncertainty. These are what define mature and healthy democracies secure in their political and social values. How many of the great political and pivotal events that have shaped life in the UK could have been predicted even a few years before they unfolded?
This lazy distortion of the meaning of words and the importance of deploying them authentically is embarrassing and dishonest. This is a gnarly, disputatious and thrawn nation where division occurs everywhere. Yet it is also a country comfortable in its own skin and confident that its common values and democratic institutions are sufficiently robust to heal the antagonism arising from any conflict. The time to worry is when there is an absence of conflict and dispute. For then we will be contending with something more sinister.
It is insulting to the people of Scotland and an abrogation of what Labour once represented to dismiss this referendum as “divisive” and the cause of “uncertainty”. The Labour Party was born out of division, disquiet and protest. It represented an uprising against the certainty of privilege and acquiescence in the class system.
By all means campaign for your Union, but do so by advancing ideas of universalism; of the shared aspirations of the poor; the vulnerable and the sick on either side of the Border. But do not dare to denigrate those whom you once represented by dismissing their aspirations for independence as “divisive”. If you continue along this foolish path you will be consumed by a whirlwind that will finally finish you off.