Throughout the current independence debate over the last seven years¹, one thing I have never understood is why three of Scotland’s mainstream parties are so against not only the idea of it but letting people give their opinion in a referendum. That sense of confusion has increased over the weekend with the news that Labour have sent out letters telling their supporters, “If you don’t know – vote No.” Now, I’ve always believed that if you don’t know about something, you read up on it, try to learn a bit more about the subject, ask your friends and family for their opinions. That’s why I’ve always told my bairns there are no stupid questions, just stupid answers. Surely the same applies to politics and deciding your country’s future?
Each party will have its own reason for not wanting independence; some of them might even be principled. Generally though it’s about money and power. After all, as Michel Foucault said, all relationships are based on power and the need to keep Scotland within the United Kingdoms does seem to boil down to that. Whether it’s the need for our votes, our fifty-nine Westminster representatives to secure a majority or avoid a Commons defeat, our land to hunt and fish on, to profit from (the Crown Estate and other absentee landlords, I’m looking at you here), our income and our taxes, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories want us. Never has Scotland felt more wanted and popular. I reckon the majority of the UK would support Scotland if the British Home Championship was running at the moment. The trouble is, I’ve never understood what, beyond an outdated sense of nationhood and/or entitlement, makes them want Scotland so badly.
Let’s start with the Tories, since in a way they are the easiest party to deal with. Or, to use their full title, the Conservative and Unionist Party. Now, when you see the second part, you do know why they want to keep control of Scotland and it’s not just because of the grouse moors. This is a party who firmly believe in the various Acts of Union, who campaigned against devolution in not just Scotland but Northern Ireland and Wales too. However, why does a party that firmly believes in self-sufficiency, self-improvement and minimal state interference believe Scotland should stay yoked to London? Surely this is a party where independence and everything that comes with it – self-determination, personal responsibility, a simple relationship between government and citizen – would find a natural home? Surprisingly not, because despite all the various attempts to modernise the party, the Tories still believe in their natural superiority, their right to govern and the empire. The trouble is, times have moved on and they haven’t.
The Labour Party are an interesting case I think. Here is the self-proclaimed party of devolution, which was determined to force through the referendums within one hundred days of winning power in 1997. When their White Paper was accused (by their current Unionist bed-fellows the Tories) of lacking substance and containing an unachievable timetable, they waved away any such concerns. Trust us, they said, we can do this. They admitted there were gaps in their plans, which they forced through both Houses, but that was to ensure that the democratic deficit was addressed quickly and we could all live in a better Britain. Remember, they promised us things can only get better at the time and some actually believed them. Then we had the historic 1999 Scottish Parliament General Election, which saw Scottish Labour become the majority partner in a coalition government. This led to a succession of Labour Ministers looking shifty and embarrassed; saying, “That would be a retained issue,” like a political Father Dougal, whenever they were asked to defend inhumane or morally wrong actions, such as carpet bombing civilians or incarcerating children in detention centres. Sadly, when Scotland twice elected a Labour-led Scottish Executive² as it was then, they elected sheep who would kotow to Downing Street and what was best for the British party. Any conflict was dealt with mercilessly by the party, with the Scots told to mind their place. Labour has never really understood devolution or Holyrood, which is why they have always pushed the best and brightest to run for Westminster, leaving us with the dregs of their selection policy. In fact, they cared so little for the concept of Scottish democracy that the put the parliament building next to a royal palace and engineered an electoral system that they thought would ensure the SNP never had a chance of power. You can see how well their careful planning worked out for them. Scottish Labour has never stood up to the British party, even when it was in its own interest. Maybe it’s just as well they are officially against independence.
That just leaves us with the Liberal Democrats, who supposedly believe in constitutional and electoral reform. I imagine that will be why their then Scottish leader Nicol Stephen told a BBC leaders debate in 2007 that he and his party were against Scots having a say as to whether they should have an independent country. I guess that means what they are actually for is reform as long as it ensures they have access to the ministerial Jags. I can’t imagine calling myself a democrat and not wanting the people I represent to have a say in their future. I’m amazed more wasn’t made of that statement, both then and now. Then again, the Lib Dems were always wishy-washy. You just have to look at their history and the type of person they have elected as leader – David Steel, Paddy Ashdown, Menzies Campbell. In fact, the only one of their leaders to show any gumption and force of personality, Charles Kennedy, was forced out of power.
To me, all of these parties should have a natural inclination towards independence in some shape or form. So why are they so against it? Labour needs Scottish MPs to secure a Westminster majority. The Tories want to rule over poor, uneducated people and have a testing ground for their guns and policies. The Lib Dems just want somebody – ANYBODY – to like and vote for them. The trouble is, none of that is in Scotland’s best interests.
1. Add four or five months if you really want. Let’s face facts, the campaign started once we went into purdah in late March 2007.
2. Supposedly Tony Blair didn’t want Scotland to have a government, that he was the only government people needed, hence the ridiculous Executive title in the Scotland Act 1997.