If Labour had really wanted to save the Union – though it beats me why they should – there’s something they could have tried. But they’d have had to start in 2010 or 2011, and mostly they’d have had to do it south of the border.
They could have sent their MPs out to build a serious struggle against neo-liberalism. They could have helped make the TUC anti-cuts demo of March 2011 into a launch-pad for strikes. They could have built unity between people whose jobs were threatened and people who were losing essential services. They could have worked to turn the Pensions Day of Action in November 2011 into a wider fight against austerity.
They could have given real support to the student protests against tuition fees. They could have put their party machinery – still formidable after all the years of decline – at the disposal of working class people fighting for a decent life, and sometimes literally for survival.
They could have used their access to the media to argue against neo-liberalism, for unity and for serious action.
They could have built unity by arguing against the scapegoating of migrants, asylum-seekers and minorities.
Instead the Labour Party became an informal partner of the Coalition government.
A few left-wingers have tried to cover Labour’s back by arguing that independence would undermine working-class solidarity across the UK. How could that argument ever grow legs while the Labour leadership were trying to destroy working-class solidarity with their one-nation cant and their hostility to migrants?
No one thinks that the SNP is squaring up for a fight with global capitalism. But the SNP doesn’t share Labour’s irrational terror of getting out of step with the Tories. If the winds of global capitalism aren’t too hostile, the SNP can be expected to give Scotland’s working class a breathing space that Labour won’t.
If the global economic climate turns harsh, we will have a fight on our hands and so will our brothers and sisters south of the border. But we’ll be battling it out on terrain where we stand a chance of winning, instead of in a country locked down by antique political parties and poisoned by the dirty old tales of British nationhood.
We will govern through a Parliament situated within easy reach of a high proportion of our population. Its system of proportional representation will provide a potential path into electoral politics for small parties. It will control the big levers of economic power and foreign policy, not just the variations on a theme allowed under our current constitutional arrangements. Our MSPs, try as they might, will not be able to break free completely from our local politics and our networks of activism. And that, of course, is why the Establishment purely hates the idea of Scottish independence.
What’s happening in Scotland is a democratic renewal. The dice are still loaded against us and we need all the help we can get. We do not need a saltire over Downing Street, or the “love” of Cameron, Miliband and Clegg. We do not need suggestions that a federal Britain might be rather cute.
We need the support of anyone, anywhere, who can see that we have stumbled upon a crack in the system that is squeezing us all dry, and that a lot of us in Scotland are determined to go for it. We need the solidarity of the millions of people south of the border who have been fighting against austerity. We need crosses in the “Yes” box on 18 September. We need spanners in the works of those who are conspiring against us.
And then, whatever the outcome, we need a democratic renewal south of the border. A real one, that touches the levers of power and demonstrates that the exit from the status quo doesn’t lie rightwards, into the arms of UKIP and the BNP.
The Labour Party is probably beyond redemption. But it would be a step in the right direction if the Scottish upset were to persuade Labour that it should cease to be a party of Empire and Union. It would be a bigger step in the right direction if a party to the left of Labour were to gain serious political traction.
Events in Scotland, however they turn out, have shown that it is sometimes possible to take the Establishment by surprise. If you can do that, and offer a credible path onwards, people will support you.
Photo: © Jack Donaghy