Scottish independence would be good for the English left
No Labour government has relied on Scottish MPs to get into power. They have, however, relied on Scottish MPs to get right wing policies through.
The former point may be surprising – we are forever hearing that independence will leave the rest of the UK with perpetual Tory governments. But look historically and this simply isn’t the case.
This has been explained most thoroughly by Wings Over Scotland, who go through each election since 1945 and demonstrate that “Scottish MPs have NEVER turned what would have been a Conservative government into a Labour one, or indeed vice versa.”
But this is only half of the point. Because while Scottish Labour MPs haven’t ever ushered in a Labour government, they have, since devolution, had a significant influence on the Labour party.
There are two occasions on which this influence has been clear. Without Scottish MPs, the 2003 introduction of Foundation Hospitals, and the 2004 introduction of £3,000 top-up fees, would not have passed. Neither of these policies impacted significantly on the Scottish constituents of the MPs who forced them through: both health and education are devolved to Holyrood.
Scots are, on average, more left wing. But they care little about what their MPs do – mostly, it doesn’t effect them. Most decisions are made in Edinburgh. As a result Labour MPs can vote through the worst ideas their leadership throws at them without having to explain to their constituents why. And so they suck up to the boss to get up to the next level.
And the influence of the ‘West Lothian Question on the Parliamentary Labour Party is surely broader than these votes. If we think of its internal politics, the impact of barely accountable Scots MPs must be significant.
I’ll give one more way in which it is demonstrated: despite making up just over 10% of the 2005-10 Parliamentary Labour Party, Scottish MPs made up just over 25% of the MPs in Tony Blair’s last cabinet. There are, of course, many reasons for this. But it shows how much easier it is to climb when you have no democratic accountability weighing you down.
To put it simply, the Labour leadership used Scottish MPs (with a few nobel exceptions) as a bulwark against the English working class. And, given half a chance, we can be sure they will again.
If your best hope for Britain is a centre left Labour government, then your best hope is not that England relies on a tiny crew of Scottish MPs to impose sensible policies on a hopelessly right wing England. Within the Labour party, the opposite is what will happen.
Your best hope is for the Labour leadership to see that its only chance of winning is to mobilise the millions of English working class people who have abandoned politics as entirely as politics has abandoned them. And that is much more likely to happen if they can’t depend on a few unaccountable Scots. And it is more likely to happen with a neighbouring, English speaking, Nordic style state setting an example.
And if you, as I do, have more hope for politics than that, then you must believe that the people of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland can somehow be mobilised to support your (our) progressive policies. It’s certainly better – more democratic, more healthy – that they do so themselves than that they have these policies imposed by those politicians Scotland sends South.
The English left has nothing to fear, and everything to gain, from Scottish independence.
Re: Greg Laing
The key people who have run the Labour party in recent years do not have their roots firmly in the chattering classes of North London; rather, they have been Scottish! Blair. Brown. Darling. Campbell. Alexander. Reid. Cooper. Murphy. Davidson. And the rest. How many of the Labour frontbench, in recent times, have been English; or, more tellingly, would describe themselves as English?
This following example is a good illustration of how the Labour party views England. The UK Labour Party (‘THE Labour Party’) introduced tuition fees throughout the UK. This was a highly regressive measure as it made money, almost exclusively a person’s parental wealth to boot, a key determining factor as to whether that person could go to university or not. However, the Scottish Labour Party, created by the UK Labour Party, in the Scottish Parliament, created by the UK Labour Party, then abolished the tuition fees imposed on its people by the UK Labour Party. In business terms, the subsidiary company runs the parent company! A similar result has happened in Wales and Northern Ireland. England, with no English political parties and no English Parliament, has no recourse.
Also, you are forgetting that it was the Labour Party that introduced the Barnett Formula which redistributes Britain’s (read England’s) wealth in the following order: England gets the least, then Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is not just the lack of political symmetry throughout the UK, it is the fact that England has less money to spend on its people than do the other ‘home nations’.
Re: James Golden.
I think that you are misunderstanding the truth of the above article when you talk of ‘the traditional Labour dominance of Scotland’. As the article implies, there is a difference between by whom the Scots want themselves to be governed and by whom the Scots want the ‘British’ to be governed. Since Scottish devolution, there is now a real political difference between Scotland and Britain. This difference does not (yet) exist for England: all of England’s key matters are decided in the British, not English, Parliament.
Let me put this in another way. Scots still vote Labour, in their droves, in UK elections. However, Scots now vote SNP for Scotland in Holyrood elections. So, the Scots do not want to be governed by Labour. But they do want the English to be governed by Labour. The English do not, really, have a say in who governs the Scots. But the English do not want to be governed by Labour, either. So, the result of devolution is that, Labour are losing popularity, and by extension, political power, throughout the UK. This is the complete opposite of what was intended, of course!
But until the Scots start voting, en masse, SNP in UK elections, then the Union will not be threatened by Scotland wishing to end it. This is what the polls, and the present composition of the UK Parliament, continue to show. Instead, the real threat to the Union is the resentment of the English, who are understandably unhappy with the present constitutional settlement. That is, a feeling that none of the parties represent ‘them’. Hence, the rise of UKIP. A rise based on present political apathy and nationalism.
The British elite are beginning to wake up to this fact. It was only going to be a matter of time, however, with the position of the UK Government on matters such as tuition fees, top-up fees, prescription charges, personal care being so much worse for the people of England than is the position in the devolved nations. English constituencies and English Honourable members will not tolerate, for much longer, the present situation. The ‘Battle for Britain’ will soon begin. It will begin after the Scottish referendum not before. And not because the Scots have voted ‘yes’ but because the English wish to.
The problem with the Labour Party is that it is perceived rightly or wrongly as fundamentally anti-English. Why else was England left out of the devolution settlement despite warnings of English resentment? The proposed `regional assemblies` were in reality an attempt to divert English attention away from the democratic deficit now enshrined into the constitution, they would certainly not have addressed the WLQ.
It may only be anecdotal evidence but the people who have run the Labour Party for some years, with their roots firmly in the chattering classes of North London are generally believed to be ashamed of England. The more so since having fanned the flames of separate identity elswehere in the UK, they are terrified that the English will demand the same treatment. Thus we have seen the bogeyman of alleged English intolerance, extremism and racism ritually trotted out at every. I recall a speech made by Jack Straw in 1999, where he spoke of the `English penchant for coshing it`s neighbours`. Similarly I recall the Party`s adherents of regionalisation, claiming that England had never really existed as a nation. This is indicative of the historical inarticulacy many attribute to the Party`s Blair years but it didn`t escape everyone`s notice that Brown liked to refer to the `nations and regions of Britain`, deliberately reducing one of Europe`s oldest nations to the status of `British regions`.
On this I agree with you, role on Scottish independence,followed in short shrift by Wales and Northern Ireland. Without it the English can never be themselves.
Adam, even if a Scottish parliamentary delegation has never crudely tipped the scale for Labour into a Commons majority, Labour’s ability to count on a core volume of Scottish seats meant they had to win fewer in England. In the future, without the ballast of Scottish seats Labour may have to go even further to the right to win more seats from the Conservatives. Mathematically, even if Labour has never won through Scotland alone, it is too simplistic to suggest that Scottish safe seats have not had an enormous influence on Labour’s electoral fortunes.
I’m not suggesting that the traditional Labour dominance of Scotland is a good thing: in lots of ways the seemed to treat it like a private fiefdom. Furthermore, to my sound disgust, anti-Scottish sentiment within the Union seems to be pretty mainstream, and not confined to the English right. Labour’s shaking the taint of being a party dominated by Scotland might increase their credibility with a portion of the electorate, for reasons which are clearly upsetting to anybody who values inclusivity and doesn’t accept a blind and un-rigorous anger at the Barnett Formula.
Well argued. I may have to reconsider my view…