A certain Duncan Hothershall, who I’m told is a failed Labour candidate from Lothian who even before the lockdown spent much of his time on social media because he has no other political platform anyone notices, tweeted some snark about my article in The National earlier this week when I argued that it will be the independence movement which is best placed to take advantage of the political fallout from this current crisis once we get to the other side of it. Duncan’s pursed lips sneered through the net curtains of Twitter that “The National’s star columnist” (thanks for the promotion Dunc) had written yet another article arguing that independence is the answer to every problem.
This is of course untrue. Independence is not the solution to every problem. To pick one example at random, independence is not the solution to the problem of Duncan being a political irrelevance who sits on Twitter snarking bitterly like a dried up lemon because he’s got nothing productive or useful to say. This may be part of the reason why he’s so keen on opposing it. I am of course always open to taking advice from all sources about the content of my scribblings, but I do draw the line at a guy who makes James Kelly MSP seem like he’s enjoying a glitteringly stellar career in politics. Duncan’s not even a star columnist in his own twitter account.
A substantial part of Duncan’s bitterness comes from the fact that it won’t be the Labour party in Scotland which will reap the political capital generated by the British government’s woeful handling of the coronavirus epidemic. The Labour party in Scotland will struggle to hold on to the seats it already possesses at the next Scottish elections. This is because following a major crisis, voters want change, and will tend to support those political organisations and parties which are best placed to deliver the kind of substantive change that the crisis showed was required. In Scotland, that’s the independence movement.
If the problem that’s identified is that Scotland suffered unnecessarily because of the poor handling of the crisis by Westminster and because Holyrood’s hands were tied by a Conservative government, arguing for stronger ties to Westminster is not going to be seen to be the solution. All the more so when the Labour party is currently trying to revive the federalism fairy, although there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that voters in England are remotely interested. Federalism needs the enthusiastic support of the electorate in England if it has any chance at all of being implemented. It’s not going to happen, and it’s only ever trotted out by the Labour party in Scotland as a solution to the problems of the Labour party in Scotland. No one else is interested.
The party’s problems are compounded by the fact that post-Corbyn it’s the kamikaze faction of British nationalism that’s in the ascendancy in the Labour party in Scotland. They will of course strenuously deny that they’re British nationalists, but adhering to a political position which seeks to deny the electorate of Scotland another independence referendum even when a majority vote for one because Britain is best under all and any circumstances is a deeply nationalist position. And a reactionary one at that. It’s not going to be an easy sell to the estimated 40% of Labour voters in Scotland who are supportive of independence.
However if the problems facing the Labour party in Scotland are dire, they are as nothing compared to the whirlwind which awaits the Conservative party. James Kelly (no not that one) pointed out on his blog that Jackson Carlaw fondly imagines that in the next Scottish elections he’s going to be the Clement Attlee to Nicola Sturgeon’s Churchill and is poised to make substantial electoral gains. No laughing at the back there, Jackson really did make that comparison. It is of course a risible comparison. For starters, Labour went into the first general election after the Second World War with on a platform of radical and extensive change. All that the Scottish Tories offer is greater submission to Westminster. “Westminster might be crappy, but Scotland is even crappier”, is not a winning electoral platform, but it’s all that the Scottish Tories have.
The disquiet about the British government’s handling of this crisis is already substantial, even though most are prepared to haud their wheesht for the duration of the epidemic. Yet even so it’s hard to ignore the evidence in front of our noses as we gaze helplessly at the tragic mounting of the death toll. Just this week we’ve had the substantial blow to claims of better togetherness after it came to light that companies in England which produce much needed personal protection equipment were claiming that Public Health England had insisted that they fulfil orders only to care homes in England and NHS England. Scotland’s national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch helpfully dismissed the reports as “rubbish”, and Tories have clung onto Professor Leitch’s remarks like a liferaft. However even after he made the comment there were still companies with notices on their online stores saying that they couldn’t sell to Scotland or Wales.
The Tories and their British nationalist allies are trying to counter the story by pointing to the straw man argument that there is no deliberate conspiracy at the highest levels of the Conservative party to kill Scottish and Welsh care workers. Of course there isn’t. The BBC yesterday referred to the situation as a “guddle”, it’s an innocent error caused by confused advice and not a malign and deliberate attempt to prioritise England at the expense of Scotland and Wales. And that is probably true. However even if we accept that then this incident illustrates that the British government and its agencies do not take the needs of Scotland or Wales into account when formulating advice, because if they had then the confusion would never have arisen in the first place. That’s the situation that the Tories in Scotland will have to defend. Even on the most benign interpretation it’s indefensible.
Then there are all the other myriad failures of the British state during this crisis. As people sit at home during this lockdown, they are taking note. No amount of hero worship of Boris Johnson for having the good fortune to survive an encounter with the virus is going to detract from them. The UK is set to become one of the worst affected states in Europe, and the responsibility for that rests squarely with the British government in Westminster which squandered the early advantage of the virus becoming established here late, and which pursued the flawed and dangerous policy of herd immunity.
The biggest criticism that’s going to be levelled at the Scottish government after this crisis is over is that it remained too close to the decisions made by Westminster. Jackson Carlaw seems to think that voters in Scotland will blame the Scottish government for decisions made in London by Conservative politicians. He seems to think that the electorate in Scotland will think that the solution to Westminster incompetence is to give Westminster even greater control. He’s in for a big disappointment.
Times of crisis are followed by times of change. This coronavirus epidemic has shone a light on the inequalities, the injustices, and the structural inadequacies of the British state. It has revealed a creaking and leaking ship of privilege, of entitlement, and of private greed at public expense. It has to change, yet we’re going to have a Conservative government in Westminster until at least the end of 2024. The voting public in Scotland will use the next Scottish elections to express their desire for change – and there’s only one political force in Scotland that’s able to offer it. It’s not the tired and broken parties of British nationalism. Change starts with a yes.
And finally, because we could all do with some cheering up during these difficult times…
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