If independence is a problem, why is SLAB doing so badly?

5 mins read
Photo: PA

It has long been said independence put Scottish voters at loggerheads, and rightly so. For a nation to sit idly by whilst the question of its sovereignty is decided is a crime too great to conceive.

A nation is what binds us together, and although, in the words of Benedict Anderson, “the fellow members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them…in the minds of each lives the image of the communion…Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity or genuineness, but in the style in which they are imagined.”

Whether the nation you feel most strongly attached to is Scotland, the United Kingdom, Britain, or you have a strong attachment to Beech Court, we all have an attachment to that place we feel is worth defending.

Scottish Labour has decided it will not support independence in the run-up to the council elections this May, a move which some have described as a shooting-in-the-foot by the party.

And yet, there isn’t a problem with having an anti-independence stance in an election. Heck, the Conservative Party is as unionist as they come, but somehow it is sitting 12 points ahead of the party which once dominated Scotland. Plus, we know independence is still a thorny issue, and being against it cannot be a total kicker for your election hopes, can it?

Photo: Panelbase

There is an interesting dynamic at play here. Looking at polls now compared with the last council elections in 2012, the SNP’s vote has bounced by 15 points, an extraordinary amount.

However, it should be noted, as said by John Curtice (the omniscient voice of prophecy), the 2012 council elections were surprisingly poor for the SNP, who had gained a clear majority just one year previously in the national elections.

The Tories are maintaining their surge in the polls, up 13 points on the last election. Meanwhile, Labour are down a whopping 17 points. Seventeen. Are Labour’s indy supporting voters going to the SNP, and unionist voters going to the Tories? If not, where?

A huge problem for SLAB (Scottish Labour) is it is not doing a lot of shouting about supporting a federalist arrangement for Scotland. Federalism is often termed as “devo max”, and would see full fiscal autonomy for Scotland. You didn’t hear about that? Man, where you been living? In fact, I cannot blame you.

Support for devo max has always ran higher than independence. Back in 2011, TNS-BMRB found 33% of Scots supported this settlement, ahead of no change at 29%, and independence at 28%. Three years later, devo max still came ahead of independence by a long way.

It isn’t hard to find Kezia Dugdale’s announcement she would be supporting a federal state. If you read what she said, it does sound quite interesting, and (dare I say it?) radical, which is nice for a Labour party who don’t tend to do that kind of thing any more.

Dugdale is not a wet sock in FMQs either; instead she sounds passionate and speaks strongly about the causes she cares about. The problem: No one is listening.

The fervent Scottish political junkie will have heard of her support, but to the average folks at home, most haven’t a clue what their line of argument is.

If Dugdale and the rest of her SLAB party were serious in their convictions over federalism, promoting it as widely as possible – as if it is an independence movement – will catch people’s eyes, and maybe, just maybe, be able to hold back their complete destruction.

That, and maybe a new UK Labour Party leader, but that’s old news. Everyone knows that – right?

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“It is worth ascending unexiting heights if for nothing else than to see the big ones from nearer their own level.” - Nan Shepherd

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