Wednesday, 19 March 2014

A Wee bit more Devo

Sometimes it’s actually possible to feel very sorry for Scottish Labour Party leaders – tonight it was Johann Lamont’s turn to try and defend the indefensible. The position of the Labour party in Scotland has, since the mid-seventies, been reminiscent of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.  A long bloody struggle to hold a line and eventually retreating in disarray, scattering baggage along the way.  There are those who question the impartiality of the BBC in the independence debate, but Gordon Brewer’s forensic, detailed questioning of Lamont on Newsnight Scotland tonight exposed the fundamental contradictions at the heart of Scottish Labour.

With a few honourable exceptions, the Labour party in Scotland has regarded devolution and the granting of more powers to Scotland as a war of attrition – concessions reluctantly made in the face of nationalist advance, but designed to halt any progress towards full independence, rather than a positive choice to empower and let go of Westminster control.

Every advance towards self-determination for Scotland has been made reluctantly – yes, devolution was enacted by New Labour, but only after a second vote (as if the 1997 Labour manifesto wasn’t really serious) and explicitly promoted as a way to “kill nationalism stone dead”.

From the Hamilton by-election onwards, Scottish Labour has been profoundly disturbed by the notion that anyone other than themselves can represent the Scottish people. Their sense of outrage has only increased over the years, leading to the dismal tribal tenor of what passes for their debate in the run-up to the referendum.

What was exposed tonight was the total incoherence of the Scottish Labour position – do we really think that a further set of “a wee bit more “ devo proposals would have been forthcoming if it wasn’t for the re-election of the SNP government (with a majority) and a pending referendum on independence ? The inability of Lamont to answer whether Labour in Scotland could set higher tax rates without reference to a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer cruelly exposed the fundamental misunderstanding of what real powers for a purpose should look like.  That’s if Labour win the 2015 election – that’s the X-Factor we all are being invited to take a gamble on. Trust us – we did such a great job of addressing inequality the last time around.

What was announced today was the proverbial mish mash of try and please everyone (within the Scottish Labour tribal tent) and end up pleasing no-one. Incoherent, full of inbuilt contradictions (employment law reserved but employment tribunals devolved) , with a vague attempt to present as socially progressive and fiscally redistributive but taking fright at actually stating that a future Scottish Labour administration would really be coming for the wealthy – and in many ways, that’s Johann’s tragedy. She probably does want to be more open about that, but can’t say so as theUK leadership dominated by the Blairite Progress group won’t let her.
Not so much wee things, just a wee bit more.

Sunday, 16 March 2014


Last weekend I visited the Plaid Cymru Spring Conference, along with SNP Trade Union colleague Ross Cassie (pictured), and it was probably just as well we weren’t there this Saturday after that rugby score. However, am happy to report that despite giving Scotland one of our worst defeats ever, our Celtic Comrades are strongly supporting us in our joint campaign for self-determination!
This was my second visit to a Plaid event having visited Wales six months before the 2007 election, and perhaps it is a good omen that I was down six months before the referendum.

There is always some curiosity between Plaid and SNP members as to why our electoral performances are so markedly different just now.  It was during this recent visit that I began to really appreciate the scale of the task facing our Celtic Comrades.  Just prior to the conference an opinion poll showed that their one European seat is under threat in May, and astonishingly UKIP already have an MEP for Wales.

The stark reality of the struggle hit home when I was addressing the UNDEB (Plaid Cymru’s Trade Union section).   Whilst the majority of Trade Unions in Scotland are fairly neutral towards independence, and many individual members are voting Yes, the feeling in Wales is that TU’s are still firmly embedded in the Labour Party machine. It was a well-attended meeting and I do know that there are many Plaid activists who are trade union members, but who feel that their voices are yet to be listened to by their union leaderships.  I encouraged our Plaid colleagues to keep on arguing the case for alternatives to the Labour status quo, and promote a positive vision as to why their political party – with democratic socialist values- is best placed to represent them in parliament and local government.  For many workers, and public sector workers in particular, pay, terms and conditions are decided in an England and Wales context, which also makes the case for strong local representation. The sense of frustration at the extent of Labour led authorities in Wales implementing Coalition Cuts without much of an attempt to alleviate or fight back was very clear,  It begs the question that although there are cuts that Labour in Scotland are implementing in the councils they run, and a continued squeeze on terms and conditions for our members – how much worse would it be if Holyrood was Labour led as well ?

Another major challenge, which was brought home to me in our discussions, was the in media.  In many parts of Wales, newspapers and other media are London focused, with no Welsh editions of newspapers, and our colleagues were very upfront that the only media coverage about Scotland’s referendum is through Westminster based media eyes.  We should appreciate that despite the many challenges the newspaper industry face, that regardless of their views on Independence, we have a major advantage in a Scottish based newspaper industry and media, that covers political stories from a Scottish angle. Not to mention the journalists and commentators who report without party bias or favour.

We spent many enjoyable hours in the company of the great Welsh Historian Dr John Davies, who remarked that he was quite offended when listening to the radio where it was suggested that should Scotland vote YES, then all that would be left of the UK is England and its “bits” …….John didn’t take too kindly that Wales was regarded as “a bit”. Having written the definitive history and encyclopaedia of Wales, that’s understandable – and I was intrigued to discover that the copies of his works that are held in the Mitchell library are from the late Edwin Morgan’s  collection – both writers of international renown.

Another curious factor, was that the coalition with Labour from 2007 to 2011 may have electorally damaged Plaid in the short term.  Many Plaid activists feel that in that coalition, Plaid taught Labour how to be Welsh, and to drape themselves in the Welsh flag. 

What is clear is that Plaid are supporting Scottish independence, and that a YES vote would be a boost for more powers for Wales.  Plaid Cymru are playing, (correctly in my view) a long game.  This undermines the solidarity against self-determination argument put out by No supporters who keep insisting that a YES vote would be a disaster for other parts of the UK. That argument would have more force if there weren’t alternative voices in both Wales (and England) saying that Yes in Scotland gives an opportunity for an alternative vision for the rest of the UK.  

I really enjoyed the weekend, and strongly believe that there are positive actions for Plaid Cymru to take forward, particularly their trade union section.   A  strong values based campaign saw them handsomely retain the Ynys Mon by-election, the party has a clear democratic socialist vision for Wales, with a popular leader in Leanne Wood and they should take Scotland’s advances as a clarion call for more powers leading to independence. We should be very clear that the Yes campaign has resonance and meaning beyond Scotland’s borders and people are looking to us to provide hope and example. I lost count of the number of times Plaid activists told me to let everyone in Scotland know how important it for Wales that Scotland votes Yes !

So with that – I also look forward to welcoming Plaid activists who fancy a busman’s holiday in Scotland in September…!