Are you still wringing yourself out? I didn’t post on the blog yesterday because I was at the march in Glasgow with some friends. We all got extremely wet, the rain was torrential at times, the wind never stopped. But it was a great day, and fantastic to see such a crowd taking to the streets of Glasgow to demand Scotland’s right to determine its own future despite such atrocious weather. We’re Scottish, rain doesn’t stop us. It’s just for dancing in.
There are often unfavourable comparisons between the ability of the Catalans to get hundreds of thousands onto the streets, whereas in Scotland we consider tens of thousands to be a massive success. Yesterday’s weather tells you why. In Catalonia they have a tradition of outdoor events. You can plan an outdoor event in Catalonia and for the great majority of the year be reasonably confident that you’re going to have nice sunny weather to have it in. In Scotland we have cold dark winter days, and a summer that consists of a weekend in July if we’re lucky.
Catalonia is also blessed with a media which is far more representative of public opinion than Scotland’s overwhelmingly anti-independence opinion pushers. Their media actually publicises such events in advance, because it’s news that an important pro-independence event is going to happen. In Scotland it’s only news after it’s taken place. And then it’s usually to quote some Tory politician complaining about the disruption to traffic of a divisive march, a complaint which – funnily enough – these same Tory politicians never make about Orange parades.
By any standards yesterday’s event was a resounding success and a declaration of the strength of feeling in Scotland about our right to decide our own future. There was disruption to transport, weather forecasts during the preceding few days warning of the terrible conditions, yet still the streets were full. We were close to the start of the march, we got to Glasgow Green, went to the pub, had a drink, and when we left the marchers were still traipsing along Clyde Street, dancing in the rain.
But just as tens of thousands of ordinary Scottish people from all walks of life went on a drookit march to claim their right to decide their own future, the Labour party branch office in Scotland was equally determined not to allow them. That’s the party that calls itself the people’s party, the party that proudly proclaims itself as the party of devolution and giving Scotland the ability to make decisions in Scotland. Labour in Scotland doesn’t even want its own members to make any decisions for themselves.
At the same time as the march was joyfully splashing its way through Glasgow’s puddles, Labour’s Scottish branch office was holding a meeting of its executive committee to discuss the office manager Rampantly Losevoter’s proposal to have a special party conference to debate and discuss the party’s stance on another independence referendum. The idea of having an open conference was rejected, no surprise there, and instead the branch office executives decided to have a closed session away day in which they’ll discuss how they can better sell the idea of federalism. It’s not the party policy which is wrong, it’s the Scottish public for not buying it.
Labour always drags out the federalism fairy whenever there’s the prospect of Scotland moving away from Westminster control. Yet even the Labour party branch office in Scotland know that there’s as much chance of federalism happening as there is of a book called The Wit and Charisma of Reingold Lucksinker having any pages that aren’t blank. Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that the party in Scotland formally adopts full fat federalism as a policy, they’re only leaving themselves open to the question why it hasn’t happened already. Didn’t Gordie Broon promise in 2014 that within three years of a no vote we’d be living in a state that was the closest thing possible to federalism? Instead we got control of road signs and some deliberately hauf-airsed tax powers that then Scottish Governor General David Mundell described as a trap for the SNP.
However the real problem is that it wouldn’t matter even if Scotland did swing convincingly and decisively behind a demand for a federal UK. Suppose there were three choices on the ballot in the next referendum, the status quo, federalism, or independence, and federalism won the largest share of the vote. Then what? Federalism for Scotland means federalism for the rest of the UK too. If real federalism is going to happen in the UK, England has to choose it. There is zero chance of that happening. The question of federalism isn’t even a distant speck on the horizon of English politics. Is Labour telling us that we’d have to wait for untold years for England to begin to have the federal debate with itself? Even if that conversation started, and a definitive decision on federalism and how it would work for England was achieved within England, Scotland would end up with the form of federalism that suits England, not the one that might suit Scotland. We’d be left exactly where we are just now, with Scotland’s future held hostage to political decisions made in England.
Federalism is about solving a political problem for the Labour party in Scotland. No one else has any interest in it. It’s nothing more or less than Labour in Scotland’s attempt to come up with a constitutional position that distances themselves from the hated Tories and the even more hated SNP. It’s a distraction and a spoiler for a future referendum, that’s the purpose of federalism proposals, whether federalism is workable, realistic, or remotely feasible isn’t Labour’s concern.
If the political events in the UK since 2014 have taught us anything, it’s that even when UK politicians make sworn vows to Scotland, Scotland will get what England votes for and Scotland’s concerns will be marginalised and ignored. The lesson to take from that is not to seek some other format in which Scotland can be marginalised and ignored and left to the mercies of England’s political priorities. It’s to take charge, to take decisions within Scotland in Scotland’s interests. That’s why 80,000 people took to the puddles of Glasgow yesterday, they were splashing their way to independence, not to waiting for England to decide on a constitutional proposal that it has shown no interest in. All that the Labour party in Scotland did yesterday was to confirm its own irrelevance.
Meanwhile on BBC Scotland this morning, Governor General Alister Jack insisted that there will be no referendum this year, and that the SNP must win an absolute majority in Holyrood next year – the support of other pro-indy parties like the Greens doesn’t count. Yet even if every single voter cast a ballot for the SNP, the Conservatives in Westminster would still not allow another referendum. All that the Conservatives have done is to confirm that they are a party of anti-democratic authoritarians who do not believe that the UK is a voluntary union of nations and who do not believe that Scotland has the right to decide its own future. Alister Jack has just blown up the key foundation myth of Scottish Unionism. If Scotland is not a voluntary partner in a union, then all those comforting stories that Scottish Unionists have told themselves about Scotland’s place within the UK are nothing more than fairy stories. Traditional Scottish Unionism is dead. There is only British nationalism or Scottish independence.
What ordinary independence supporters displayed yesterday was the determination to campaign, to win independence, to resist the nawbaggery of a Tory party which is determined to block another referendum because they know they’re going to lose it. The more that support for independence rises, the more panicked the Tories become and the more they’ll be determined to find any possible means to prevent another referendum.
Labour has conferenced and away-dayed itself into irrelevance. Meanwhile in their panic the Conservatives are showing their true authoritarian, anti-democratic, and authoritarian colours. We are not faced with a confident and assured cohort of British nationalists. Yesterday’s happy joyous throngs of independence supporters passed the usual angry little huddle of scared British nationalists, hurling invective and hatred. That’s not a side that looks like it’s winning, not a side that looks like it’s confident in its arguments. This year we need to keep up the pressure. Nothing good comes easy, and no march to independence is an easy stroll. But the future is with the people of Scotland, dancing in the rain.
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