LIKE thousands of others in the Labour party, I have been politically inactive for quite some time. But I have found the debate on independence stimulating and inspiring.
I haven’t attended a Labour party meeting since the disastrous decision of Tony Blair to lead us into the illegal war in Iraq, a cataclysmic adventure that ripped the soul out of the Labour party.
I remained a member because I could see no real alternative and I clung to the belief that things would change. I still cling to that belief. However, I now feel the only possibility of a change in the Labour party is if there is a vote for independence on 18 September. Once Labour in Scotland is released from the straitjacket of London HQ control then there is the prospect that it will rediscover the moral compass it has lost.
My vote for independence is based on far more than simply a reaction to the present nasty Tory-led government, the rise of Ukip, or the increasingly pessimistic predictions of Labour’s chances in next year’s election. The problems we face are deeper, go back much further, and look set to continue.
When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979 she broke the post-war consensus that had committed governments to full employment, the public ownership of our utilities and other key industries, and decent affordable housing. The social, political and economic fabric of the country that was woven by generations of trade unionists, socialists, and social democrats, and which had endured since the Second World War, began to unravel.
By the end of New Labour’s reign, inequality in Britain was amongst the worst in the developed world, with the highest rate of poverty in Western Europe.
Labour’s leaflet on the referendum, “Together we can”, tells us that “Labour will build a new economy which is driven by Labour values – equality, solidarity, and social justice.” These are indeed core Labour values. But the party has long ago drifted away from them to woo voters in the marginal seats in the south of England. Last month Tristan Osborne, a Labour candidate in a Kent marginal, put it succinctly when he argued that Labour had to “target the aspirational southern voter. That’s where you win elections.” In this part of Britain the centre of gravity of political debate is moving even further to the right with the Labour party promising to be tougher than the Tories on benefits cuts, immigration and public spending. And at the same time, Ukip has added its obnoxious blot on the political landscape.
This is in contrast to the situation in Scotland, where we have a left of centre majority and where the political competition is between Labour and the SNP, basically two social democratic parties (with streaks of neo-liberalism in both). On occasion they have tried to outflank each other to the left. Throughout the referendum debate a consistent strategy of some of my Labour colleagues has been to equate support for independence with endorsement of the SNP. But this vote is not about Alex Salmond or the SNP; it is about the future of our country. What type of government we have after independence is entirely in the hands of the Scottish people.
For years we have lived with governments we did not want. We now have the opportunity to make it possible to vote for governments that reflect our own values. A transformed Labour party free of Westminster control could return to being a party representing the needs and aspirations of the people of Scotland and putting into practice its values of equality, solidarity and social justice. It could once again be a party that campaigns fearlessly for the elimination of poverty, progressive taxation, wealth distribution, and the restoration of trade union rights.
I believe the Labour party is the natural home of the majority of Scots and I would appeal to all Labour supporters to grasp this historic opportunity and vote Yes on 18 September. «
Pat Kelly is a former president of the STUC and Scottish secretary of the PCS union. His book Scotland’s Radical Exports was shortlisted for the Saltire Society’s history book of the year in 2012