Leader comment: Dugdale’s only option was to avoid Better Together 2

The joint Better Together campaign won the referendum but at a cost to the Scottish Labour Party. Picture: Getty Images
The joint Better Together campaign won the referendum but at a cost to the Scottish Labour Party. Picture: Getty Images
Share this article
22
Have your say

Poor Kezia Dugdale. Her party faces another drubbing in the polls, the independence question continues to fester, and Jeremy Corbyn is heading to town to rally the Scottish faithful who could probably see him far enough right now, particularly on the back of a humiliating by-election defeat.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Labour leader is gamely trying to lay down the kind of coherent strategy Scottish Labour has lacked for many years now. She found out how hard this would be last week, when a sensible proposal for federalism didn’t make many ripples.

It’s a theme she has returned to this weekend at the Scottish Labour conference, with good reason. Her party needs a credible alternative to the ineffective constitutional position it has taken in recent years.

Today, we see another strand of that repositioning, with Ms Dugdale stating that in the event of a second referendum on Scottish independence, her party will not share a platform with their political rivals under the ‘Better Together’ banner.

Instead, she envisages Scottish Labour taking a distinctive stance – in favour of the Union, like their Conservative Party rivals, but not in a joint campaign.

With the Union at stake, this is a bold stance to take, but in reality Ms Dugdale had little option.

There is no doubt that standing alongside the Conservatives, and sharing a platform with a party that Labour has nothing else in common with, damaged her party and contributed to the maulingS suffered north of the Border in the subsequent Westminster and Holyrood elections in 2015 and 2016.

But what of the Union? Ms Dugdale will say today that the Labour Party she leads will never support independence, and that she will “work tirelessly” to maintain the United Kingdom.

There is bound to be a concern from Union supporters that any fracturing of the Better Together alliance will be enough to deliver a vote for independence, and that running separate campaigns will lead to conflict and confusion within the ‘No’ movement.

That is possible, but only if matters are handled very badly – which of course is possible, and some would argue that on its showing last time out, any reprise of a Better Together campaign would do well to rip it up and start again. It should not be beyond the wit of the pro-Union parties to stay on-message without having to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with politicians who would be their sworn enemies on any other day.

It has to be pointed out, however, that standing next to Labour in the Better Together campaign didn’t seem to do the Conservatives much harm.

They won the referendum, then a Westminster election, and made an unexpected surge at the Scottish Parliamentary elections.

It’s quite clear that the Union meant more to Conservatives than to Labour voters, and Tories were prepared to put up with the unholy alliance to achieve their objective.

Labour’s dynamic is different. Ms Dugdale has recognised that, and made the necessary move to prevent a repeat. It is a long way back for Scottish Labour, but these small steps are at least in the right direction.