LABOUR today opens up a new front in its battle for the UK with a declaration that Scotland should back the Union to demonstrate “solidarity” with the poor in the rest of Britain.
In an appeal to Scotland’s core centre-left voters who are tempted to back independence, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander urges them not to “walk away” from impoverished families south of the Border.
Alexander believes that the socialist values of “struggle, solidarity and social justice” hold the key to next year’s referendum, claiming that Nationalists are relying on an “outdated sense of victimhood” to make their case for independence.
Writing in today’s Scotland on Sunday, Alexander attempts to take on the Yes campaign’s claim that Scotland rarely gets the Westminster government it votes for by arguing that Scots should fight injustice across the UK by working to overcome the Conservatives.
The shadow foreign secretary claims the struggle against poverty, solidarity with the disadvantaged in the other nations of the UK and the fight for social justice are best served within the Union.
He believes that Scotland should not “walk away from the poor because they happen to be poor in Preston rather than Paisley”.
The political philosophy outlined today represents a change of tack from the negative tone struck by the Better Together campaign’s attempts to dismantle the economic arguments for independence.
Claiming that the SNP’s council tax freeze is taking money from the poor and cutting public services, Alexander says poverty has to be tackled on both sides of the Border.
“When the Nationalists suggest their sole motivation is fairness they ignore whole parts of their record and whole parts of the UK,” Alexander writes.
“Wales, Northern Ireland and great cities like Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester find no place amidst a cultural conceit that holds that everyone south of the Tweed is an austerity-loving Tory.
“Instead, they rely on rekindling an outdated sense of victimhood with the claim that Scotland, as part of the UK, never gets the government we vote for.”
Alexander criticises the claim that Scotland requires independence “because Scots are better at being fairer than the English, or at least, would be without the English around”.
He adds: “Tell that to William Wilberforce who led the fight to outlaw slavery. Tell that to Emily Davidson and the Pankhurst sisters who fought for women’s rights and equality. Tell that to William Beveridge and Clement Attlee who created the Welfare State.”
He adds: “The UK is how we, as Scots, over 300 years, have lived in real solidarity with our neighbours without ever losing sight of who we are or being less able to be what we want to be. We never did become North Britons.”
But Alexander’s strategy did not appeal to a leading figure in the left-wing “Common Weal” movement, which calls for Scotland to embark on a radically different economic path than Westminster.
Speaking before around 700 left-wingers gather in Glasgow tonight for the launch of the “Common Weal” project, Robin McAlpine, the director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, said: “No-one is denying that Britain could be a force for good in ending poverty in these islands. But the truth is that Britain walked away from the poor of Preston a long time ago.
“Britain has the second lowest pay of any advanced nation and has the highest level of geographical inequality of any developed country. There was a period when the economy of London City grew by 35 per cent and the economy of South Wales grew by 3 per cent. That doesn’t look like solidarity, it looks like extreme neglect.
“Unless someone offers a coherent set of policies to change Britain’s direction it will be hard to persuade anyone that this country isn’t being run in the interests of the wealthy.”
Last night a spokesman for Yes Scotland said: “The reason why legends of the Labour Party in Scotland such as Sir Charles Gray and Alex Mosson are voting Yes is because they know that the powers of an independent Scotland are the key to building a fairer society and more prosperous economy – prioritising social provision instead of wasting billions on Trident nuclear weapons.
“They, like us, are concerned with the plight of poor and vulnerable people everywhere, and the opportunity of Scottish independence for the rest of the UK is that it will encourage a rebalancing of decision-making away from the predominant interests of London and the South-east, in favour of the needs of England’s regions.
“Douglas Alexander’s rhetoric ignores the fact that the UK has become a more unequal society under successive Westminster governments – Tory and Labour – demonstrating that different solutions are required.”