Brian Wilson: Labour must fight on social issues

The victory was achieved with a 10 per cent majority of votes cast. Picture: John Devlin
The victory was achieved with a 10 per cent majority of votes cast. Picture: John Devlin
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WHAT happens next is secondary to the result we already know, writes Brian Wilson.

The outcome: 55.3 to 44.7 – that will do nicely. The quiet people have spoken and no amount of saltire-waving can spin that story any other way. What happens next is important but also distinctly secondary to the result we already know.

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We are awash with high-minded twaddle about what a civilised exercise in democracy it all was. There are plenty with a different story to tell, before another myth takes hold. There was a high turn-out, due not only to newly-engaged ‘Yes’ voters, as widely advertised, but to an even larger number who were determined to thwart them.

Scotland was put through an absurdly long campaign in order to reach an outcome a few percentage points different from where we came in. A shameful degree of anxiety was created and division fostered. The question now is whether we can escape from this perennial constitutional argument or if we are doomed merely to perpetuate it through another variation on the same theme.

Wherever I spoke during the campaign, the loudest applause was when I called for Scottish politics to be less about the constitution and more about issues which affect people’s lives – jobs, health, education and so on. Insisting on that agenda should be the challenge, particularly for Labour. If the debate is predominantly about the constitution, then the party which exists solely to talk about the constitution will surely win.

The story which had the biggest impact in the last days was about the £450 million cuts to the NHS which the Scottish Government did not intend the electorate to know about until after the referendum. As the leaked document helpfully pointed out, this was entirely due to the SNP’s own decisions and priorities. This is the kind of field on which Labour must fight, day in and day out.

At these meetings, I asked SNP supporters to name a single measure implemented since 2007 which has resulted in wealth being transferred from rich to poor. I am still waiting for an answer. This gives Labour and other opposition parties an open goal to shoot at – that the Nationalists would rather exploit social inequality than address it. That should be the target, rather than being sucked into a consensus that Scottish politics is all about defining devolved powers.

David Cameron acted shrewdly by appointing Robert Smith to recommend a settlement in line with promises made. That process will have a life of its own. Whatever is proposed, it will not be enough for the Nationalists and the caterwauling about “Westminster” will begin again. Other parties must not dance to that tune while in no way resiling on these commitments that are their collective property – not that of the SNP.

My guess is that many Tories who voted Nationalist in recent decades now realise they were playing with fire and will start voting Tory again. Similarly, Labour will only regain its own support by showing real determination on the concerns that matter most to these voters and by having a strong team at Holyrood who can say so effectively.