THE requirement to attract support from a broad spectrum within Scottish society will be much more important than wooing celebrity supporters, writes Michael Kelly
Given the gradual collapsing of support for independence – or an independent Scotland as an SNP advertising guru dictates we must call it – I am looking forward to the launch of the ‘pro-Union No’ campaign on Monday.
The timing could not be better with the opinion polls showing a unionist upsurge. The atmosphere is further improved by the devastating commentary of Professor John Kay, former adviser to Alex Salmond, who, at The Scotsman Conference on Tuesday, added an elegant academic gloss to the arguments I have been constantly making here. Independence will be a long and painful process, full of uncertainty. Far from the SNP’s promised ‘entirely known and clear proposition’ voters opting for Yes in the referendum will, if in the majority, be ushering in five years of negotiation with an outcome that can only end up with Scotland tied down economically, financially and politically by the wills of London and Brussels. The SNP programme is so woolly and the dangers inherent in it so apparent that their goal is insanely irresponsible.
However the ‘No’ campaign must tread carefully if it is to take full advantage of these gross weaknesses in its opponents’ case. It has to be a broad church, so I suppose it will be delighted to welcome yesterday’s support from the Free Presbyterians who view the union as a bulwark against Roman Catholicism and the introduction of a secular constitution. Let us hope that no one from this religion is invited to sit at the top table of the No launch – although question time would be hilarious.
And that leads to speculation on just who will be there. I solemnly warn the organisers to steer clear of any show biz celebrities, whether ‘A’ list or not and whether or not they actually live here. Their presence trivialised the ‘Yes’ campaign. And they are loose cannon. Most don’t understand the language of politics and blunder into making fools of themselves like US citizen Alan Cumming has been doing ever since the SNP recruited him to say ‘Yes’.
Another group who should not be paraded are the business community – especially entrepreneurs. Simply because someone has been lucky enough to make big bucks – and luck plays a major part in their success – doesn’t mean that they have any sort of insight into how to run a state. Hearing analysis from objective experts on just how badly Scotland’s businesses will fare under separation is as far as the business input should go.
But the people who have to be brought back fully on board are the poor bloody infantry – the grass roots of the Labour Party. They are the people who will be knocking on doors, delivering leaflets, holding meetings and getting the vote out on the day – not the celebrities, the churches or the business community. And, I can exclusively reveal, that they are not very happy at the way the ‘No’ campaign has developed so far. They have been asked for no input into its form or messages.
Speaking personally, as one who advocated here more than a year ago that Alistair Darling should lead the campaign, I emailed him to offer support. I expected a little more enthusiasm than an automated reply telling me he would be in touch some time (which has not yet come). It was then I started speaking to other party members to discover that right up to the level of senior MSPs hardly anybody knows what is going on – even at the level of spokespersons on the constitution. Some figures at Holyrood do know the inside story, but there is, I am told, ‘a loop within a loop.’ More a cabal than an inner circle, I suspect.
The same discontent is evident among ordinary party members. Again, as chair of a constituency Labour party, I would expect to be told what is going on and to be given the opportunity to reflect my members’ views. Nothing. And the same isolation is reflected on the various Labour internet sites and blogs. Last night on Facebook I discovered a letter from Johann Lamont addressed to ‘Dear Member’ (Comrade has gone) inviting us to apply to attend the ‘No’ launch in Edinburgh. In it she promised, as Leader of Scottish Labour, ‘to lend our talent and skills to this joint campaign while ensuring there is also a distinct Labour vision on Scotland’s future.’ Signing it simply ‘Johann’ was a nice personal touch which will go down well with the party. And her stance will carry some weight especially in view of the way she has taken centre stage at First Minister’s Questions and has boosted her opinion poll ratings with her performances there.
But the question being asked about her letter is, in the absence of any grass roots input into the campaign, how can she ensure this distinct Labour vision? The blunt truth is that she can’t. Just like the Free Presbyterians can try to limit the influence of Rome, she can advocate greater state control, better care for the elderly, an end to nuclear arms. But she’s in no position to dictate anything now. That policy opportunity has gone.
Clearly the leaders of the campaign want it to be as non-party political as possible. And they are correct in so far as it has to keep Conservative, LibDem and other unionists together for the big vote. But the fact is that it has been the Labour Party that has been the only one that has successfully taken the fight to the SNP and it is it which will provide the momentum to drive the No campaign forward. That unique role should have been recognised in the coherent positive vision of the Union that we are promised.
What she can say is that if ‘No’ wins then the SNP will be humiliated. It should, in fact, pack its tents to go home to think again for the generation it will take to build the pressure for another referendum. The Labour party will start winning again. That is when the Labour vision can be implemented. However, if we demand answers from what remains of the SNP’s one-man-band campaign on how Scotland will look after independence, surely we have, in fairness, to spell out what that vision is. Let’s hear it from Johann on Monday.