Scottish independence: Labour's plans for the Union would destroy it – Murdo Fraser MSP

Two men go to watch a Western at the cinema. Halfway through one says to the other: “I bet you five pounds when John Wayne comes round the corner he falls off his horse.” His companion accepts the wager.

Former Labour voters who now support nationalist parties are unlikely to be tempted back by Sir Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar’s version of diet independence (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Five minutes later, John Wayne indeed rides around the corner and does indeed fall off his horse. “Here’s your fiver,” says the loser.

“No, I can’t accept it,” says the winner, “to be honest I have seen this film before.”

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“So have I,” says the loser, “but I didn’t think John Wayne would be stupid enough to fall off his horse again.”

When it comes to the constitution, the Scottish Labour Party is trapped in a very similar movie. Every time they lose to the SNP they decide that offering more powers is the way to win former Labour voters back. And every time they do, they lose more voters. It is a movie no longer worth the price of the popcorn, but the latest sequel is being written as I write.

Recent briefings from the UK Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, appears to be offering an even more radical, or perhaps extreme, transfer of powers to Holyrood than any of his many better known predecessors proposed, even though the current SNP government has powers they do not use.

At Hollywood when they have a flop, the studios rarely call for a sequel. At Holyrood when the Labour Party flops, they seem to ask when shooting for the next part in the tragedy will start.

There are a range of suggestions. Some within the party think Labour should devolve all of tax and all of spending, in practice making Scotland worse off and abandoning the Barnett Formula.

In principle, it undermines one of the key principles of the Union – which its former leader Gordon Brown used to champion – the pooling and sharing of resources. Abandoning that concept is to abandon the Union.

Another desperate idea is to devolve everything to Holyrood except defence. That would reduce the United Kingdom from being one of the most powerful and influential nation states on Earth to being a military alliance.

At no point do these Labour architects seem to ask what design is in the interests of the people of Scotland. Their starting point is only what they perceive to be in the interests of the Scottish Labour Party, and they haven’t even got that right.

When their current Scottish leader, Anas Sarwar, talks of healing divisions, he is more likely to be referring to his own parliamentary party than the country. Scottish Labour used to boast that in some seats you only had to weigh the vote, now they only weigh the hubris.

It is now difficult to see evidence that the Scottish Labour Party believes in the United Kingdom any more at all. With the country facing a profound binary question on whether it stays in or leaves the United Kingdom, the Scottish Labour Party wanders without a map seeking a fence to sit on.

Labour voters and politicians are becoming tired of this destructive ambiguity. Just this week, a Labour councillor in West Lothian defected to the Scottish Conservatives. In a recent local government by-election in Falkirk – once a Labour citadel – so did voters.

Labour polled just 15 per cent in first preference votes, fewer than one in six. The Scottish Conservatives gained 38 per cent, two out of five voters, and just one point behind the SNP. In Falkirk.

You have to question whether the Labour Party ever believed in devolution at all as a strategy for Scotland, or merely adopted it as a short-term tactic to win Labour votes.

Thousands of those traditional voters who once backed them and who believe in the Union now are turning to the Scottish Conservatives. They are welcome, but in truth they have little option if they are seeking a party that believes in Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom and isn’t afraid to say so.

And those traditional Labour voters who have crossed the Rubicon, or perhaps the Tweed, to support independence are unlikely to be tempted back by Sir Keir Starmer’s version of diet independence.

Labour’s devolution policy is a failing electoral device to revive their own fortunes, not a vision for Scotland’s future. It lacks principle and credibility, and for these reasons alone it won’t work.

In these times when it is so important to stand up for what you believe in, Scottish Labour sit down on the sidelines wondering if they believe in anything. Sometimes seeking the middle ground is to stand in no man’s land.

I know what it is like to lose elections and I know what it is like to be elected. But no loss has ever shaken my belief in my principles. Defeat has made Scottish Labour lose theirs.

Where once it was felt embarrassing to admit to voting Tory, it is increasingly irrelevant to say you voted Labour. Perhaps it is even quaint.

I relish the opportunity to debate with people inclined to prefer independence to persuade them of the benefits of Scotland remaining in the Union. To have an honest debate on an issue that is fundamental to Scotland’s well-being. What I am less attracted to is the idea of trying to come up with a fudge designed to dupe both sides and satisfy neither.

I will not sell out on my principles and I respect political opponents who will not sell out on theirs. There may always be room for compromise, but compromise is not concession.

Scottish Labour seem to be holding a fire sale on their principles. But you’ll need to be quick. Their stocks – and stock – are running out fast.

Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife

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