John McTernan: Turning referendum win into a defeat

Yes supporters on 19 September. The result of Labour's failure to celebrate victory 'is that losers parade themselves as winners'. Picture: Greg Macvean
Yes supporters on 19 September. The result of Labour's failure to celebrate victory 'is that losers parade themselves as winners'. Picture: Greg Macvean
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The SNP’s dangerously delusional policies have been exposed. So why is Scottish Labour missing an open goal, asks John McTernan

ROUTED in their homelands. A leader so beleaguered he has had to resign. No credible domestic policy agenda. In danger of irrelevance in Scotland at the next General Election. These are disastrous times for Scotland’s party.

I mean, of course, the Scottish National Party. I have just described the parlous state they are in. In the referendum they lost Aberdeenshire, Angus, Morayshire and Perth – their fastness where they have held seats for decades. They were so soundly thrashed in the vote that Alex Salmond humiliatingly had to cancel a celebration party and instead hastily call a resignation press conference – from which he Castro-esquely excluded journalists who had questioned his genius. Then, in true North Korean style, he arranged for the unopposed elevation of his chosen successor. To compound the SNP’s problems, their leadership proceeded to tell the 84 per cent of Scots who turned out to vote that their party had no respect for democracy. And that they would do the whole thing all over again because they didn’t like the result.

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That is the story of Scottish politics. It’s not the one you have been hearing or reading about, but it’s a fair reading of the fundamentals. Whose fault is that? Not the government’s – even though one of the only pleasures of opposition is the chance to blame them. Nor the media – I’ve been on both sides of the line often enough to know how lazy that accusation is. No, the problem is with the Scottish Labour Party.

I get it. After an exhausting, lengthy campaign you are knackered: all you want to do is sleep. But victory is victory, a win is a win. Triumphalism is not merely required, it is also energising. Which is the first thing Scottish Labour urgently need to do – celebrate, loud and long. The cost of reticence is clear: the losers parade themselves as winners. Voters see this as delusional, just like the whole separatist project. But you only make your opponent pay the price by sticking a defeat on them.

Secondly, and related, Scottish Labour need to define the victory. The White Paper was a work of fiction – perhaps the only government publication ever worthy of the Man Booker Prize – but was a manifesto too. Had the SNP won the referendum, they would have claimed a mandate for every jot and tittle of it. They lost. So Scottish Labour should be celebrating the rejection of the White Paper’s many madnesses.

I don’t just mean the evasions on currency, but the many more concrete proposals. The voters rejected unilateral disarmament and endorsed the nuclear deterrent: Scots have never favoured giving up nuclear weapons while other countries have them. They embraced welfare reform: Scottish voters have never favoured “something for nothing” welfare. Like most of the civilised world, they believe in rights and responsibilities.

It’s the same story with the ultra-leftist proposal to re-nationalise the Royal Mail. Put aside the fact that the SNP could never explain how a private company owned – as it would be after independence – in a foreign country could be compelled to break itself up. The fact is that the Bennism of confiscating private assets was decisively rejected, which didn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who had lived through the Eighties. There is no electoral victory available by moving to the Left of the Labour Party – the Bennites tested that theory to destruction in the Eighties, and the Lib Dems proved it again and again in 2005 and 2010.

This is the third critical point for Scottish Labour. The nation wants a social democratic government. But the SNP aren’t that by any stretch of the imagination. I admit they are in favour of redistribution, it’s just that they want the middle classes – those who have – to have more.

Free prescriptions? The old, the young and those on benefits never paid them in the first place. The SNP’s largesse was aimed at the well-off who could easily pay for prescriptions. Higher education? Yet another bonus for the winners of the education race. Live on a scheme in Glasgow and you only have a one in ten chance of getting to university. Live in Morningside and it’s an eight in ten chance. The SNP policy may as well be boiled down to this: “Are you middle class? Have you had every advantage in life? Great. Here’s a £400k lifetime earning bonus – and it’s free.”

Of course, it’s not free. It costs real money. The education budget is reduced elsewhere to pay for this nonsense. The cost comes – in the end – from child-care and early intervention, which is the one policy that all the evidence shows successfully tackles educational disadvantage. The SNP claim to be a left of centre party, so let that be the metric. What have they ever done to reduce inequality? Nothing. Scottish Labour needs to adopt the “Coke strategy” – if you want a social democratic party, you might as well vote for the real thing.

Finally, let’s just focus on the facts. Not just in terms of the gap between what the SNP say and what they do, but also in terms of their fantasy economics. The White Paper, and all the supporting material, assumed an oil price of $115 a barrel. The month since the referendum has seen a brutal re-assertion of reality – oil has fallen to $85 a barrel. In straightforward terms, this is a collapse of 25 per cent and would have been a huge hit to an independent Scotland, a loss of 5 per cent of GDP in a matter of weeks. Yet oil is only 1 per cent of UK revenue, so it’s a much more easily absorbable fall of 0.25 per cent in tax take.

But we are hearing none of these arguments at all. Why? Because the referendum losers are strutting around like victors and the winners look and sound like battered and bruised losers.

There’s an open goal. Scottish Labour need a striker. Desperately.