Under the Butcher’s Apron: the Scottish Labour right’s embrace of British nationalism

Former Airdrie and Shotts MP Pamela Nash with current Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray, who was the only Labour MP in Scotland from 2015 to 2017

By Ann Field

In 2014 the Scottish Labour Party (SLP) right wing virtually destroyed Labour in Scotland by allying with the Tories in ‘Better Together’. Now, in 2019, they’re back for a repeat performance.

The 2014 class collaboration with the Tories resulted in: the loss of 40 out of 41 Westminster seats in 2015; the loss of 13 Holyrood seats in 2016, leaving Labour a poor third behind the Tories; and the loss of a raft of council seats and control of Glasgow City Council in 2017.

The fact that it now turns out that a majority of Tory Party members are happy to see the break-up of Britain in order to achieve Brexit reveals the right-wing architects of ‘Better Together’ to be even more stupid than we already knew them to be.

With an imminent general election now a real possibility, the SLP right wing has swung into action to throw Labour’s electoral prospects in Scotland under a bus.

In an interview at the Edinburgh Festival last week John McDonnell made the perfectly sensible and perfectly pro-democracy statement that if it was clear that there was majority support in Scotland for a second indyref, then Labour in Westminster would not oppose it.

McDonnell did not say that Labour wanted a second indyref. Nor did he say that Labour would campaign for an independent Scotland.

But the response of the right-wing SLP Westminster candidates was rabid.

Led by Kate Watson (former ‘Better Together’ Chief of Operations, and specialist reserve officer in the British Army’s 77th Brigade) and Martin McCluskey (former ‘Better Together’ employee), they set up a new App for SLP Westminster candidates, excluding candidates who they knew would not agree with them.

The upshot was a public statement signed by a less-than-impressive dozen candidates which began by boasting about Labour’s suicidal involvement in ‘Better Together’: “In 2014 Labour led the campaign to keep the United Kingdom together.”

Instead of moving on from the disaster of ‘Better Together’, the statement pushed it back centre stage. Instead of focusing on Labour’s economic and social policies, the statement pushed identity politics back to the forefront.

The statement moved on to attack the Labour Party (brilliant tactics on the eve of a possible general election!): “Since then our party has too often sounded like we do not know where we stand on this issue.”

It concluded by stressing the signatories’ opposition to a second indyref (which McDonnell had not advocated anyway), support for the UK staying in the EU (so: some repeat referendum are okay), and the stirring statement: “We do not believe that the answer to nationalism is more nationalism.”

But the statement itself is the embodiment of British nationalism.

The statement’s sub-text, made explicit at a meeting of SLP Westminster candidates later in the week, is that the Westminster Parliament must have a right of veto over the staging of a second indyref, and that veto should be a Labour Party election manifesto commitment.

As a matter of principle, this is wrong. Scotland’s right to self-determination includes the right to decide (through a vote in the Scottish Parliament) if or when to stage a second indyref – without the all-UK Parliament having to grant approval.

As a matter of pragmatism, the statement is even worse. Its anti-democratic substance is a gift to the SNP, and it will do nothing to win support from Tory voters (who will never see the Labour as the true custodians of defence of the Union – because we’re not).

One argument advanced in support of Westminster having a ‘right’ to veto the staging of a second indyref is that independence for Scotland would impact on the UK as a whole, and the Westminster Parliament ‘must’ therefore be involved.

But the break-up of the British Empire also impacted on the UK. That did not mean that the colonies of British imperialism had no right to declare independence without Westminster’s permission. And exercising a veto is rather more than mere ‘involvement’.

The right wing’s statement was issued in a week when a Lord Ashcroft opinion poll found that 47pc of Scottish voters want a second indyref before 2021, and 52pc of those with a definite opinion would vote for independence.

Of course, the usual caveats to the findings of any opinion poll apply. But the poll certainly indicates that opinion in Scotland about a second indyref and independence is pretty evenly divided around 50/50.

This underlines the politically criminal nature of the SLP right wing’s statement.

The gist of an adequate response to such polling is: “If a majority of Scots want a second indyref and independence, we respect that. But what we advocate as an alternative is a radical Labour government which delivers for working people in Scotland and the rest of the UK.”

But the gist of the SLP right-wing response is: “Around half of you people out there want a second indyref and independence. Well, vote for us and we’ll make sure that you get neither.”

The statement is further evidence of the monumental stupidity of the SLP right wing and how out of touch they are with reality.

In recent months their line has been: ‘The SNP don’t want a second indyref because they know they would lose’ and ‘I’ve been knocking lots of doors and I’ve not found anyone who wants a second indyref’.

They must have been knocking the wrong doors.

It’s a real pity that so few of the SLP’s Westminster candidates are socialists (of any sort) rather than British nationalists and British Army officers who prefer to stand for election under the Butcher’s Apron rather than on the basis of left-wing policies.

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