British Labour Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner’s remarks about Scotland as reported in The National (Scottish independence ‘not very nice’ and means ‘perpetual’ Tory rule) raise some highly relevant and very significant issues. It is unfortunate that she herself seems quite oblivious to this relevance and significance. I see nothing to suggest that she has given the matter of Scotland’s constitutional status more than a moment’s thought. Her comments seem unconsidered to the point of appearing flippant. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising. After all, she is merely reflecting the attitude of most if not all British politicians.
Let us not be as shallow as Ms Rayner. Let’s examine the points she raises. Let’s do the thinking she apparently didn’t consider a worthwhile effort. As ever, I have questions.
Isn’t “perpetual Tory rule” the reality of the British state? Was it not the reality even in the days when Scotland sent British Labour MPs to Westminster in the kind of numbers we now return SNP candidates? When was the last time voters in Scotland had any meaningful influence in a UK general election?
Why would we vote for British Labour when on the most important issue facing Scotland, they are indistinguishable from the Tories? Why would we vote for a party that has no more respect for the democratically expressed will of Scotland’s people than any of the British parties?
By what reasoning does Scotland come to have a responsibility to ‘rescue’ England’s electors from the consequences of their own democratic choices? How much is Scotland expected to sacrifice in order to do this?
The fact is that the fundamental purpose of the Union was from its inception to ensure that Scotland has no meaningful influence in the British state. That purpose hasn’t changed. UK governments are chosen by the voters of England-as-Britain. Actually, by a relatively tiny proportion of those voters. Votes cast in Scotland only count if they are matched by a similar number of votes in England. The EU referendum made this abundantly clear. But Angela Rayner seems not to have learned the lesson. The only Scottish votes that have ever even registered on the British political system are votes for the SNP. The lesson that voters in Scotland have learned is that if they want to be noticed then they should never vote for any of the British parties. Even those who bemoan the ineffectuality of those SNP MPs would have to concede that at least we can tell they’re there. When we sent British Labour MPs, they seemed to just disappear ─ merging into the mass of British MPs in the British parliament.
The British state is a Tory state. It may be possibly to vote the Tories out of office, but it is not possible to vote them out of power. The British establishment is Tory. England-as-Britain is Tory. This doesn’t change with the election of a British Labour government. The trend since the middle of the last century has been relentlessly towards an effective one-party state. As the Tory’s grip on power has grown more secure, so the party itself has moved further to the right. The term ‘Tory’ doesn’t only refer to a political party. It refers to the dominant political culture in England-as-Britain ─ and therefore the culture imposed on the whole of the UK.
Electing a British Labour government does nothing to alter or even challenge this dominant culture because British Labour is only electable as a government to the extent that it accords with that culture. Only by being ‘Toryish’ can British Labour be elected in England-as-Britian. The election of a majority of British Labour MPs ─ if that is even imaginable now ─ does not signal change. It signals only a further triumph for the dominant political culture.
British Labour’s main purpose within this dominant Tory political culture is to absorb the votes that might otherwise go to parties which threaten that culture. Or parties that are perceived by the British ruling elites to pose a potential threat to the dominant Tory political culture. Look at Sir Keir Starmer! He is the British Labour Leader Tory voters would have chosen! Look at what happened to Jeremy Corbyn because he is anathema to Tory voters! The Tories have it totally sewn up!
Whatever else may be said of the SNP, it has been the only fly in the Tory ointment in recent decades. Not because the party is particularly left wing. Because the SNP is not part of the British political system. It has not been assimilated into the Tory British state to anything like the extent that British Labour has. With the possible exception of Pete Wishart.
Angela Rayner would have us give that up. The only thing that stands between us and the eradication of Scotland’s political distinctiveness is the SNP. Given the party’s performance over the last few years that is hardly a comforting thought. But if we lose what we have then we are left with nothing. And no way back. That is what Angela Rayner and her ilk are asking of Scotland. They are asking (demanding?) that we forfeit our sovereignty and our identity as a nation and our aspiration to be better. And for what? Not to defeat the Tories. Not to bring about meaningful change. Solely for the interests of a party which is effectively no different from the Tories we want to get rid of.
The only way to break the grip of the Tories is to break the British state. If British Labour was a truly radical party, that is what it would be seeking to do. If the Scottish National Party was doing what we elected it to do, breaking the British state would be its mission.
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