This is our truth, tell us yours
Jem brilliantly covered the impending great divorce between England and Scotland on Sunday.
In the comments Sula thoughtfully adds the idea that as residents of England we must fear that without Scotland, Labour will never have a majority at the rump of Westminster. It’s a common meme, based on some shonky psephology and a reductive approach to politics that says that, if Scotland achieves independence, nothing will ever be the same again.
For those of us on the left, in England, in fact, the Labour party, post independence, would never be the same again, and huge opportunities would open up in front of us.
Imagine what the Parliamentary Party would look like without the socially conservative bloc of Scottish Labour MPs, priest and minister ridden and all too willing to kow tow to the worst tabloid instincts of a nation of small towns. It’s a long time since Scottish Labour sent Jennie Lee to parliament, and judging by the likes of Jim Murphy it would be a long wait for anyone of broad mind or creative instincts to rise to the top of the Scottish slippery pole. The sectarianism of Scottish politics all too often means that those who get selected are seen as representative not of a stream of political thought but their religion. (The key point about this article, for instance, is not who’s right or wrong but the fact that it had to be written.)
So the first lesson for Labour, post independence, is that it would be a different parliamentary party post independence. Structurally it would have to confront its new reality, as well. Labour is a highly centralized party, its regional operations zealously policed by London. The tensions in the devolved areas have already been apparent; post independence Scottish Labour would have to invent its own structures and operational teams, reduced as it would be to a member, perhaps, of a looser federation with Labour in London. The knock on effects in Cardiff would be immense, and we might see, at last, the long overdue introduction of a genuine Labour presence in the politics of the Six Counties.
For those of us who feel that the homogeneity of new Labour was a weakness, not a strength, the chance to imagine a future where Labour was once more a coalition of ideologies rather than a behemoth of spin devoted only to winning elections by pursuing the lowest common denominator opens up the possibility that once more the socialist societies and the fringe groups, the Co-op Party and yes, possibly even a reborn ILP might start to shape and change the environment for the left, and create a new arena for debate beyond the reach of think tanks and professional policy wonks.
I’ve been through messy divorces and breakups, and I’ve seen a few more. The key is not to focus on who you were, who was to blame or who gets the CDs, but on who you will be. For Labour the great divorce can be a tragedy beyond recovery, or a Shirley Valentine moment in which a new Labour party is re-invented that remembers who it was, and who it wishes it had become.