Monday, 15 August 2022

Not being very nice


There is nothing either new or surprising in Angela Rayner’s statement last week that “Leaving [England] to perpetual Conservatism at Westminster is not very nice”. It has long been Labour’s position that Scotland (and Wales come to that) has some sort of ‘duty’, out of a feeling of solidarity, to tolerate a Tory government (for which they didn’t vote) for 60% of the time, in order to prevent England having a Tory government (for which it did vote) 100% of the time. Her understanding of the electoral numbers is just plain wrong, of course – the occasions on which the difference between a Tory and a Labour government has depended on Scottish or Welsh results are actually very rare; Labour’s election victories at Westminster have almost always depended on them winning a majority of seats in England. The bigger problem is a voting system which allows a party to win a majority of seats with a minority of the votes, something which Labour continues to resist pressure to change, coupled with their desire for the sort of absolute power which becoming the largest party at Westminster wouldn’t give them unless they also have an overall majority. Their poor understanding of mathematics blinds them to the fact that their chances of having the absolute majority they crave would actually increase if Scotland no longer sent members to Westminster. The idea of having to accommodate any other views or parties is anathema to them – they would, apparently, prefer permanent opposition.

But even supposing that the commonly-held myth were true – that Labour needs to keep Scotland and Wales in the union in order to protect England from the Tories, her argument that abandoning England to the Tories is ‘not very nice’ can easily be stood on its head. It is equally ‘not very nice’ for a party which seems to believe (despite all the evidence to the contrary) that it cannot win in England to demand that Wales and Scotland should therefore tolerate, for most of the time, a Tory government which seeks to rip up and over-ride the devolution settlement in order to give Labour a better chance of an occasional victory at UK level. Apparently, not being very nice to Wales and Scotland is OK, just as long as no-one is ever not very nice to England.

There is a very strong argument for solidarity between nations and countries. It’s one which Labour’s founders and early pioneers would have understood instinctively, and perhaps some vague folk memory of that instinct drives her comments. But only an Anglo-British nationalist would argue that international solidarity somehow magically stops at the borders of the UK, which is what Labour’s words, policies and actions suggest. And only such a nationalist would argue that solidarity requires the compliance and obedience of small nations to meet the needs of the larger one with which they currently happen to share a state.

Any serious effort to maintain the union would start from a willingness to adopt a fair voting system as well as a written constitution which recognises that sovereignty belongs to the people rather than the Crown-in-Parliament, and which entrenches devolved power. None of those are policies which Labour seems to be willing to go anywhere near, which leaves them with the same default option as the Tories: just say no to the outcome of any democratic vote that they don’t like. What Rayner doesn’t seem to understand is that the desire for independence in Scotland (and to a lesser extent Wales) isn’t just driven by a wish to get rid of one party (the Tories) but by a wish to do things differently. The fact that Labour’s sole policy is ‘not being the Tories’ doesn’t mean that everyone else views the world through the same prism. A Labour party saying the same as the Tories is no ‘solution’ at all; it merely makes the problem worse.

1 comment:

dafis said...

Poor old Angela Her only redeeming feature is that she wears her working class credentials on her sleeve and any other bit of her that happens to be visible. Her capacity for seeing the bigger picture and drawing lessons for herself and her party is seriously limited. Instead of challenging Wales and Scotland to prop up her and her party she should be asking "what could the Labour party do for you ? Of course in its present mode the answer is likely to be "very little" and that would be evident within nanoseconds.However the party's present myopic state suggests that it will continue to be in the binary relationship with the Tories and offers no radical departure from the "Union first" stance so treasured by Londoncentric politics.