KEIR Starmer has provided a guiding star for Scottish voters with a speech setting out Labour’s stance on the big constitutional issue – Indy ref 2.
Following Brexit, the question of Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom will take on extra importance.
This week, Starmer looked to get ahead of the coming crisis with a speech designed to cut through well entrenched arguments on both sides.
But closing in on a year into his leadership, Sir Keir has so far been light on policy details or even broad strokes when it comes to changing Britain.
The problem is this – nobody knows what vision Starmer the Prime Minister would seek to bring into being.
He has committed Labour to a new political settlement via his constitutional commission – one with new local powers but an unclear commitment to radical changes to the economic status quo.
Over the previous months Labour has barely landed a blow on economy, with soft-left shadow chancellor Annalise Dodds boxed in by a popular Chancellor in Rishi Sunak.
Wealth redistribution was hinted at in Starmer’s address – though the means to achieve it remains unclear with tax rises and a wealth tax out of favour with the new Labour leadership.
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On a roll after ditching his previously earnest support for a re-run of the European referendum, Starmer has now firmly set out Labour’s opposition to a second vote on Scottish independence.
Rejecting Indy Ref 2 unequivocally, Starmer suggested in his remarks that “no responsible Prime Minister would grant one” to the Scottish people.
This sentiment at best is tone deaf to the popular feeling in Scotland and at worst stinks of the blinkered Westminster vision that has seen support for independence rocket.
Consistent polling has laid out much of Labour’s own base now support Scotland having a second say on seperation.
Given the evidence, a much sounder course would be to grant Scotland it’s right to decide, and use the subsequent debate to unpick what a fully sovereign Scottish parliament would be able to deliver.
Falling short of the democratic mandate a SNP/Green majority could press in the next Holyrood assembly will have dire consequences for Labour north of the border.
As Tommy Kane, a the former senior political advisor to LOTO on Scotland put it in a recent Tribune article: “To reject a referendum outright and on principle, when so many of the people we need to vote for us see it as a democratic right, is a mistake that is likely to cost the party dearly.”
The language Starmer used was clearly slated toward disaffected unionist supporters, the use of words like ‘separatists’ heavily land the speaker on one side of the divide one few SNP voters will feel like crossing.
For Starmer’s intervention to work it must win people back, to this Labour needs to learn from consequences of trying to stop Brexit.
Like on the European questions, Labour cannot once again go to the people with the message that the party not them know what is best.
Labour needs to recognise what is broken, and those in charge of the party now must reflect on New Labour role in breaking the party’s once solid base.
In terms of what can be done to fix it, Starmer would be wrong-headed not to pick up from his predecessor something he seems to have a severe immune response to doing.
Jeremy Corbyn’s did order review looking into the idea of more powers for Scotland as part of a wider redrawing of powers across Britain after Brexit.
Published during the final run in of the 2019 election, the review is rightly seen as a worthy and thorough analysis to the constitutional debate in Scotland.
A copy or two will likely still be knocking about in Labour HQ, should one find its way into the leader’s office, Starmer would to well embrace it’s lessons – after all Christmas is the season of goodwill.
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