Things Can Only Get Better

8 May 2008

Mike Small (Fife, Bella Caledonia): Scottish Labour seem to have missed something pretty key: the SNP are now the Scottish Government. This level of denial and incompetence has led them to come up with a suicidal policy switch - and Wendy Alexander and co. are now backing a referendum on independence. But the Scottish Government will decide the term, timing and process of the now inevitable referendum vote, whatever Labour thinks.

Alexander's announcement that she and her immediate colleagues have completely changed their public position on a referendum on independence is not only a catastrophic mistake in political strategy, it also one that has been implemented in a hopelessly inept manner. The decision was clearly not made in communication with her Scottish Labour MSPs, her colleagues in the Calman Commission or her Cabinet members at a UK level.

However, this is not to say Alexander is making things up as she goes along. It was only the manner that this announcement came out in that gave that impression; disjointed, ad hoc and generally all over the place. Several key Scottish bloggers (e.g. The Scottish Patient) had this story at the time, while the rest of the media ignored it, but at the Apex Hotel in Edinburgh, when she launched her leadership in September she hinted at how she might be prepared to call Salmond's bluff. "There will be a referendum in 2010," she told the delegates.

Will it work? As Ewan Crawford writes in the Guardian:

The SNP believes that a referendum in 2010 offers perhaps the best possible prospect for a "yes" vote. At present, opinion polls are fluid. What seems clear from the polls is that the preferred current option for most Scots is a parliament with greater powers - for example over tax and benefits - but within the UK. But crucially, when the option of greater powers is removed, the polls show virtually an even split for and against independence. Oddly, Alexander wants the referendum to be on the straight yes/no question, which dramatically increases independence support.

Crucially also, and perhaps understandable of a party that has been so embedded in Scottish culture for decades, the Labour Party confuses itself with The Scottish People. They assume their hatred of the SNP is reflective of the general will. The reality is that many people - who in no way would have described themselves as nationalists or supporters of independence (not always the same thing) - have been quietly but deeply impressed by Salmond's administration. In equal measure many have been dismayed by Brown at a UK and Alexander at a Holyrood level. Add to this the dreaded prospect of another Tory Government waiting in the wings under Cameron, and I believe Scotland would - will - vote "yes," and become independent.

One commenter on the Guardian site summed up what many are feeling today:

Financially Scotland would really be no better or worse off out of the UK. Politically though, it would no longer be dominated by the English right, we would no longer have to keep nuclear weapons in our country, we would no longer see our friends and family members in the armed forces packed off to the Middle East to do the dirty work of the American neo-cons and big business and above all we would no longer need to listen John bloody Motson during the World Cup. I will be voting "yes".

It may not be rational, economically tested or level-headed but it does I believe sum up the predominant mood. As a friend of mine said to me this morning over the top of the morning paper - things can only get better.

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