Sunday 3 May 2015

It’s hatred of Tories that is destroying Labour in Scotland

I used to have a Conservative MP. It’s hard to believe now, but there used to lots of Conservative MPs in Scotland. Elections in Scotland used to be much the same as elections in other parts of the UK. Sometimes Labour would do rather better, sometimes the Conservatives. The Liberals had a few seats and by the 1970s so did the SNP, but the electoral map of Scotland was overwhelmingly either blue or red. What changed this?  It was the long period of Conservative government from 1979 to 1997.
In Scotland there is one insult worse than all others. It’s the word ‘Tory’. Britain went through great changes in the 1980s. This was especially the case in the industrial areas of the North of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Change was no doubt necessary. There was a lot of industry that simply was not making a profit. But great suffering was caused by the changes that took place. In Scotland it has led to a lasting resentment. Thatcher is now viewed like Cromwell in Ireland.

Faced with continual Conservative Government, people on the left in Scotland decided to gang up on the Tories. There was a twofold plan. Everyone voted tactically against Conservative candidates in an attempt to get their numbers down as low as possible. Labour people voted in this way, so did Lib Dems and so did the SNP. The plan succeeded magnificently. The Conservatives ended up in one election with no seats and now have only one.  They were once the dominant party in much of Scotland, but they were effectively wiped out. Lots of people still voted Conservative of course, but when your party is hated and ganged up on, it is fairly hard to win many seats. The other part of the plan was the Scottish Assembly. This would mean that even if the other parts of the UK voted Conservative, Scotland to at least a great extent would still be ruled by the left. There would of course, always be a permanent Labour/Lib Dem majority in the Scottish Assembly.

It was a very cunning plan. I remember the delight at the time of those who had come up with it. Not only had they wiped out the Conservatives in Scotland, not only had they made an assembly that would always have a Labour/Lib Dem majority, they had done what was necessary to stop the rise of nationalism in Scotland. The SNP would never have any power. They would be crushed by the Scottish Assembly.

The hatred of Tories continued in Scotland even when Tony Blair created New Labour, which implicitly accepted that much of what had been done between 1979 and 1997 had been necessary. Labour’s process of modernisation from Kinnock through Smith to Blair was necessary in order that Labour would have a chance of winning elections in the modern world.  Economics has often been seen as Labour’s Achilles’ heel. One reason the Conservatives were in power for so long was memories of 1979. It was this process of modernisation which again enabled Labour to put forward a credible economic plan in 1997. It’s what got them elected. For a time that plan worked well. In the early years the UK economy did well under Blair and Brown. But again in 2008 the UK economy faced a crisis. This time it was far worse than 1979. It wouldn’t have mattered which party had been in power in 2008, there still would have been a catastrophe. Alistair Darling handled the catastrophe as well as anyone could. Nevertheless, it was primarily because of the economic crisis that Labour lost in 2010. This meant that Labour in opposition had, once more, to put forward a credible economic plan in order to become electable. This is how sensible parties respond to defeat at the polls.

The trouble is that in Scotland throughout the time since 1997 and the beginning of the Blair government the hatred of Tories has continued unabated. But now it has become the hatred of the economic consensus held by Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems that Britain must live within its means. Labour are now called Red Tories in Scotland, while the Lib Dems are yellow Tories.

The destruction of the Conservative party in Scotland and the hatred of Tories is directly responsible for the rise of the SNP. It is because Tories rule in Westminster that SNP supporters hate Westminster. It is because Tories rule Britain that Nationalists hate Britain. But it is because Labour modernised and accepted that there is an economic consensus shared by all mainstream parties that Labour is hated in Scotland, too. Because Labour no longer wants to overthrow capitalism, they are Tories.

The trouble with the Labour party’s strategy in Scotland is that it rebounds on them. They still campaign as the hate the Tory party. But they are immediately faced with the problem that if they hate the Tories so much, why do they more or less share Tory economic assumptions? Labour economics since 1997 are real world modern economics that have a chance of leading Britain to prosperity. They are economics that have a good chance of leading us to a balanced budget soon. They are sensible economics that will give us growth as well as a chance of making life a little fairer for everyone. But they are not socialism. Labour has become a social democratic party and for this reason Labour has a chance of ruling in a modern globalised Europe where social democratic parties frequently oversee economic success stories. But the nationalists in Scotland just see the Labour party taking on the Conservative party’s clothes.

By creating a bogeyman called the Tory, the left in Scotland has sowed the seeds for its own destruction.  It was wiping out the Conservatives in Scotland which legitimised the SNP narrative that Scotland voted fundamentally differently from the UK. It is the blind hatred of the Tories that is behind the hatred of Westminster and any Westminster party. The Scottish Assembly/Parliament far from nullifying nationalism has fuelled it. But still Labour campaigns in Scotland as the Tory hating party. It still tries to appease the nationalists. But all of this is simply turned back on Labour. The SNP pretend that they are Old Labour, the Labour of your youth. Labour can either try to outflank them on the left which would make them unelectable elsewhere or continue on the sensible moderate line which is making them unelectable in Scotland. It’s the fact that Labour has credible economic policies that is turning them into Red Tories in the eyes of the nationalists.

Finally, we must all learn the lesson of the past twenty years. Don’t work with nationalists. They will destroy you. Don’t appease or make concessions to nationalism, it will only increase. Labour’s greatest enemy in Scotland is the SNP. The only defence is not to work with them in any way.  The SNP also have the power to destroy Labour in the rest of the UK. A Labour government that helps the UK economy to recover still further over the next 5 years while making life a little fairer for everyone will do wonders for Labour reputation of handling the economy. On the other hand working with the SNP will create another 1979 or another 2008. Don’t let the SNP wreck Labour's economic reputation by demanding ever more spending that we can’t afford.  By all means disagree with Conservatives, but, above all, change the record. It is the hatred of Tories in Scotland that is destroying Labour.

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