This is a piece I wrote for The Sunday Times 14:8:16
Two major British institutions confirmed last week, albeit subconsciously, they consider Scotland a separate country with its own distinct politics.
One was the BBC, the other the Labour party.i
There was no official announcement or statement from either. Rather it was everyday behaviour that reflects how people down south now view Scotland.
In Brexit: The Battle for Britain on BBC last Monday, Scotland was posted missing from the battle. Its absence was not some metropolitan oversight, but tacit acknowledgement Scotland had a fought a different battle with a different result and it was up to Scotland to analyse it.
Meanwhile Scotland’s irrelevance in the Labour leadership campaign, unthinkable five years ago, was encapsulated in a throwaway remark by Dave Anderson, shadow Scottish secretary (an English MP, if anyone needs reminding).
When asked about the next election Anderson said he did not rule out the possibility of a future coalition with the SNP. It echoed the call by Clive Lewis, Shadow Defence spokesperson, days earlier for a progressive alliance at Westminster with SNP, Greens and Lib Dems.
Neither was meant as a slap in the face to Scottish Labour, just it is the new reality at Westminster. Scotland’s gone, as far as Labour down south is concerned and it is not just the Corbyn wing of the party that sees it that way.
Where, then, lies the future of Scottish Labour and does it even have one in the UK?
The Holyrood elections three months ago suggest Labour is not yet irrelevant in Scotland, but it is a sideshow. When the Tories seized second billing they confronted head on the issue at the heart of Scottish politics, the constitution …. something Labour chose to ignore.
This was not a momentary aberration by Labour, but an existential problem it has been wrestling with since 1999.
Nobody ever believed devolution would kill nationalism stone dead, apart from maybe George Robertson, but it has evolved more rapidly than even nationalists could have hoped – leaving Scottish Labour now an endangered if not extinct species.
But the party is doomed if it doesn’t sit up, grab the constitution by the throat and wring a coherent policy out of it – be it federalism, Home Rule or perhaps more realistically, independence itself.
Not only must it send a clear message to the electorate , but it must take the initiative rather than feebly react to events. It cannot remain in denial and must be prepared for all eventualities such as independence or even the party splitting.
Labour is in crisis across the UK because it lost its ability to rethink ideas and thrash out some intellectual foundation for its policy agenda as the New Labour era withered away.
In Scotland this has been compounded byt the inability to have a coherent response to devolution and nationalism. The last leader to try was Wendy Alexander with the Calman commission and when she spooked the SNP with her Bring It On referendum challenge in 2008 only to be shut down by clunking fist of Gordon Brown. Since then there has been nothing.
Now the most powerful argument for independence for those on the left – the democratic deficit – has been turbo-charged by the Brexit result.
It was Scottish Labour who first cited the notion of the “democratic deficit” to challenge the legitimacy of the Thatcher government in Scotland in the 1980s.
This was an argument many could empathise with during the 2014 referendum campaign, yet still retain a residual loyalty and solidarity to UK Labour.
But since Brexit all bets are off, not just for myself but many Labour supporters. The democratic deficit now takes pre-eminence as such a profound political decision with historic consequences for Scotland rested on the gamble of a vain and wreckless prime minister trying to assuage the far right of his party and bolster his own position. Such legitimacy must be challenged.
It was a referendum no one but some Tories and UKIP wanted.
As we move into unchartered territory some in Scottish Labour realise it would be in a healthier position today if it had been an autonomous sister-party to UK Labour since devolution. free to steer its own course.
The control freakery of Blair, Brown and Westminster would never countenance such autonomy which only enhanced the damning perception of Labour at Holyrood as a junior partner.
But now under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership Labour in Scotland has been set free to operate as it sees fit. So far the party has failed to seize the opportunity in a credible manner as it continues to be overtaken by events.
But now some senior figures such as former first minister Henry McLeish, deputy leader Alex Rowley, David Martin MEP and Dave Watson of Unison all acknowledged to varying degrees that Scottish Labour cannot afford to oppose the call for a second referendum or the prospect of independence.
When I worked with former Labour leader Iain Gray, one of his favourite quotes was Maynard Keynes. “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
Scottish Labour cannot afford to do nothing. It must embrace radical change.