A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to write 300 words for Better Together on why I am voting “No Thanks.”
Of course I accepted the invitation with alacrity, and found it an excellent opportunity to organise my thoughts, both as social democrat and as a No voter. This is what I wrote:
I am voting “No Thanks” because I am a lifelong Labour voter and member, and a supporter of social democracy.
The social part of No is our central belief that “by the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more than we achieve alone.”
So we believe that social and economic progress for working people is made through trade unions at work and electing Labour MPs.
Every time Labour has been in power, the tide of social progress has risen and has stayed higher. Labour has transformed the lives of working people in Britain, through the Welfare State and the NHS, equal pay for women and equal rights legislation, the National Minimum Wage, Pension Credit, and in many other ways, including the legal right to trade union representation.
We believe that these rights are so important that we should be fighting for them not just in Scotland, but for all working people throughout the UK.
One democratic part of No is to see that for decades, those opposed to independence have been more than 6 out of 10, while those in favour have rarely exceeded 4 in 10 – the majority of Scots do not want independence
The other democratic part of No is recognition that Labour has achieved much more than any other party in modern times in extending democracy.
In Scotland this means Holyrood managing Scotland’s home affairs, with full control of our health service, education and training, economic development and social care services. And when it comes to reserved powers (like defence and financial policy), Scotland’s MPs are at Westminster, representing the views and concerns of their constituents.
A No vote is a vote against weakening the UK Labour movement in politics and the workplace; it is also a vote which supports the long-term wishes of the Scottish people, and makes sure that their voice is heard.
A No vote is social, and it is democratic. A No vote is a Labour vote.
There are just a few things that I would add to that statement.
The Labour Party is quite rightly very undemanding in its ideological requirements. The only requirement of Labour seems to be acceptance of the statement on the back of our membership card: the part about “by the strength of our common endeavour.”
In the independence referendum, this means the common endeavour across the UK of workers in trade unions, party members in CLPs, councillors elected by their communities, and MSPs, MPs and MEPs representing their constituencies in their respective parliaments. We are nothing if our task is not to make our people’s collective voices heard in the workplace, in council chambers and at Holyrood, Westminster and in Brussels. That is what the Labour Party was founded to do as its historic purpose.
Scottish independence would destroy the collective voice of the British Labour movement and arbitrarily divide those people between those who by accident or intent live in the northern part of Britain and those who live further south.
In both parts of the divided island, Scottish independence would weaken the voice of trade unionists at a time when they need more protection. It would divide the councils of the great cities of the UK from each other, just when they need to come together to shape the municipal agenda for the coming century.
Independence would withdraw the voice of Scotland’s most vulnerable communities from Westminster. Never again would a John Wheatley introduce council housing, or a James Maxton rail against mass unemployment and depression, or a Bruce Millan pioneer urban regeneration or a Gordon Brown legislate for the National Minimum Wage.
Scottish independence, by emphasising differences rather than what we have in common, would encourage and strengthen nationalism itself, including UKIP in the UK. In Europe, it would encourage secessionist movements when more solidarity, not less, is needed.
There is siren voice which says that a Yes vote will bring about the aims which we hold dear: but this is a sham. The illusion is summed up above all by the nationalists’ plans for Trident. These are not the difficult, ambitious aim of negotiating with others to achieve multilateral disarmament, or even the more limited goal of unilateral disarmament, but simply to move Trident down the coast a bit.
The same applies to promises of greater equality, higher wages, better public services and pensions, all apparently to be achieved at a stroke, but with no credible financial plans to make them possible. No serious person can honestly believe in a prospectus based on such flimsy foundations.
In contrast, anyone in the Labour Party who has fought an election or other campaign, or faced an angry boss, or held office knows that sustainable and radical progress is hard won. And because our aims are hard to achieve, they are worth fighting for all of our people, regardless of which side of the Tweed they have fetched up.
So we need solidarity and determination: as the African proverb says: “if you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together.”
A Yes vote for Scottish independence is a vote to travel alone. It is a vote against social democracy, and against the interests of the Labour movement, and a vote against those who depend on the strength that comes from unity.
In contrast, a No vote – as I say in my statement – is a vote to travel together. It is the social vote, and the democratic vote. It is the Labour vote.