Scottish Labour Party Conference 2014

By Stephen Low

All politics in Scotland at the moment is viewed through the prism of the referendum on independence. So despite the only formal session on the constitutional question being a short debate on Saturday morning, September the 18th hung over every session , every debate and most of the contributions.

Finally, after squandering much political capital and credibility by immersion in a joint campaign, labelled “Better Together” with the Tories and Lib Dems, Scottish Labour is raising its own flag in the independence debate.  Better Together has focussed on being a patriotic campaign, and because unsurprisingly, there is no agreement on what a future Scotland can look like, can offer only knocking copy about Independence not a vision of the future.

This has changed with Labour bringing forward it’s own proposals for further devolution. Entitled “Powers for a purpose” the report of the Devolution Commission established by Scottish Conference last year was welcomed by conference this year.  This envisages, amongst other things, further tax raising powers for Holyrood and proposals for devolving power down from the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh to local Government and communities.

More significantly the attacks on the SNP and nationalism were  based far morein concepts of class and solidarity than in a British patriotism. The SNP track record and proposals were subjected to scrutiny – both as failings in the present and disturbing portents of the future under independence. The ( self described) left of centre SNP- have welcomed all of George Osborne’s Corporation Tax Cuts and in “Scotland’s future”  the Scottish Government’s‘White Paper on Independence” describes further corporation tax cuts as “a priority” four times. It also mentions post independence, scots will still be able to watch Eastenders three times. Tackling child poverty in contrast is mentioned twice.

Recent events in the Scottish Parliament aided matters considerably. During the passage of a bill on public procurement the SNP have voted down Labour amendments; to make the living wage part of every public contract, and ban companies who engage in blacklisting or aggressive tax avoidance from receiving public money.  

The illusory nature of the Independence offered by the SNP was the main theme of Ed Miliband’s speech to conference, as well as highlighting Labour plans to increase tax on the richest and freeze power bills (both opposed by the SNP ) he pointed to the irony of a seeking to set up a separate state on the basis that you were going to set yur tax rates on the basis of what the country you are leaving does. There are several ways to describe this. Independence isn’t one of them.

Whilst the SNP more and more resemble new labour in a kilt – the Scottish Labour Party is now opposing them not assome sort of ‘Voice of North Britain’ but as the representative of communities and trade unions, pitting arguments based on class against the friends of big business and their definition of the ‘national interest’. Whether this is sufficient we’ll know on Sept 19th.