Labour need to remember the basic rules of courtship if they are to woo the SNP

Corbyn Sturgeon

Scotland's First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon talks with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (second left) during an event to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme in July 2016. Labour may well think the SNP would be honoured by an alliance, but if so, it's mistaken

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Labour party's attitude to a progressive alliance with the SNP is very much like Mr Darcy's love for Elizabeth Bennett. It is, really. The brooding Austen hero became so preoccupied with the back-and-forth inside his head over whether he could bear the shame of having common-as-muck Elizabeth as a wife that he overlooked the obvious question - why would she even want to marry someone who thought of her with such contempt? 

In much the same way, the SNP have been looking on with utter bemusement as Labour divides into warring factions on the question of whether the evil, filthy separatists should be allowed the supreme honour - which they've so far given no indication of actually wanting - of sitting around the same table as the People's Party.

For the avoidance of doubt, Labour are assured of receiving a humiliating Elizabeth-style response if the sheer pleasure of their company is all that's on offer when they finally get around to popping the question.  But contrary to the belief of some London commentators, it's not actually true that Labour have nothing to give the SNP.  There's nothing that wouldn't be extremely painful to offer, but that's a different matter. 

Most obviously, they could promise that any incoming Labour-led government would permanently and unambiguously transfer the power to hold an independence referendum to the Scottish Parliament.  Some legal experts take the view that Holyrood already has the power to call a consultative referendum, but the SNP would doubtless jump at the chance of ending the ambiguity and heading off threats of a challenge in the courts. 

Or Labour could clear their throats awkwardly, and drop the pretence that Scotland has already been furnished with “the most powerful devolved parliament in the world”.  The opportunity to actually make good on that rhetoric, with something approaching genuine Devo Max, would bound to be a temptation for the SNP.  It would take them a huge leap towards where they want to be, while avoiding all of the risks of a second referendum defeat.

Aha, comes the objection from the London commentariat, this means that the price Labour would have to pay for a progressive alliance would not only be painful, but would be completely self-defeating. As soon as Scotland becomes independent, the SNP will no longer have dozens of seats at Westminster to bring to the table, which will leave Labour even further away from power than they currently are. But this misses the point. Neither the power to hold an independence referendum, nor Devo Max, is the same thing as independence. 

It really boils down to a simple question – do Labour actually believe their own propaganda about Scotland having a pro-UK “settled will”?  If they do, there’s no reason for them to be so scared of their own shadow.

It’s doubtful whether Labour can meaningfully shun a progressive alliance anyway. We saw at last year’s general election that the public were quite capable of doing their own sums and recognising that Ed Miliband’s only path to power was with a majority dependent on the SNP. Labour took the punishment for the prospective alliance without any of the potential benefits. At least if they were to make the SNP an offer next time around, the electorate south of the border would see that the concessions had their limits, and there wouldn’t be quite so many gaps left for tabloid-driven paranoia to fill.

It’s remarkable that it’s the Corbynite UK leadership that has apparently grasped this elementary logic, whereas the Scottish party – still dominated by the Blairite/Brownite tendency who supposedly inhabit the ‘real world’ and know how to make ‘tough choices’ – are stuck in a realm of denial where SNP landslides are just a passing fad. 

The supreme irony is that whichever side of the argument wins out, the biggest legacy of the proposed alliance could be the long-overdue breach in the umbilical cord between Scottish Labour and London HQ. If so, that’ll only happen because the Scottish party were a little more right-wing, and understood the new Scotland just a little less well, than their London colleagues. Now there’s a plot twist to rival the melting of Elizabeth Bennett’s heart.

James Kelly writes the pro-independence blog 'Scot Goes Pop!', voted one of Scotland's top ten political websites. Visit the blog by clicking here.