It’s happening. Nicola Sturgeon has announced her plan to hold a 2nd Scottish independence referendum just less than three years after the majority of the people in Scotland voted ‘No’ to independence.
If Sturgeon loses, will the referendum be repeated again? The last vote was ‘once in a lifetime’, but a second independence referendum will still be going ahead. Will there be #Indyref3 if the advocates for independence lose? #Indyref4? #Indyref5? And how can the SNP promise to remain in the European Union despite the fact that Spain could veto their membership due to the Catalonian and Basque Country circumstances? There are many problems that arise from this. However, this piece won’t be about the problems of independence, but what Labour should stand for during the campaign.
Whilst the SNP want independence at all costs and the Conservatives won’t offer more powers to Scotland, Labour need to take this golden opportunity to advocate a federal model for the United Kingdom: a new Act of Union.
A federal United Kingdom would aim to give powers to the regions and nations across the union. Why should this be done? Because a federal system would bring citizens closer to the decisions that affect their lives. Nye Bevan said ‘the purpose of winning power is to be able to give it away’, and this is what Labour should be advocating – allowing the people of Scotland and other regions / nations across the UK to have more control over their own lives.
A federal Britain would not only give greater powers to Scotland, but it would keep Scotland within the United Kingdom – it is a necessary position that will address the concerns of the people of Scotland and save the union. A federal system could be the middle way.
Although some may argue that standing in the middle of the road will mean you get run over, I believe this is the only position that Labour can take. What we have learned from the last two major referenda (including the first independence referendum) is that we cannot argue for the status quo as we know it. People across the United Kingdom are demanding genuine change as they feel politics is not working for them. In 2014, 45% of the people in Scotland were happy to break away from the United Kingdom as they thought independence would give them they change they wanted.
The phrase ‘Take Back Control’ was extremely powerful during the EU referendum. People want control over their own lives and the right to self-determination. It should be for the unionist left to claim this for ourselves: a federal model would offer radical change to the people in Scotland, giving them full autonomy and complete power over their lives whilst remaining part of the United Kingdom.
What Labour need to do is make the case for autonomy without abandoning our commitment to the union. We need to be clear that being part of the UK allows for the redistribution of wealth across our union, and the fact is that independence would mean that Scotland being part of this redistributive system would end. Britain’s role is also to provide stability during unstable times – this is what the union can do in the post-Brexit reality we live in, as the UK can help fund Scottish public spending (currently £1,600 higher per head than the UK average) and can fill the £15 billion black hole in public spending plans due to the collapse of North Sea oil revenues.
This is not just about keeping the union together, but showing what a Labour government would do to help Scotland and regain trust from voters who previously voted Labour that now vote SNP or the Scottish Tories.
We need to say that a federal UK under a Labour government would give full power and financial stability to the people of Scotland. A new Act of Union would save the UK and give the people of Scotland the right to self-determination – this is the only vision, the radical vision, which Labour should be offering.