During an interview last week, Anas Sarwar, the branch manager of Labour’s Scottish Optional Identity Mark, told us that even though he personally opposes independence, that ““doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to support independence, or the right to wish a referendum at some point in the future.” Is Anas wanting praise for demonstrating that he has a basic understanding of the concept of democracy? That’s not actually unlikely given that British nationalist politicians of late have appeared to struggle with the notion that when the people vote in a way that they dislike, they are supposed to accept the result.
However while Sarwar tells us that he accepts that the people of Scotland have the right to “wish a referendum at some point in the future,” he decidedly avoided specifying what the democratic mechanism might be for turning that wish into a reality. That would be way above his pay grade and result in him being slapped down by his boss, Keir Starmer. So we are left with the usual Labour party mechanisms for implementing things that people might actually vote for, which would be moonbeams, fairy dust and clicking the heels of your ruby slippers together.
It is screamingly transparent what Anas Sarwar is trying to do. He’s attempting to make a pitch to independence leaning voters in the up coming Rutherglen and Hamilton West by election by making out that he’s open to the idea of another independence referendum but not actually saying anything different in substance from the Labour party’s current policy of refusing to accept the will of the people of Scotland as expressed at the ballot box in the May 2021 Scottish Parliament election. He’s telling us that the people of Scotland can continue to wish for another independence referendum, but the part he is not saying out loud is that his party is going to continue to ignore that wish, and he knows that ignoring it is only made easier if the SNP do badly at the next general election.
Sarwar talks about “wishing a referendum at some point in the future” because he and his boss refuse to accept that the question of whether Scotland wants another independence referendum was democratically settled at the ballot box over two years ago, and was settled in favour of another referendum. But Sarwar and his anti-democratic allies refuse to accept the result of that election, choosing instead to find spurious reasons to weasel out of it, and embarking on a campaign of gaslighting, trying to persuade us that the 2021 election wasn’t really about another independence referendum at all.
The reasons given by Sarwar for refusing to accept that the current Scottish Parliament has a mandate for another independence referendum are reasons which, if accepted, would mean that no government in the UK, devolved or otherwise, would ever possess any sort of democratic mandate to do anything at all.
So what we get instead are more empty words and repetitions of the case that the branch office put to the Scottish people in 2021, a case which was rejected by the electorate.
Labour previously thrived on the kind of deceitful trick that the party is currently trying to pull off in Rutherglen and Hamilton West. Its Scottish representatives would “hint”, signal” or even promise a particular policy which would then be summarily rejected by Labour’s Westminster contingent once the votes of the Scots were safely in the bag.
Labour did this with its promises for Scottish devolution during the 1970s and again in the 1990s. The final bill for a Scottish Parliament that was eventually passed by the Labour governments of Jim Callaghan in the late 1970s and Tony Blair in the late 1990s was a heavily watered down version of the promises that Labour had previously made to the Scottish people. The original proposal for a Scottish Parliament in the 1990s would have given Holyrood control of broadcasting and greater tax raising powers than was allowed by the Scotland Act when it finally passed.
Labour did the same in 2014, promising that a No vote was not a vote for the status quo, but rather a vote for strengthened and enhanced devolution. We have learned with the painful benefit of hindsight that we were not indeed voting for the status quo, we were voting for a Scottish Parliament that would be constantly be attacked and undermined by the Westminster Parliament. As soon as the No vote was in the bag, Labour immediately resiled on all the promises it made during the referendum and its role in the Smith Commission consisted of trying to minimise as much as possible any additional powers that were to be granted to the Scottish Parliament.
Now Labour is telling us that a vote for Labour in Rutherglen would be a vote to “pressure” Keir Starmer to return to his now abandoned commitment to abolish the abhorrent two child cap on benefits and Anas Sarwar is trying to pretend that he’s not “hostile” to independence supporters.
But you don’t have to be gifted with the power of premonition to know that the second the Labour party gets the result it so craves, we will immediately be told that it’s a rejection of another independence referendum and a full throated acceptance of Keir Starmer’s right wing policies. The Labour party does this repeatedly and there is absolutely no reason to believe that it will not do so again. The people of Rutherglen and Hamilton West, and the people of Scotland as a whole, deserve far more than to be treated as useful idiots by a Labour party which goes back on its word the moment that the votes have been counted. In Gordon Brown’s revealing words when asked about the non fulfilment of his Vow – you should have read the small print.
The Labour party, both at a UK level, and in its Scottish Optional Identity Mark, has become little more than an exercise in finding new ways to promise absolutely nothing. Sarwar does this by pretending that his branch office has far more power and significance than it really does, a deceit which much of the Scottish media is invested in colluding with. To that end he speaks warm words about welcoming the support of independence supporters but the second their votes are in the bag both he and his boss Starmer will declare that those voters have rejected another independence referendum. There’s not even any need to read the small print. Labour is blatant in its dishonesty.
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