The UK is staying together. But on what terms?

by Jonathan Todd

David Bowie has supposedly waded into Scottish politics. How very dare he. He’d only been awarded a Brit. The ensuing furore may have missed this obvious point of context. Bowie may want the UK to stay together, at least in part, so that his award maintains a meaningful title.

What would we call the Brit Awards after Scottish independence? It’s hard to think of something equally snappy that captures the remnants of the UK. “Not even the most devoted unionist would claim” that the clear poll lead enjoyed by the Better Together campaign “is down to any tearful, emotional attachment to Britain and Britishness”, Chris Deerin has observed. Yet Bowie’s intervention underlines the self-evident point that breaking up the UK would be a needless destruction of something whose value, while immense, is sometimes so implicit as to be overlooked.

After Scottish independence, we wouldn’t know what to call the Brit Awards because we wouldn’t know who or what we’d become. To see what is in front of one’s nose, as George Orwell knew, needs a constant struggle. And sometimes it takes a supermodel dressed in the clothes of a 1970s pop star speaking the words of a contemporary cultural icon to remind us. It’s not that Bowie has gone political. It’s certainly not – pace cybernats – that Bowie is inserting himself where he shouldn’t. It’s just that Bowie is retelling us who we are.

The four words related to Scotland spoken by Kate Moss on behalf of Bowie were a concise version of the message of David Cameron’s speech at the Olympic park recently. The British remain a family – albeit, to again recall Orwell, with the wrong members in charge, though, of course, Cameron didn’t present familial relations in quite such terms. Nonetheless, to file for divorce, to metaphorically and almost literally reduce ourselves to arguing over our CD collection, would be a monumental self-harm. An absurd pettiness in a world of incredible opportunity.

Notwithstanding Cameron’s speech to a virtually empty Olympic park and Moss’ words to the millions, the attempt to keep the UK together has largely absorbed the abashed way in which Britishness is now worn and traded instead on undermining Alex Salmond’s central claim. The SNP have tried to reassure and effectively argue that independence is no big deal. The interventions of George Osborne on the currency and José Manuel Barroso on the EU pull the rug out from beneath this strategy. It is now harder for Salmond to reassure.

It is not clear what currency an independent Scotland would have and probable that they will remain outside the EU for some time. Rather than being reassuring, this is unnerving, particularly in terms of its likely economic impacts. While Salmond might be able to appeal to a sense that the English and their allies have unfairly ganged up on them, the ‘yes’ campaign must now ask Scotland to take a tremendous economic risk. This is likely to be perceived to be too large for the ‘yes’ campaign to turn around the large polling deficit that they face.

Uncut recently put the point to a Scottish member of the PLP that while it is hard to imagine Scotland voting for an uncertain future outside the EU, keeping the UK together by playing on these fears risks perpetuating Scottish grievance against the English. They were unrepentant. “They need to be told. It’s like a child saying they want to play in the rain. They can do if they want but they need to know that they’ll get wet.”

John Kay – a Scottish born economist who has spent much of his adult life in England – is right to argue in Prospect that there remains a scenario under which an independent Scotland can prosper. No one denies either that children can’t have fun in the rain. Getting wet, however, is unavoidable. And Osborne and Barroso have made clear just how wet an independent Scotland would get.

If Scotland only begrudgingly stays in the union, seeing it as a lesser evil than the drenching threatened by exciting, we will stay together but only on arid and vindictive terms. The four words from Moss should be the beginning of a much more optimistic prospectus for the UK. It’s not just Scotland that needs to hear this set out. But everywhere outside of London.

The rest of the UK should avoid being chippy about our capital. London is driving the UK’s economic recovery much more strongly than anywhere else and it benefits the whole of the UK for London to remain a front rank global city. The UK would, though, benefit from having other cities and regions punching their economic and political weight. This goes for the midlands and the north of England as much as Scotland and Wales.

They’ll still be Brit Awards next year. If Bowie does play ‘The Next Day’ live, which I doubt, he’ll probably win another one. More importantly, the UK is staying together. But potentially on bitter and cantankerous terms. Unless a workable plan can be devised and implemented for the resurgence not just of Scotland but the whole of the UK outside of London. That really would be a politics of one nation. Which is why the debate on Scottish independence could – if Labour were to be the party with such a plan for national renewal – pivot to a greater opportunity for Labour than the Conservative and Unionist Party.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut 

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12 Responses to “The UK is staying together. But on what terms?”

  1. JPFife says:

    There we are, Labour officially supporting the Tories.

  2. Che says:

    Wow, if this has been written six months ago you may have slipped under the net but what an unmitigated pile of turd. The only facts that seem present in this article is that the parliamentary labour party think of the people of Scotland as a naughty child who must be told what to do for their own good…..

    The rest of it is mere supposition based on erroneous information spouted by the bitter together campaign and their cronies. I could put you straight on the points on here, especially the economics ones, but I would be wasting my time as it would most probably go right over your head. I may not be a journalist but my experience and qualifications are way above your level with regards to development and economics and almost certainly above the level of those who are spouting the crap for the bitter together campaign. Therefore I suggest that you open your eyes and write something based on actual facts before you see the vote for the labour party north of the border disappear completely along with the slipping vote south of the border.

  3. mac says:

    “No one denies either that children (Scots) can’t have fun in the rain.”

    Probably one of the most condescending remarks ever made in this debate.

    Well Jonathan care to tell us children who this Scottish member of the PLP is, “They need to be told. It’s like a child saying they want to play in the rain. They can do if they want but they need to know that they’ll get wet.”?

    Surely errant children don’t scare big adults like your self.

  4. Henrik says:

    Listen hard, comrades. Hear that giggle? That’s me, reacting to all those well-meaning Scottish Labour chickens flapping home to roost.

    This whole Referendum farrago is 100% your fault and it’s win-win. If the vote is “Yes”, cue an endless period of Conservative government in the rUK; if it’s “No”, cue the bitterest of bitter factional fights within Labour.

    The pity, tragedy and shame of it all is, whatever the outcome, the result will be a greatly increased suspicion and even dislike between the Scots and the English and between the Yes and No supporters in Scotland itself.

    Good job, guys, the Labour God of Unintended Consequences is not mocked.

  5. Richard MacKinnon says:

    “London is driving the UK’s economic recovery much more strongly than anywhere else and it benefits the whole of the UK for London to remain a front rank global city”.
    That is about as accurate as Cameron’s statement today when he fly up to Scotland and said ‘North Sea oil needs The Union’.
    London is a subsidy junky like no other. North Sea oil will still be there after the Union is no more. The fact is London needs Scotland’s oil, yes I will repeat it, Scotland’s oil, like a junky needs a fix. Lets see what London looks like after a dose of cold turkey.

  6. Tafia says:

    Last Friday the Scottish TUC made a statement that it was disappointed in the ‘No’ case, Several unions are now openly supporting ‘Yes’.

    A poll was released towards the end of last week of those who are definately going to vote and Yes were only 4% behind and rising. ‘Yes’s average over the last half dozen polls is around 41%.

    In polls done concerning Holyrood/Westminster/European voting intentions, the SNP’s support is rising and analysts believe this is former Labour voters who favour Yes over independence turning away from Labour as a result of Labour’s official stance.

  7. An Duine Gruamach says:

    Only when it comes to Scotland will the liberal elite masquerading as the Labour party line up, uncritically, unquestioningly, behind a Tory chancellor and a right wing politician from Portugal.

  8. Brian Colquhoun says:

    Labour have lost my vote for life!

    I will not be voting for Scottish Liebour either after independence!

    You keep siding with the tories AND IT ISN’T JUST YOUR POUND, IT’S OURS TO!


  9. Eric McLean says:

    People must be coming to the realisation that Labour’s shift to the right at Westminster, causes equal consternation to the residents of Scotland as Tories in power. More especially, after Milliband promised to govern like Thatcher, and Balls nailed his political scrotum to the Tory mast in the recent currency union moratorium.

    Add Mr. Darlings standing ovation at the Conservatives conference and it should be increasingly apparent that socialism is in the final stages of extinction in the UK.

    The political shift south of the border – UKIP, immigration, nationalism rising, privatisation of NHS, and other services, University fees and increasing austerity, must be sending warning signals to residents of Scotland.

    Money made by Darling and Brown in their speaking engagements and Hunt in his Training business, serve only to confirm to residents of Scotland that Westminster is an alien world.

    And who wants to be governed by lying aliens, never mind truthful ones.

    Regardless of ‘How hard or impossible’ unionists would describe the challenges facing a ‘New Scotland’, there is no doubt that we can do better than the corrupt and ineffective two party system at Westminster.

    Scotland can reinvent itself as a nimble, flexible and progressive country that has an opportunity for a government that can find balanced solutions that protect equality and encourage business prosperity.

    The Independence battle is now on the plains of poverty and austerity. It is a battle between the Estates and impoverished of Scotland, and the Westminster elite.

    Scottish Labour, meanwhile, has abandoned the battle, preferring to pretend that it’s a nationalism rather than socialism, driven debate.

    If Scottish Labour had ONE decent leader, they’d already be forming a Scottish Labour breakaway from Blue-Labour in the South.

    Scottish Independence is about a country kept physically and metaphorically in a state of poverty by Westminster (aided and abetted by Labour)

    Its a shame that there are still so many people in Scotland who ‘doff their caps’ to their ‘Betters’ together.

  10. swatantra says:

    Bowie is an ex-pat. Strip them off their benefits.

  11. Tafia says:

    Should Scotland opt for independence (which I hope they do), there will still be a Scottish Labour Party, a Scottish Conservative Party, a Scottish Liberal Democrat Party etc etc. The difference being that they will be genuinely and independently Scottish, putting Scotland first and foremost over everything and not lapdog regional party offices of London taking thier orders from Westminster.

  12. uglyfatbloke says:

    Swatantra, I doubt if Bowie gets any benefits and he has as much right to make a comment as anyone else – though it would have been better to make it in person. Equally, I doubt very much that he has any understanding of the issues.

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