One of the SNP’s most significant successes has been to create a positive call for change – its civic brand of nationalism is based on making Scotland feeling good about itself. The specifics and problems of separation are placed in the background. The Labour leader has given a speech this morning (full text here) which aimed to inspire the Scots to ignore the SNP’s siren call for independence. But can Ed Miliband, a man rooted in North London Labour, convince when speaking in Scotland?
He needs to and well before an independent referendum too. Labour is in danger of losing control of Glasgow Council in May – a totemic stronghold in Scotland for the party. If, in a worst case scenario, Ken Livingstone also fails to win back London, the Labour leader faces seriously bad news. So this speech is not simply making a lofty case for independence. It needed to show he was relevant to the here and now.
This speech was both a call to keep the Union and provide the philosophical grounding for Ed Miliband’s leadership. He attacked the gap between the top of society and ordinary families. He came to Glasgow with “humility” and “hope for a more equal, more just, more progressive future for Scotland and the United Kingdom.”
It evoked history: “It was a Scotsman, Keir Hardie, who founded the Labour party a hundred and twelve years ago”. It highlighted the economic links between the UK: “The banks serving Glasgow are the same as the ones serving Gloucester. The shops on your high street are the same as the shops on my high street.” To make capitalism more “responsible”, “we can only do this together” said Ed, imagining “a race to the bottom on bank regulation, on wages, and conditions at work”.
It was all very worthy, and it’s about time that political leaders based in England highlighted the contribution of Scotland to the UK. But there are problems with the speech and Ed Miliband’s positioning. While the speech went for the lofty theme, Scottish politics doesn’t really work like this. In the next issue of Total Politics, out in February, we’ll examine that in more detail. The mud thrown about by politicians is particularly smelly north of the border. It might be admirable to avoid getting in a character assassination this early in the debate, but remember, if Alex Salmond has risen supreme in those conditions, he’s unlikely to be unduly worried about dealing with Labour leader’s call for togetherness. Both Labour and the Conservatives have shied away from going for Salmond hard. After all, he is the best political operator in the UK. But at some point, a unionist is going to give it have a good go if they want to cause the SNP serious concern.
Another point is that currently there remains a feeling of giving the SNP ‘a go’ in Scotland. As the people on the streets in Glasgow opine to Stephen McGinty in an excellent blog for The Scotsman, people there feel Labour have treated their rule of the city as a birthright. The other and parties have to address this image of tiredness and arrogance that they are pinned with.
A final thought. If Ed Miliband wants to make a positive case for the UK, why does he refuse to say he would share a platform with David Cameron. In response to a question from the BBC’s Brian Taylor immediately after his speech, he choose to highlight the differences between them. The Westminster leaders are in danger of looking like Salmond could pick them off, one by one, because they are unable to work together. The SNP leader would suggest a London plot to ignore the wishes of the Scottish people in that case but if a cross-party campaign involving Scottish politicians (‘Oh Gordon, where are ye?’) was built, it would be a far more formidable foe, and would fit the claims that Ed Miliband and David Cameron really want to keep the union together.