PoliticsHome today reports that the Labour leadership hopefuls are split on whether to be part of a ‘grand coalition’ arguing to stay in the EU with the other major parties or if they should run their own pro-EU outfit. The latest intervention comes from Alistair Darling, leader of the ‘Better Together’ campaign, who stated it would be a ‘massive mistake’ to shun a broader coalition.
Personally, I am a little surprised at Darling’s comments. While I have great respect for him as a politician, Labour’s participation in the ‘Better Together’ campaign is widely held to be one of the main reasons the party’s collapse in Scotland was so complete. It allowed us to be painted as the party of the established, Westminster elite sallying north of the border to bully the rebelling Scots. I remember cringing when I saw Ed Balls and George Osborne sat next to each other on Newsnight like old pals cheerily declaring that they would both block any currency union with the insurgent Scottish nation. By the end of the referendum campaign it should have been obvious to anyone that a torrent of bile had been unleashed and would be directed not at the Tories – the party who were already seen as beyond the pale – but the great betrayers: Labour.
Of course Labour should have campaigned for Scotland for to stay in the UK. I’m completely behind John Major in that the whole devolution agenda was a grave mistake for the union, and would only lead to the toxic nationalism and division we have seen, and I have very serious reservations about Labour’s increasing commitment to regional devolution, but more on that later. However, it would have been perfectly plausible for the party to run on a separate ticket from the Tories. They could have promised Devo Max, or stressed how a Labour government with Miliband rather than Blair at the helm was going to take Scotland seriously and restore prosperity to the region. Sure, it’s not the most formidable campaign, but it would have been better than just being part of a campaign that solely warned of the dangers of independence while attacking the SNP rather than actually offering positive reasons to remain. And yes, I know that Labour would have been attacked for ‘putting party before country’, but how much would that have stuck is debatable; and, quite frankly, if it would have saved us 25 seats or so I think we’d have taken it.
So now we fastforward to the EU referendum in – probably – 2016. It’s a year where we will have the Scottish Parliament elections, the Welsh National Assembly elections, the London Mayoral and Assembly elections and Local Government elections. UKIP will be looking to build upon their strong performance in the general election as well as the locals. Labour will be in their first year of having a new leader and trying to forge a new direction. It is quite clear that the party needs to put in a good performance, particularly in the first three elections, if they are to appear as a genuine up-and-coming force to be reckoned with in 2020.
Much as politicos are divided on why Labour’s defeat was so great, it is indisputable that part of the reason we suffered so badly was because we were seen as ‘the establishment’ by large sectors of the population. Even worse, these large sectors happened to be in our Scottish and working-class heartlands.
So we are faced with a simple choice. 1) We can have a new, fresh-faced leader lining up alongside David Cameron to tell the people they should vote no or they’ll lose their job while Nigel Farage rips into us for completely selling ourselves out to the Westminster establishment and having learnt nothing from the ‘ordinary Brit’ who sent us a strong message in 2015. 2) We can campaign to remain in the EU while also campaigning to reform it so it better suits said ‘ordinary Brits’ while the Tories tear themselves apart over which reforms, if any, will be enough to keep us in. Faced with these options, I know which one I’d choose.