Are Labour arguments in favour of the UK better than Conservative ones?

Philip Webster‘s early morning Times briefing, Red Box, tells us that Ed Miliband is heading to Scotland tomorrow. Once there he will try to convince voters that Labour will win the general election next year. Labour strategists, in their modest way, believe this is the best way to stop Alex Salmond and the separatists.

This fits in well with the Labour conceit that the Tories, braying and condescending, are the source of Scottish anger with the Union. If only the hated Tories would disappear, everything would be all right, the thought goes. It is rarely, if ever, stated clearly, but the insinuation is that the Conservatives hate the Scottish, in much the same way they hate the Welsh, the Irish, foreigners generally, Muslims, gays, lesbians, ethnic minorities, poor people, single mothers, northerners and any other identity group certain Labour and left-wing campaigners feel belong to them.

You can see Ed Miliband making his points: the source of Scottish (and British, as it happens) suffering is Toryism; their policies stink; they persecute the Scottish, just look at the guinea pigs they made of them over the Poll Tax; they rig the economy to suit their hedge-fund mates in London. That might not be the exact wording, but the sentiment is about right.

He might also talk about the Tories privatising the NHS, and how the only way to stop them is to have a Labour government in Britain and Scotland. But this falls down because under the terms of devolution Scotland runs health already. And yet, if the Scottish people can just see their way to voting against separation, next year they will have the benefits of both a Labour government and a Labour governed Union. Win! Win!

But Alex Massie, the Spectator’s Cricket blogger, took a contrary view. Writing about the recent Darling Salmond debate, he suggested that ‘Darling had many problems last night but among the greatest was the fact he’s not a Tory.’

What?

If Scotland doesn’t need to go its own way because there will not be a Tory government next year, how is not being a Tory a problem for Darling? One would have thought Darling’s biggest strength was being a thoroughly decent Labour man. He, after all, and unlike the Tories, cannot possibly want Scotland to remain in the Union as some sort of English vassal state – he’s Scottish, for goodness sake!

Though perhaps Darling, being a Scottish politician down in Westminster, is not quite as impeccably Scottish as other more independent minded Scots? A sort of traitor, even? You may think this is too strong, a bit hyperbolic. But perhaps you should ask Jim Murphy, the Labour MP for East Renfrewshire. He recently had to suspend his Scotland-wide tour because of the abuse he was receiving: the eggs, the intimidation, the name-calling, such as paedophile, terrorist and a Quisling – oh, and the charge of being a traitor.

East Renfrewshire, by the way, is a Scottish constituency, and Jim is Scottish too, born in Glasgow and schooled in Glasgow. His wikipedia page does, however, say he lived in South Africa between the ages of 12 and 18. Why? Because his parents moved there. He returned to study at the University of Strathclyde, but perhaps this absence degrades his Scottishness, I don’t know.

Massie, however, was making an interesting point that contradicts the view that Scotland’s place in the Union can best be defended by Labour people. This may or may not be the case, but Massie seemed to be arguing that Salmond’s reasons for leaving the Union are, in fact, better defeated by conservative arguments.

Darling could not, for instance, argue against Salmond’s notion that his new government – any government, in fact – will create lots of new jobs come independence. Neither could he argue against Salmond’s criticisms of Coalition welfare reforms. And nor could he argue ‘that however uncomfortable life might be for the poorest sections of society it might be even less comfortable after independence.’

Darling’s weakness in arguing against these points was that he and his left wing political tradition largely agrees with them – that governments not markets create jobs; that welfare reform is punitive, and that there is a ‘cost of living crisis’. If this is all true (debatable) then who would not want to get away from such a government, especially if it’s a hated English Tory government?

But then this takes us back to Ed Miliband’s plan to go to Scotand and tell the Scots they need not vote ‘Yes’ to escape these vicious policies; the Labour party is going to win the next election and return not just Scotland but the entire United Kingdom to the sanity of Brownian economics. There’s a certain logic to it, I suppose, even if you think it a rather alarming prospect.

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