If tomorrow’s referendum delivers a yes vote, the first person Alex Salmond should phone up and thank for making all this possible is Tony Blair. After all, it is New Labour’s almost total abandonment of its natural supporters which has handed the SNP this historic opportunity. Over defining issues such as Iraq, Trident, tuition fees and prescription charges, it is the SNP which has consistently represented Labour values while New Labour lined up with the Tories in display after display of total contempt for many of Labour’s members and supporters. It is an open secret that New Labour’s electoral strategy involved openly courting middle class voters while cynically banking on keeping its traditional supporters because ”they had nowhere else to go.” Yet by simply saying many of the things that Labour used to say in the not-so-distant past and therefore providing a home for many disillusioned Labour supporters, the SNP in Scotland (as well as Plaid Cymru in Wales) have both managed to secure unprecedented levels of support.
Salmond should of course follow this up with message of thanks to David Cameron, whose agenda of savage cuts to public services and social security alongside wholesale privatization has certainly helped the Yes campaign gather support. But where once – including under Thatcher – the return of a Labour government was seen as the natural antidote to even the worst Tory misrule, the bitter experiences of 13 years of New Labour, followed by 4 years of largely timid opposition and even occasional capitulation from Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ Labour, has meant that independence is now seen by many working-class people as the only way of securing a meaningful alternative to austerity.
I’m skeptical about some of the claims made by the Scottish pro-independence left. Scotland could just as easily become another Ireland as it could another Sweden. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a crisis of representation and a belief in the possibility of a more equitable society, rather than a wave of narrow-minded nationalism, which has galvanized the demand for Scottish independence.
Just a few generations ago in Glasgow, huge crowds literally carried their victorious Labour MPs shoulder-high and waved them off to Westminster, while elsewhere in the West of Scotland, the saying went that Labour votes were weighed rather than counted. How ironic then that the decisive factor tomorrow’s referendum may well be the belief that only through voting yes – which will inevitably lead to the SNP as the first party of government in an independent Scotland – can ordinary people preserve what still remains of the greatest achievements of the post-war Labour governments.