I have bought an awful lot of Council Houses. And I’ve wound a lot of modest estates that include British Telecom or British Gas or Scottish Power Shares.
Being a solicitor involves a variety of different activities. Some worthy but poorly rewarded, such as fighting repossessions or defending the innocent, others reasonably lucrative but, frankly, boring, like buying houses or administering executries.
The one thing this diverse experience does give you however is a view of the world.
It is simply nonsense that Scotland rejected Thatcherism in its entirety. Like we do in respect of so many other parts of British life, we bought into the bits we liked while claiming we wanted nothing to do with, indeed deplored, the rest of the package.
Ten days after Labour’s triumph in 1997 I wrote in Tribune about where the Scottish Tories had gone wrong under Thatcherism. Interestingly, it was this emphasis on the need to recognise the national dimension in Scottish politics that cursed my ambition in Labour politics before and since. But that is, nonetheless, where the Scottish Tories went wrong then and, among other ways, where Labour has gone wrong since.
It had little or nothing to do with the naked class politics that led them to be equally hated in working class communities from South Yorkshire to South Wales to South Lanarkshire. These people, my people, were never going to vote for them. We hadn’t had any more time for Ted Heath!
No, the Tories, despite heroic effort from the likes of George Younger, simply didn’t realise that Scotland needed to be respected and recognised as a bit different. And, above all, paid attention to.
Well, now they are paying attention. Good.
There is a stupidity in allowing your opponents to frame the terms of political discourse. Over the recent period we are constantly bombarded by SNP warnings that if Labour campaigns alongside the Tories for a No vote, we will be making a serious error. Most recently by the First Minister today.
Well, firstly, if I, as a life long Labour man thought the SNP, or indeed the Tories, were about to make a serious error, then the last thing I would do would be to rush out to warn them off it. More importantly however such “advice” seeks, with a certain constituency, to frame the Independence debate in left/right terms.
This simply won’t wash. For the avoidance of any doubt, while George Osborne is in favour of lower corporate taxation rates than I would like, he’s still for considerably higher rates than John Swinney or Alex Salmond. While the initial Tory proposals on public sector pensions were deplorable, they were on any view more progressive than any of the four options offered by the SNP. While the Tories were too lax (as Labour was) on pre-crash Bank regulation, they were still for greater regulation than that proposed by wee Eck for his former employers at RBS.
Sure, on other issues, the SNP have a more progressive aspect. Indeed on criminal justice policy, at least, they are to the left of Labour. The point is that you cannot frame the question of Scottish Independence in left/right terms.
And the other point is that by somehow equating permanent Independence with temporary Tory Government and spurning both equally we, the Labour Party, risk a very long term error. We can always vote the Tories out.
So, whether we campaign alongside the Tories becomes simply a question of what gains us best tactical advantage.
And the obvious answer is that of course it does.
Division is the mother of confusion.
There is no confusion among the devolutionist forces. Independence would be a disaster for Scotland. That is a united opinion so why should it not be the basis for a united campaign?
And, more importantly still, if we can frame the debate as being between, on the one hand, all reasonable opinion, left and right and, on the other, those who have perhaps seen Braveheart once too often, then that, surely, can only be in our own interests.
So, Eck, thanks for the advice, but I don’t think we’ll be taking it.
Anyway, we need to develop a working relationship with the Tories. Assuming the Referendum does take place, after the next Scottish Election, they are likely to be our Official Opposition.