Scotland is now pro-nationalist, and even perhaps willing to vote for independence in a year or two’s time. It has long been another country in political terms too. While it was revolting over the poll tax, England considered the mild radicalism of a Welsh Labour leader and, shyly, voted for John Major’s Conservative Party. Yesterday the Tories got a majority after hurting poorer “hard working” families for five years while those not in need of in-work welfare benefits feared that the Labour Party would somehow jeopardise the flimsy certainties of what, statistically at least, is an economic recovery.
The NHS is the exception to the rule, the last surviving nationalised industry and one that, broadly speaking, is popular. Labour may have won the 1945 election because its promise to introduce socialised medicine was the most believable, but after only six years in office it was out for another 13. Labour’s two election victories in 1974 were barely deserving of the name. The Labour government that lost office in 1979 had essentially been a minority one for most of its rule.
Now Labour has to consider whether a more authentically social justice and home rule message in Scotland and Wales will remotely help it in England (where Westminster elections, after all, are decided). To paraphrase Neil Kinnock, if you think that that is right, then go into the semi-detached homes of people struggling to pay their mortgage in the south of England and “tell it there, tell it there.”
The United Kingdom is under threat, and the very self-serving economic reasons why we joined the Common Market are increasingly being seen in England as not being upheld by the EU today. What will Labour do next? A lurch to the left will this time definitely consign it to the dustbin of history. There will be no electoral reform to save it, while Labour has lost Scotland (and its parliamentary support) whether it becomes an independent sovereign country or not. To be elected and then to govern in England will be impossible for Labour without being able to both appeal to aspiration and not somehow abandoning its so-called electoral base. In the 2015 election Labour absurdly pandered to that base without offering anything more than half-hearted apologies for past errors and an unconvincing line on deficit and debt reduction. The outcome was its third worst General Election result since 1935.
The recession was a fork in the road. In this election Labour tried to plough down the middle by refusing to say it had overspent in the last government whilst claiming it would reduce the deficit faster, but somehow more fairly, in the next. Electing a new leader who mouths the same (and, ironically, non-inclusive) platitudes about hard working families will not cut it, in England or Scotland. Something major needs to be tried. Reaching out to everybody, right across the Union, is an even taller order right now. Perhaps more honesty would help. If Scotland hasn’t already left the building by the time of the next Westminster election, tell voters that you will work with the SNP precisely to save the Union, that we should stay in the EU for the sake of jobs and, yes, for the sake of political stability across Europe, and that ever-expanding health and welfare budgets are not the answer. Otherwise, just carry on regardless.