Unhappy Labour voters – join a party which supports Europe!

SO we have an election to fight and the message is simple: Scotland’s for Europe, get out there and get our vote out!

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First published in The National, 30 April 2019

SNP conference at the weekend confirmed we’re in good heart with a great slate of candidates and we’re already out and about on the campaign trail. Don’t overthink it, get out there and meet the voters. There’s plenty to talk about as well as the European election – folk are keen to talk about independence in a way many were previously not, and many others about how awful Westminster is. We have opportunities aplenty to make our case.

People have been asking me if the election will happen, and what happens if it does. I’m now convinced that it is happening. There was a time, recently, when I thought that Brexiter Corbyn and born-again leaver May would between them find a form of words to get her disastrous Withdrawal Agreement over the line.

It would fall apart within days and the next phase of talks will be even tougher, but there is an overwhelming desire at Westminster to just “get it done”, which I thought would see them through. Instead, I think now Corbyn has looked at the polls, at Tory infighting, at them losing votes to the right and left, and decided he might as well let the euros happen.

Much as Labour are not looking at a great result, the Tories are guaranteed an awful time. So I do think the elections are happening, and as to the second question, of what comes next, I think it will be largely decided by the result of the election itself. If there is a huge Remain vote for clearly pro-Remain parties, then I think that tends towards a second EU referendum; if there is a huge Leave vote then I think that tends towards them sitting down and quietly agreeing the Withdrawal Agreement.

So this really matters – this is our chance to stop Brexit. We’re working on the SNP manifesto and it will be out shortly. But today should see a bit of progress on the Labour Party manifesto, which will answer a big question in this campaign – will Labour back a second EU referendum, or not?

I think the answer to that question could actually be the start of the end for Brexit, or confirm it is eventually, somehow, going to happen.

Scotland voted 62% for EU membership, and staying in the EU either independent or as part of the UK has gained popularity since. I’d not fancy standing on a pro-Brexit ticket in Scotland. But both the Tory and Labour parties stood in the 2017 snap Westminster election (the one May was adamant was not happening until she announced it was) on a pro-Brexit policy.

I think it is a fair assumption the Scottish Tories will stand on a pro-Brexit platform again, and even now their number one and number two candidates can’t agree on what Brexit should be – with one backing May and the other salivating over a no-deal exit. What a shambles.

So the Tories can be written off as pointless, hopelessly divided, flogging a dead Brexit horse to a sceptical Scots public. But there might be a bit more hope for Labour, and here I need to be very precise. Labour in Scotland have selected David Martin as their lead candidate. Readers of the National know I have total respect for David. UK-wide there are a number of Labour candidates I have a lot of time and respect for. I know they are working hard to try to influence their party policy and the manifesto, which, as I say, should be decided on today.

But the sad reality for the once-proud Scottish Labour Party is that their manifesto will be handed down to the Branch Office from London, and I have little faith on what will be in it.

If Labour do not unequivocally back a second EU referendum then they are a pro-Brexit party and no amount of warm words and flannel will disguise that sad fact.

And we’ll go for them. We know the Labour vote is soft, and we have worked with the Labour Party where we have been able to in fighting Brexit. I was proud to sit in the Holyrood Parliament the day that SNP, Labour, Green, LibDem and independent MSPs backed a joint motion with the Senedd in Wales opposing the Tory Brexit. That is the sort of politics I want to see. That is the sort of platform I want to see Labour run on.

I hope they will, because if they don’t it will suggest everything has been just warm words. Yesterday’s announcement that Kezia Dugdale is to quit politics I think tells us all we need to know about where Labour really is – talking the talk when forced into it, but actually just doing as it is told by a London Head Office that is, for now, perhaps forever, firmly under the control of the political equivalent of the Flat Earth Society. We deserve better. I wish my friends in Labour all the luck in changing their party’s policy, but if not, then we’ll not be shy.

Cheer up though, folks – if the manifesto you’re given doesn’t actually fit with your own views, you could always join the SNP, you’ll be very welcome!