Let me say right away there is absolutely nothing bizarre about a handful of Labour figures coming down on the Yes side of the argument. In the historical context, there was Jim Sillars forming his breakaway Scottish Labour Party in 1976. Then on all the big political issues there are those from all parties who take a stand separate from the party line- Tory Ken Clarke on Iraq; Labour's Kate Hoey on Fox Hunting. The Labour for Independence campaign has not been about the handful of mainly retired ex Labour politicians who have come out for Yes but rather an SNP front; a shell designed to act as a proxy for real Labour supporters who might be persuaded to support Yes in the vain hope that this might be the only way to get rid of the Tories or recapture some romantic ill-defined real Scottish Labour Party. I am not saying that there are not Labour supporters out there disillusioned with the way Labour has lost touch with some of its traditional roots particularly as a result of the New Labour project and the Blair years. Labour had to change and adapt to regain the trust of the electorate but these changes sometimes left our traditional supporters feeling ignored. It is this strain of thought that the SNP and Yes side have tried to cynically exploit.
When the story is finally told it will contain a timeline of picture after picture of Labour for Independence banners being held up for the camera by groups of SNP councillors; staffers; and office bearers - because, we must assume, the real Labour for Independence people all had to rush away for a toilet break just at that photo opportunity moment. The Labour Party has been out on Ayr High street most Saturdays campaigning for a No vote. I usually pay the Yes camp a visit and ask whoever is handing out Labour for Independence leaflets that day why I have never seen him (always a 'him') at any Labour Party meeting. Sometimes they lie and claim they have only recently joined, more usually just that they have every right to give out information that might appeal to Labour supporters. The leaflets call for a Yes vote to fight for a real Scottish Labour Party, an independent Scotland with the founding principles of Labour at its heart. They repeat the mantra that voting Yes is the only way for Scotland to get the government it votes for.
Put in context, this is part of an attempt by the Yes Campaign to recreate an Obama like grassroots campaign focusing on slices of the electorate - Business for Scotland; Women, Christians, Crofters, Lawyers, Unionists for Independence (OK I made up the last one but if it did exist the Yes side would be able to find plenty of volunteers to hold the banner). Labour for Independence is designed to appeal to that slice of the grassroots - traditional labour supporters and those frustrated by the lack of social progress in society and perplexed by the complexity of countering the appeal of an ever adapting capitalism.
The truth is that the SNP and supporters of Scottish Independence have spent the last 70 years doing everything they can to prevent Scotland getting the Government it votes for - especially a Labour one. The SNP opposed the Attlee Government most associated with 'old Labour values' because they didn't like the sharing and pooling of resources approach of an NHS and single Welfare State across the whole of the UK and abhorred Attlee's approach of centralised planning. They ignored the achievements of the Wilson years - the Open University; the abolition of capital punishment; legalisation of homosexuality; and the Abortion Act passed thanks to Government support. What did the Wilson years ever do for us?
The SNP brought down the Callaghan Government and forced the election that gave us Thatcher (against the urging of Jim Sillars at the time) They were able to do this because traditional Labour values meant nothing to them in the 1970s (or in any other decade) The SNP carried out an in depth survey of their burgeoning membership in the 1970s and found that 80% did not identify in any way with social class and less than 1 in 4 saw social reform as a primary objective. No surprise then that they remained unimpressed by the achievements of Labour Governments post 1997. They turned their nose up at Labour's devolution package while grabbing the advantages it offered to them. They set at nothing Labour's record of tackling pensioner poverty, lifting children out of poverty, staying up all night to secure a national minimum wage (while the SNP MPs were safely tucked up in bed), doubling the Aid budget, bringing in sweeping equality legislation. The reforming successes of the Labour led Scottish Executive were also erased from memory.
This is not meant to be a whitewash of Labour's record in office - we made many mistakes and failed to address matters we should have addressed. But one thing is certain - the SNP have never hankered after 'the founding principles of the Labour Movement' or sought to propel a 'real Labour Party' into Government in Scotland or anywhere else.
Perhaps with the distraction of the Referendum behind us after September 18th, we will be able to concentrate on the task of ensuring that Scotland does get the Government it votes for - a Labour Government sharing, pooling and redistributing resources across the UK.