At his last relaunch (way back in October) Starmer introduced what he called Labour’s “key values,” which were “work, care, equality and security”. These at least make a nod towards working voters concerns. Sadly however, three out of four of these key principles have bitten the dust, the new values being “security, prosperity and respect”.
This pace of change may explain why, during the Q&A session after the speech, the Labour leader seemed to forget the name of the third principle and took a long awkward drink of water, while, no doubt, aides just off-camera were frantically mouthing the word “respect” in his direction.
The key policy pledge, which isn’t new, was to “make Brexit work”. I’ll leave to you to decide if that is realistic or not, but it’s hardly designed to appeal to a country where 70% of people now say leaving the EU was a mistake.
It wasn’t the only moment that left you wondering if anyone from north of the Tweed had even seen an advance draft. Reaching for an example of his united New Britain, Starmer reached for the success and diversity of the England football team at the European championship, a tournament both Scotland and Wales also participated in.
On the Scottish independence debate, dealt with in one paragraph, the Labour leader promised a “new and durable constitutional settlement,” led by a commission led by former prime minister Gordon Brown. While the idea of “devo-max,” has raised its head again, it’s not a satisfactory solution to very much. Unionist support for it is very much as a last rampart against independence, while nationalists see it as a stepping stone towards it. It wouldn’t settle the issue, just move it on to a new level.
Scottish Labour used to have an important power base in the national party – 40-50 MPs, thousands of members and trade union officials gave it a huge say in the direction of Labour as a whole. Now, with just one MP, a far diminished membership and less than 20% of the polls, is anyone in London listening to it?
One of the underappreciated stories of last year was that a number of unions, including the Scottish Trade Union Congress, passed “right to choose” motions, which support the calling of a referendum if a majority of elected Scottish politicians support it. As Labour rely on the unions for the majority of their funding this could herald serious trouble ahead.
I covered the 2015 General Election in London. All over the city were giant billboards of Alex Salmond with a tiny Ed Miliband in his pocket. Everyone agreed it was effective. Starmer remembers this too, which is why he said again after his speech: “No deals with the SNP, before the election or after the election.”
If Labour nationally have, for all practical purposes, given up north of the Border, and will now be presenting themselves as a patriotic party who can get Brexit to work, that has serious consequences for Unionism in Scotland.
Napoleon said “Paris is worth a mass”. Starmer appears to have concluded that Downing Street is worth Scotland.