SCOTTISH Labour now have a new position on Scottish independence. Actually, it is the same as the old one: opposition, resistance, obstruction. The result is a bitter and twisted Unionism that prefers a Tory government at Westminster to any shade of progressive administration at home.

A Unionism that offers the chimera of “big shoulders” socialism if only we all stick together – a socialism that never seems to arrive. But what the heck, surely one more heave will see a Red Dawn over the decaying Palace of Westminster? A socialist nirvana led by Ian Murray MP (in his garish Union Jack blazer) and “Sir” Keith Starmer (the ex-Trot turned Establishment barrister).

Starmer, famously, was named after Keir Hardie, founder of the Scottish Labour Party, the Independent Labour Party and finally the present UK Labour Party. The Keir Hardie who was actually to the left politically of Jeremy Corbyn, never mind Starmer or Murray.

A Keir Hardie who thought all landlords were parasites who should be abolished (SNP Government please note). A Keir Hardie who wanted capitalism abolished: “Hitherto the workers have been content to ask for small reforms; now they are realising that private property is the enemy they have to encounter”. A Keir Hardie who opposed the First World War and marched against it.

And, of course, a Keir Hardie who fought tenaciously all his life for Scottish Home Rule. By Home Rule, he meant the autonomous dominion status enjoyed by Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which made their own laws, set their own taxes, and ran their own economies within the context of an imperial free trade area. Only defence and foreign affairs were reserved to the imperial parliament at Westminster and even that constitutional fossil withered away as unenforceable, finally being abolished legally in the 1930s.

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This was the Home Rule (for Ireland as well as Scotland) that the Scottish Labour movement fought for until the Second World War. A Home Rule that assumed fiscal, economic and judicial autonomy from the UK Parliament precisely because the Labour movement (especially the old ILP) wanted space to introduce socialism and eradicate the grinding poverty of the tenement slums, the back-breaking manual toil of the mines and workshops, and the endless cycle of premature death resulting from poverty-induced diseases.

No militant of the ILP or Hardie’s early Labour Party would have seen Home Rule as a constitutional diversion – it was about seizing the levers of state power to change Scotland for the better. It still is.

But Scottish Labour sold its Home Rule birthright for a mess of potage in the era after the Second World War. Instead, Scottish Labour MPs became the stalwarts of a new Unionism. In part, they were lured by the trappings of office – the ministerial driver followed by the aristocratic ermine.

In part, to be charitable, some came to believe that muscular state control from the centre was a necessary part of introducing socialism. Alas, apart from a brief few years in the late 1940s, that socialism disappeared from the agenda. Instead, Labour sought votes from the comfortable “aspirational” middle classes and feared the wrath of the Tory press.

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In the 75 years between 1945 and today, Britain has had 44 years of Tory rule, thanks to Unionist Labour. Labour’s 31 years in office included with the incompetent Wilson-Callaghan administrations that spent their time trying to muzzle the trades unions or giving away Britain’s newfound oil wealth for a pittance. Left to their own devices, Callaghan’s backbenchers spent their time sabotaging the first devolution bill. Remember the infamous 40% that ensured the majority vote for Scottish devolution in 1979 was set by Callaghan in the most outrageous anti-democratic move of any Westminster government since the Second World War.

RESULT: there was no devolved Scottish Assembly to protect the nation from the social deprivations and de-industrialisation of the Thatcher years. This we can blame squarely on Scottish Labour’s hordes of faceless backbench MPs who fought devolution tooth and nail lest it deprive them of their gravy train.

Their bogus claims that SNP votes brought down the Callaghan administration and ushered in Mrs Thatcher are mere crocodile tears, and hypocritical ones at that. The decision of the SNP to vote against Callaghan was a direct response to Labour’s refusal to implement the democratic vote for devolution.

I take no pleasure in Labour’s post-war apostasy on Scottish Home Rule or its mindless sabotage of the 1979 devolution referendum.

I was a member of Scottish Labour for 16 years and served a decade as a Labour councillor. Those of us who saw ourselves as Home Rulers and socialists had to fight tooth and nail against self-serving (frequently corrupt) neo-Stalinists for whom machine politics had replaced serving the people. Little has changed since I quit in 1996 after the arrival of the neo-Thatcherite Tony Blair.

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Last week, Labour’s only MP in Scotland, Ian Murray, got his wish and Scottish Labour set their face against not only independence but a second independence referendum – this in a week that saw an opinion poll putting support for indy at 52%.

Murray has a plan. It is to reposition ScotLab as the leading Unionist Party, replacing Carlaw’s lacklustre Tories as main opposition to the SNP. That is not a daft idea, given BoJo’s utter incompetence during the Covid-19 crisis. To succeed, Murray and co will have to bleat on and on about independence to the detriment of any social agenda (not that they have one).

Out, too, is any reference to “federalism” – and without any explanation of the volte-face. Till now, Richard Leonard (ScotLab’s titular leader) has made vague references to federalism in a desperate bid to keep pro-indy working-class voters on side. This ploy worked after a fashion as it gave younger, pro-Corbyn voters a reason to support Labour in the December election. But Corbyn has gone and Labour has returned to its middle-class, “safe in Sir Keir’s hands” orientation. So Murray has seized the moment and buried federalism once and for all. And not a bat squeak from Mr Leonard.

I have a grudging admiration for Ian Murray. He is a formidable foe and is willing to gamble politically. Meanwhile, and after 13 years in office, the SNP administration is vulnerable. Nicola governs resolutely from the centre. Her caution may not suffice in an era where everything is falling apart economically.

She might cash in her high personal poll ratings and seek pastures new, leaving the SNP with no obvious leader and no obvious strategy to get indyref2. Which is a strong argument for separating the independence movement organisationally from the SNP leadership, as Lesley Riddoch argued in these pages recently.

But regardless of what is happening in the independence camp, Ian Murray’s attempt to re-position ScotLab as the main Unionist party is a strategy born of desperation. It can be nothing more than Labour’s last throw of the dice.

For a party that is unwilling to let Scottish voters decide for themselves is a party that does not trust the people. Such a party is seeking only to defend its own little patch – not to build a new, better society in the manner of Keir Hardie.