No Labour government has relied on Scottish MPs to get into power. They have, however, relied on Scottish MPs to get right wing policies through.
The former point may be surprising – we are forever hearing that independence will leave the rest of the UK with perpetual Tory governments. But look historically and this simply isn’t the case.
This has been explained most thoroughly by Wings Over Scotland, who go through each election since 1945 and demonstrate that
Scottish MPs have NEVER turned what would have been a Conservative government into a Labour one, or indeed vice versa.”
But this is only half of the point. Because while Scottish Labour MPs haven’t ever ushered in a Labour government, they have, since devolution, had a significant influence on the Labour party.
There are two occasions on which this influence has been clear. Without Scottish MPs, the 2003 introduction of Foundation Hospitals, and the 2004 introduction of £3,000 top-up fees, would not have passed. Neither of these policies impacted significantly on the Scottish constituents of the MPs who forced them through. Both health and education are devolved to Holyrood.
Scots are, on average, more left wing. But they care little about what their MPs do. Mostly, it doesn’t affect them. Most decisions are made in Edinburgh. As a result Labour MPs can vote through the worst ideas their leadership throws at them without having to explain to their constituents why. And so they suck up to the boss to get up to the next level.
And the influence of the ‘West Lothian Question on the Parliamentary Labour Party is surely broader than these votes. If we think of its internal politics, the impact of barely accountable Scots MPs must be significant.
I’ll give one more way in which it is demonstrated: despite making up just over 10% of the 2005-10 parliamentary Labour Party, Scottish MPs made up just over 25% of the MPs in Tony Blair’s last cabinet. There are, of course, many reasons for this. But it shows how much easier it is to climb when you have no democratic accountability weighing you down.
To put it simply, the Labour leadership used Scottish MPs (with a few noble exceptions) as a bulwark against the English working class. And, given half a chance, we can be sure they will again.
If your best hope for Britain is a centre left Labour government, then your best hope is not that England relies on a tiny crew of Scottish MPs to impose sensible policies on a hopelessly right wing England. Within the Labour party, the opposite is what will happen.
Your best hope is for the Labour leadership to see that its only chance of winning is to mobilise the millions of English working class people who have abandoned politics as entirely as politics has abandoned them. And that is much more likely to happen if they can’t depend on a few unaccountable Scots. And it is more likely to happen with a neighbouring, English speaking, Nordic style state setting an example.
And if you, as I do, have more hope for politics than that, then you must believe that the people of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland can somehow be mobilised to support your (our) progressive policies. It’s certainly better – more democratic, more healthy – that they do so themselves than that they have these policies imposed by those politicians Scotland sends South.
The English left has nothing to fear, and everything to gain, from Scottish independence.
Co-editor of brightgreenscotland.org