Apart, of course, from the Treaty of Union, until very recently there was no apparent substantial existential threat to the United Kingdom –or so our political leaders seemed to think. They had agreed to a Scottish referendum; and had access to pollsters galore, so how did they get it so wrong? Surely the first duty of any Prime Minister is the defence of the nation, against whatever threat, presumably including secession – for how else do we explain the unanimity of the Westminster parties over the No campaign? Most leaders have clearly regarded even devolution as a threat to their power and failed to encourage a long-term federal solution which could have bound us ever more tightly together whilst recognising people’s hunger for more self-determination. This has been a huge mistake in the face of plentiful evidence, which Scots voters have now given us the chance to rectify.
Mistake No 2 has been arrogance. Delegating previously vilified Labour ex-ministers to carry out the dirty work instead of showing true leadership belittled the whole threat and allowed the result to be as close as it eventually became. The ultimate complacency.
Mistake No 3 was to fail to heed even those polls they did access at the time of the referendum agreement. The deliberate removal of the 3rd option of Devo Max made the No option – more of the same – deeply unattractive to many. Accompanying this option with a badly drafted question, tactics of threat and bullying contrasted strongly with the upbeat, visionary campaign for Yes which has so nearly prevailed. Even as a PR man, Cameron should be dismissed for allowing this negative strategy, let alone for his dereliction of duty.
We are where we are, so whither England; whither Labour? The lesson of the Yes campaign for Labour must be to re-emphasise building a fairer society. It must define how it will offer some of the benefits won by Scots to disengaged English and Welsh voters. We voters must note how the Scots got what they really wanted by shouting loudest. Even we who live only 50 miles from the seat of power feel the lack of any agency. The SNP can be compared to UKIP, in tapping a vein of anti-Establishment feeling. Labour should back-track from its closeness to the City, to Big Money and to the other No parties and return to the grass roots from which it sprang, for this is where the disenchantment grows.
Cameron’s failures smack of his typical strategy vacuum; of reaction to pressures with back-of-the-envelope bribes rather than long-term vision. Labour must paint a vision for a better country now; and explain how it will bring it into being, to turn his mismanagement into something better for everyone.