The party challenged the SNP to condemn the “masquerade” of SNP members posing as Labour activists and supporters. If the Scottish Labour establishment thought Labour for Independence was a joke back then, it is not laughing now. The old Labour heartland areas of Dundee, Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and West Dumbartonshire all returned Yes majorities on 18 September.
Other core Labour areas like Inverclyde and Renfrewshire marginally missed out on Yes majorities. Glasgow’s seven sitting Labour MPs now face a general election in the spring of next year knowing that most of the voters whose support they are chasing want rid of the parliament in which they want to sit.
Meanwhile, the “defeated” Yes parties are experiencing a post-referendum boom. The SNP has more than doubled its membership to around 70,000 in just one week. Yes activists are also flocking in their thousands to join the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialists. Working class Scotland remains unbowed by a No coalition “victory” that was built around Scotland’s bourgeois establishment.
As the visible Scottish face of that establishment coalition Labour now finds itself cut off from what used to be its working class base. The panic in Scottish Labour ranks is now palpable. Before the vote Johann Lamont vilified what she referred to as the “virus of nationalism”. After the vote, she finds herself forced to salute the “passion” and “commitment” of the independence supporters she had previously disparaged and who had abandoned her party in their droves.
Before the vote, Margaret Curran denigrated nationalism as “divisive”, and “reactionary”. After the vote she too has had to announce a tour of former Labour heartland constituencies to try to pacify what is a grassroots rebellion against the reactionary British state that she represents.
Lamont and Curran are the senior ranking politicians in Scottish Labour and so are vulnerable to the accusation that the party’s core working class base has been dismantled on their watch. Right wingers in the Scottish ranks immediately took advantage of the UK party conference in Manchester to brief against both politicians and to float the idea of the Blairite Jim Murphy replacing first Curran as Shadow Scottish Secretary and then Lamont as party leader.
It is perhaps fitting that as their core working class vote crumbles in housing schemes across Scotland, that Labour is turning towards an MP whose parliamentary constituency is centred on the old Eastwood seat once the safest Tory constituency in Scotland.
Labour is also on course to be the loser in Scotland’s post-referendum political struggles. Gordon Brown’s impassioned call during the campaign for a federal UK in which everything but defence and foreign affairs is devolved to national parliaments and regional assemblies has not the remotest chance of being delivered.
Already the vow to deliver additional but undefined powers to Scotland has run up against the barrier of “English votes for English laws”. It is simply unfeasible for either Osborne or Balls to concede devolution-max or anything like it while their common priority is to get rid of the UK’s massive deficit by iron control of UK spending. Whatever offer the No parties make, it will not satisfy the widespread demand in Scotland for a powerhouse Parliament.
Labour is also handicapped by their decision to match Coalition cuts in 2015-16 “pound for pound”. Ed Balls speech to the Manchester conference was spun as “fiscally responsible” and a signal to British Business that Labour was serious about reducing the deficit. It may have reassured the CBI but it did nothing for ordinary Labour Party members and supporters.
His announcements on cutting child benefit, means-testing winter fuel allowance and adopting the Coalition cap on welfare dismayed an already dispirited rank and file. At the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy fringe meeting in Manchester he was labelled “a disaster” who was prejudicing Labour’s chance of winning in 2015.
Scottish Labour’s leadership shamelessly used the referendum campaign to warn that a Yes vote was a threat to public spending, pensions and the British welfare state. Within days of the campaign ending, their own UK leadership has signalled that the real threat to all of these comes from Westminster based and Treasury-dominated politicians on both sides of the House of Commons.
Their common default position is austerity for years to come whichever party wins the next election. That is no basis on which to build a fairer and more equal Scotland or Britain. Even those who voted No will come to see this in time.