The divide between Scotland's people and its political class has never been greater

While the SNP obsesses over independence, voters are more concerned with an unemployed population the size of Dundee.

The 1707 Act of Union between Scotland and England was described by Daniel Defoe as one "of policy" and "less [a] union of affection". The author of Robinson Crusoe was arguing that the economic benefits for both countries were what sustained the Union. Last week, Alex Salmond was inadvertently trying to reverse this settlement. But if he proved anything, it was not that there is a policy-based case for independence, rather that he deems such issues to be esoteric.

One of the big economic arguments unveiled last Tuesday to entice Scots to vote for separation was to acquire "economic levers" such as corporation tax, which they would subsequently reduce by 3% in order to undercut the UK rate. This 3% cut, the SNP claims, would increase productivity by over 1% and create 27,000 jobs after 20 years. So vote Yes in 2014 and then wait 20 years.

Even if you ignore the moral arguments about a race to the bottom in corporation tax, or that Joseph Stieglitz, one of the Scottish government's own economic advisors opposes the idea, or the fact that this modelling was based on a 3% reduction when the UK rate at the time was 26%, or the fact that the British government now plans to cut the main rate of corporation tax to 20% by 2015, the idea that 27,000 jobs after 20 years, around the same amount of time it took to build the Taj Mahal, is some sort of economic lever worth ending a 300-year-old Union for is clearly absurd.

This is best highlighted when you consider the economic problems facing Scots. For example, in the past fortnight we’ve seen that unemployment in Scotland stands at around 199,000, which is greater than the population of Dundee, Scotland’s fourth largest city. The dole queue in Scotland is so long that if it was assembled in one straight line it could stretch from Edinburgh to Glasgow. The suggestion that voting for independence in 2014, so that by 2034 this figure would still continue to be larger than the population of Dundee is simply laughable.

It is not surprising to discover that unemployment, not independence, is the top concern among Scots in numerous polls. In Scotland, as in most parts of the UK, constitutional issues like referendums, rank low among most voters’ concerns. Well-respected pollsters like Peter Kelner have observed that separatism is a "minority passion north of the border".

Only at the start of the year, the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found support for independence at its lowest since devolution – it’s barely changed since. In fact, support for independence is so low that when separatist campaigners get even within 10 points of the opposite camp, not only do the SNP see this as a "boost" but they also send out a press release. I honestly can’t imagine any other mainstream party highlighting the fact they are so far behind their rival in a political race.

Nevertheless, when one considers that Scottish public’s opinion on separation has barely moved any further in the last 12 months than it has in the previous 168, it becomes clear that the divide between the people and the political class in Scotland could not be any further apart. All the referendum is doing is providing a Scotch Mist that conceals the real issues afflicting Scots.

20 years from now, if the referendum outcome is as all the polls suggest, Scots will not look back and count the 27,000 jobs announced last week. They will instead wonder why, when their country’s politicians were confronted by a city’s worth of unemployed Scots, they chose to ignore the public’s main policy concern and focus on their antipathy towards the Union.

James Mills is a Labour researcher and led the Save EMA campaign

Alex Salmond speaks at the launch of the Scottish independence White Paper last week in Glasgow. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Harriet Harman: “Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party urged women to unite across the divided party.

The day-long women's conference is usually the friendliest place at Labour party conference. Not only does it have a creche and a very clear emphasis on accessibility, but everybody who attends starts from a place of fundamental agreement before the sessions have even begun. For that reason, it's often ignored by political hacks in search of a juicy splits story (especially since it takes place on Saturday, before the "real" conference action really gets underway). But with the party divided and the abuse of women on and off social media a big concern, there was a lot to say.

This year, kick off was delayed because of the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the leadership election. The cheer for the renewed leader in the packed women's conference hall was far bigger than that in the main hall, although not everybody was clapping. After a sombre tribute to the murdered Labour MP and former chair of the Labour Women's Network Jo Cox, Harriet Harman took to the stage.

As a long-time campaigner for women's rights, veteran MP and former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harman is always popular with women's conference - even if her position on the current leadership and her status as a former Blairite minister places her out of sync with some of the audience. Rather than merely introducing the first speaker as the agenda suggested, Harman took the opportunity to make a coded dig at Corbyn by doing a little opposition of her own.

"Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister," she declared, going on to describe the way that May, as shadow spokesperson for women and equalities under William Hague, had been a "drag anchor" on Harman's own efforts to enact pro-women reforms while Labour were in government. The Thatcher comparison for May is ubiquitous already, but Harman made it specific, saying that like Thatcher, Theresa May is a woman prime minister who is no friend to women.

Harman then turned her attention to internal Labour party affairs, reassuring the assembled women that a divided party didn't have to mean that no advances could be made. She gestured towards the turmoil in Labour in the 1980s, saying that "no matter what positions women were taking elsewhere in the party, we worked together for progress". Her intervention chimes with the recent moves by high profile former frontbenchers like Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper to seek select committee positions, and Andy Burnham's campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

Harman's message to women's conference was clear: the time for opposition to Corbyn is over now - we have to live with this leadership, but we can't let the equalities legacy of the Blair years be subsumed in the meantime. She ended by saying that "we have many leaders in the Labour party," pointing to Jess Phillips, the chair of the women's PLP, and Angela Rayner, shadow minister for education, women and equalities. Like Burnham, Cooper et al, Harman has clearly decided that Corbyn can't be unseated, so ways must be found to work around him.

Rayner followed Harman onto the stage. As one of Corbyn's shadow ministerial team, Rayner is far from in agreement with Harman on everything, and rather than speak about any specific policy aims, she addressed women's conference on the subject of her personal journey to the front bench. She described how her mother was "born on the largest council estate in Europe and was one of twelve children" and "never felt loved and didn’t know how to love, because hugs, cuddles and any signs of affection just wasn’t the norm". She went on to say "mum won't mind me saying this - to this day she cannot read and write". Her mother was in the audience, attending her first Labour conference.

As a former care worker who became a mother herself when she was just 16, Rayner is a rarity at the top of Labour politics. She told the Guardian in 2012 that she is used to being underestimated because of her youth, her gender and her northern accent: "I'm a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time. I'm not stupid and most people know that now, but I still like to be underestimated because it gives me an edge. It gives me a bit of stealth."

The mass shadow cabinet resignations in June propelled Rayner to the top sooner than an MP only elected in 2015 might have expected, and she has yet to really prove her mettle on the grind of parliamentary opposition and policy detail. But if Labour is ever to win back the seats in the north where Ukip and Brexit are now strong, it's the likes of Rayner that will do it. As Harriet Harman herself shows, the women and equalities brief is a good place to start - for even in turbulent, divided times for Labour, women's conference is still a place where people can find common ground.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.