If Scotland walks away from the UK, it will break up the Labour family. Photo: Getty
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One month to go: what voting No in the Scottish referendum can offer Labour voters

With one month of campaigning left until the Scottish independence referendum, why would Scotland remaining in the Union benefit Labour supporters?

18 September 2014. It is a date that we in Scotland have been talking about for years, and it will be etched in our nation’s memory for generations to come. I look forward to telling my grandchildren about it, with pride and passion for everything that Scotland has achieved.

Because one month today I am voting to stand in solidarity with working people right across these islands. I am voting "no thanks" to Scotland walking away from our friends and neighbours across the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom is a country shaped by shared values – not least tolerance, fairness and internationalism – to which all nations and communities can contribute and from which all learn.

It is grounded in values of cooperation and solidarity between countries and nations that make us all stronger.

What we gain economically from working together rather than walking away is underpinned by something far more powerful - the gains from the interaction and cross fertilisation of ideas and experiences – out of which comes shared values and the desirability of shared decision making.

It is not simply that a working family in Paisley has more in common with a working family in Preston or Ebbur Vale than with the Duke of Sutherland. It is that in their shared endeavour and common experience we all gain.

What the UK teaches us – not least through the intermarriage, intermingling and immigration with Britain over the centuries – is to see the world though someone else’s eyes.

The UK embodies a quintessentially modern idea I hold very dearly. We are enlarged by people who are different from us. We are not threatened by them.

I believe deeply that change is needed on both sides of the border – and beyond our borders. 

Right across the UK, Tory economic policy and welfare cuts make many fearful and force choices between heating and eating for still more. The SNP's council tax freeze is taking money from the poorest communities while forcing cuts to the public services they need most.

The nationalists rely on rekindling an outdated sense of victimhood. Wales, Northern Ireland and great cities like Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester find no place amidst a cultural conceit that holds that everyone south of the Tweed is an austerity-loving Tory.

The nationalists say – walk away and all will be well. Yet while the clear majority of Scots want change, we do not judge independence as the route to achieve those changes.

As Labour campaigners, our belief is that when we see injustice we stand and fight to change it, and so we must be the voice for the change that most Scots want.

The ideal and the practice of solidarity is what most challenges the nationalist notion that somehow Scotland needs independence because Scots are better at being fairer than the English, or at least, would be without the English around.

At a deeper moral level, walking away is not and never can be an act of, or the basis for, solidarity.

At our best, Labour has been the party of constitutional, economic and social renewal – the party of Scottish home rule. We established the Scottish Parliament. But for us that parliament, with whatever powers it now has and will have in the future, is a means to an end. And that end is to improve the lot of working people and ensuring no one is left behind.

That task is still best achieved working alongside our comrades in the rest of the UK. As the old trade union slogan has it, “In Unity is Strength”.

The independent Institute of Fiscal Studies has estimated that an independent Scotland would have to impose £6bn of cuts or tax rises after a yes vote over and above those already planned. That is more than Scotland spends on schools, more than the entire budget for pensions and equivalent to half the current NHS budget.

The truth is that separation means cuts. What Alex Salmond is asking Scotland to vote for is Austerity Plus for decades to come.

That is what makes his pitch to Labour voters that there would be fewer cuts and more wealth redistribution in a separate Scotland so cynical.

If you take a moment to look beneath Alex Salmond’s rhetoric at his actual record, there isn’t much to back up his claim to want redistribution. In seven years as First Minister there has been not one policy which redistributes wealth from rich to poor – indeed the opposite is true.

But the certainty is that the financial chaos that would be inflicted by the nationalists' confusion over the currency of a separate Scotland would lead to more cuts and greater poverty.

This currency chaos would hit the poor harder than anyone. The cuts would have to be across the board – from schools to hospitals, from pensions to welfare payments to some of our most vulnerable fellow citizens.

My starting point is that I want Scotland to be fairer, more prosperous and have greater opportunities.

That’s why I have come to the conclusion that we are more likely to have the strength to become fairer, more prosperous and have greater opportunities by working with our neighbours in the United Kingdom.

For the nationalists the starting point is the desire to leave the United Kingdom. The question of Scotland being fairer, more prosperous and having more opportunity is secondary to their core belief.

In the closing weeks of this campaign we are offering Labour voters what most Scots see as the best of both worlds: more decisions taken by Scots here in Scotland, backed up by the strength, stability and security of the UK.

When I campaign in towns and cities across the country, I speak to people facing the same challenges as my own constituents in Renfrewshire.  And I meet dedicated Labour campaigners focused on fighting to improve their communities.

I believe that if Scotland walks away from the UK, breaking up our Labour family, it would be a blow to the cause of social justice across the United Kingdom.

When my grandchildren ask what I did in the referendum, I want to be able to say that I worked and campaigned for a principled and pragmatic solidarity that shares risks, rewards and resources across these islands.

In this final month before polling day, my call to Labour supporters - wherever you live in the UK - is come and work with us in these closing weeks of the campaign.

Join us in upholding the ideal and the practice of solidarity in these islands. We'll give you a warm welcome because we understand ' unity is strength' as we campaign  for victory  on September 18th.

While the referendum is a decision for us in Scotland to make, the debate about solidarity and social justice is one for across the UK. 

Let’s stand together in solidarity on September 18th, both as a Labour movement as a the family of nations that is the United Kingdom.

Douglas Alexander is Labour MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South and shadow foreign secretary

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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder