The fight of our lives

Martin McCluskey

After a year that has seen a landslide win for the SNP, a new Leader and Deputy Leader for Scottish Labour and the start of a battle against the Nationalists’ bid to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK, Ed Miliband addressed a Scottish Party which is facing the fight of our lives.

On Friday afternoon, Ed squared up to two enemies – the SNP in Holyrood and the Tories at Westminster – and showed how Labour’s social democratic values underpin our case for a progressive Union. This speech was Ed Miliband on form – relaxed, at ease and laying out intelligently an argument of real substance. Three things stood out:

1. The return to core issues. Ed’s speech didn’t take as its starting point the constitutional minutiae that we can too often become mired in in the Scottish political bubble. His speech, first and foremost, spoke to the concerns that are top of people’s minds – employment, rising prices and squeezed standards of living. Despite the current constitutional wrangling, these are still the issues of primary concern to the Scottish people and, as I’ve argued on Labour Hame in the past, these are the issues that are going to define whether Labour are judged fit to form the next UK and Scottish Governments.

Highlighting the 1 in 5 young people who are now out of work in Scotland and the fact that 1 out of every 3 jobs lost in the UK has been north of the border, Ed highlighted how the SNP’s obsession with the constitution has meant that they have taken their eye off the ball on the issues that matter most. In short, they’ve got one eye on governing and one eye on campaigning for separation.

2. Taking on Alex Salmond. While the SNP Leader’s personal poll rating rides high (well in excess of 60%), it has been difficult to alter the public’s image of him as a strong man standing up for Scotland. Ed’s speech today took us on to this territory and, returning to his familiar theme of tackling vested interests, he highlighted Salmond’s increasingly close relationship with Rupert Murdoch, his silence on the Levenson inquiry and his inability to act when the interests of his friends and donors may be at risk.

While Salmond presents himself as consistently standing up for Scotland’s interests, there is enough recent evidence to suggest the opposite and to show that when his own agenda or party stands to gain, he is willing to put that before the interests of the Scottish people.

3. The progressive case for the Union is now emerging more clearly. With such a (superficially) compelling and easily communicated narrative from the Nationalist side, the challenge of getting our message across was always going to be significant. However, building on ideas he first explored in January in Glasgow, Ed emphasised the values at the heart of our country, calling the UK a “redistributive Union”.

While Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy focused on Friday morning on the international impact of an independent Scotland, Ed emphasised the shared values and common bonds that hold people in the UK together, regardless of which part of the UK they come from. This idea – that the UK is the most successful redistributive union on the planet, in an increasingly globalised world – is one I’m sure we’re going to hear more of as the debate progresses.

The stakes for Scottish Labour over the coming years have rarely been so high. Not only do we need to communicate a convincing case for the Union and win the referendum (whenever it might be), but we have to do that at the same time as we rebuild our own credibility as a party and shape our offer to the Scottish people on the issues that affect their lives. Ed’s speech yesterday spoke to both of these challenges.

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