When it comes to Scotland, where we are now reminds me of the miners’ strike

Dave Anderson

Although a supporter of the No campaign in Scotland, I hadn’t intended to do anything other than work on the ground in Glenrothes, where myself and other comrades from Blaydon and the Durham miners played our small part in beating the SNP in a by election in 2008 and helping to elect my good friend Lindsay Roy as a Labour MP.

However, events this weekend have changed that. I attended a memorial service in Auchengeigh, just North of Glasgow, on Sunday. This service commemorated disasters at a mine in the village in 1931 and 1959. At the service was my great comrade Davy Hamilton, MP for Midlothian. Like me, Davy is a former miner, a trade union activist, who was locked up during the miners’ strike in 1984 . He lost his job as a result of being jailed even though he was never charged with an offence.


Davy told me that the day before he and Dennis Skinner were speaking at a No campaign event in his constituency. Davy is no shrinking violet but he was gobsmacked to be told by an opponent that he and Dennis were “class traitors”. I know that feelings are running very high up here, but have people lost any sense of perspective or did they ever have any?

I feel uncomfortable with some of the very strange bedfellows who I find myself alongside in this campaign, but I would want nobody more than Davy and Dennis next to me in any battle. Neither of them was bothered by this verbal nonsense but it does worry me if people on the left are so caught up in this whole process that they ignore the reality of people’s contribution over decades.

This campaign is testing many strong ties. I have asked good comrades how they can support a break up which, if it goes ahead, will leave the people in the rest of the UK facing a future of right wing domination. How can that be OK to people who purport to believe in solidarity? Their answer is simplistic and it goes like this “The people in Scotland will leave the UK, rapidly set up a socialist Utopia and then we in the rest of the UK will see the pathway and rise up and follow them down the same road.” I have to say that if the Scots choose to say Yes I will be doing all in my power to follow that blueprint. My only worry is that most of us on the left have been trying to do this for over a century following the “rising up” in, for example, Russia, Cuba and Venezuela.

Sadly, there is no answer from the proponents of Yes when I ask what do we do in the meantime. We have struggled badly enough to resist the austerity agenda with 41 great Scottish parliamentary comrades by our side. What do we do when they go? And how do we stop the next Tory government forcing through boundary changes that make a Labour government even less likely in the medium term? The simplistic answer is that the Left will rise up in England as it has in Scotland.

But is that really what we are seeing in Scotland? Is the Yes campaign right when it dismisses all the warnings about the real impact on the Scots if Yes is their answer as part of a huge conspiracy orchestrated by David Cameron and Team Westminster? Do we really think that come the 19th September everything will be ok?

I am saddened by where we are now. I am a huge believer in devolution. I felt that the North East of England was hugely let down by Tony Blair with his paltry offer for us in 2004 and I wasn’t in the least bit surprised to be soundly beaten back then. But I was also proud to play my part in the trade union campaigns for devolution across the UK with positive messages and with resources being made available to influence the decisions on the ground.

But where we are now reminds me of another campaign and that’s where I started. The miners’ strike in 1984 reshaped our nation. One of the key reasons for the outcome of the strike was the decision of some miners not to engage in the dispute because they thought that their futures were secure. I don’t think any Nottingham miner wanted to see pit closures in Durham, Scotland or Wales, but they did believe that they were secure so they adopted an “I’m sorry, but we’re alright Jack” attitude.

Isn’t that precisely what many well-meaning comrades in Scotland are saying today? Can any of them genuinely believe that if they leave the Union that it will be anything other than detrimental to their traditional comrades in England, Wales and Northern Ireland? Where’s the solidarity in that?

If there are any positives in this, it is that the case for a more socially just policy platform has been made completely. We in Labour need to grasp this opportunity with both hands regardless of the result in Scotland. Most people in the UK are confused by politicians and their policies. To an extent they don’t know what they want. But I am convinced that they know what they don’t want, and that is more of the same! They reject the austerity agenda and they can be convinced of the need to build a future built on fairness and freedom from despair and poverty. We know that the Tories and the Lib Dems are a busted flush but we can only take advantage of the feelings aroused by the debate in Scotland if we do as, God forbid, Tony Blair told us, and Be Bold.

This week will see this nation change forever regardless of who wins. The challenge for us is how we respond and more of the same is a non-starter

Many comrades reading this may think, as sadly far too many in power thought, that this is nowt to do with me. Nothing is further from the truth. All of the places we live in will be changed by whatever the outcome is this week. I urge all of you to get involved. Go to a phone bank, come North over the border, ring your mates in Scotland and get them to vote No as the first step in changing the whole of the UK for the better.

 Dave Anderson is the MP for Blaydon

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