With Brexit and the possibility of a second independence referendum looming, Scottish Labour has never been more needed, argues Jenny Marra MSP
The first minister of Scotland has a big issue on her mind this weekend. How should she play the increasingly difficult situation she has got herself into over Brexit and a second referendum?
Last Tuesday, Theresa May crossed Nicola Sturgeon’s red line. She said that Brexit will mean coming out of the single market. Some might say that the prime minister called the first minister’s bluff. Sturgeon has seen the polls. A referendum on independence is probably about the last thing she wants. If the polls are correct, and the experience of Quebec is a template, a second referendum could kill the independence question once and for all. That is not the legacy that Sturgeon wants.
Scottish Labour finds itself, not for the first time, in an invidious political situation. We are actually squarely where the public are; pro-European Union for the large part, against a second referendum and against independence but whether these positions will favour us when it comes to the ballot box is a whole other question. The people we desperately want and seek to represent, many remain attracted to independence and many voted Brexit.
We stand resolutely against independence for very good reason, and with even more compelling evidence and sympathy than when this question was put to the Scottish people in 2014.
I found that many people in 2014 could not conceive of a world or a country where guarantees might go, where services free at the point of need may disappear. There was scant living memory of pre-1945 housing and health provision. That is why the charge of scaremongering that was levied at us by the Scottish National party had such traction. Today, it is a bit different. This week we see that banks are taking thousands of jobs out of London only the day after May’s speech. People feel uncertainty more tangibly in the post-Brexit world. I believe that not only domestic politics has contributed to this but that the election of Donald Trump has unsettled people and made them fear that the worst can happen, and when it does, guarantees could well be out the window. With the rise of the right across Europe and with the Trump presidency only hours old, people’s fears and misgivings might only increase. In this uncertain world, are Scottish voters likely to take a leap of their own? I doubt it.
The evidence is also biting hard. The tragedy for the north-east of Scotland as the downturn in the oil price has resulted in the loss of 60,000 jobs in North Sea oil is devastating. Employment figures released this week for Scotland are not good, and the pressure that public services are under as a result of the ten-year long council tax freeze are really hitting communities.
Perhaps, like in the United States these past couple of weeks where the Senate confirmation hearings are teasing out the incoming administration’s domestic position against the backdrop of the bigger crisis, Brexit and the prospect of a second referendum will give the Labour party permission to be heard by the electorate on how these big decisions will affect their everyday lives.
I for one, throughout my twenty plus years in this party, have never been so convinced of how relevant and needed our values and our party are as I am today. As Brexit, potentially a second referendum on independence and turbulent international circumstances swirl around, the political force that continues to set rigorous tests of work, wages and dignified living standards for those at the mercy of these changes, will prove itself essential and invaluable again.
Jenny Marra MSP is member of Scottish parliament for North East Scotland. She tweets at @JennyMarra
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