Socialists in England haven’t avoided the tough question over devolution just because the Scots voted No. The caucus still seems split over whether devolution is fundamentally a good thing. Ken Loach, speaking at a screening of Jimmy’s Hall before the referendum, admitted being stuck between affection for an independent Scotland, a country committed to Civic Nationalism, and the worry that we’d have to “work twice as hard to keep out the Tories”.
Loach summed up the feeling of the left well: we’re terribly afraid to be left alone with the Conservatives and UKIP yet, for more orthodox leftists, rule number one is that Socialism has no boarders. And for anyone even slightly left of centre that’s often an important distinction from the right. Arguably all the more reason to push for unity however the emancipation of Scottish comrades surely would have been worth it as we carry on the fight in England confident in the worker’s eventual triumph – this might sound trite but, when it comes to constitutional change, whether or not one truly believes in their cause even when the odds are against them is something they’ll have to consider. Ironically many opted for an independent Scotland by way of ‘containing’ the right.
The hard truth for the Labour leadership is that many did vote yes and now it’s grassroots strongly supports devolution, especially in Scotland and Wales. For groups like the Green Party of England and Wales and Left Unity their mission is to rally support where Labour has failed and they’ll relish the challenge in whatever United Kingdom comes out of the next parliament. Left Unity wants to reignite the traditional white working class and galvanise it with immigrant groups, after quarrels between the pair broke the trade union movement’s engine in the early nineties. It need not release any official line on devolution thought it’s an issue localities have been debating over and over.
Yet devolution is an issue the entire left shall have to face – an affront to its base ideology it cannot wander into a seriously devolved United Kingdom where it finds it cannot operate. Johann Lamout of Scottish Labour promised devolution that will ‘strengthen Scottish politics’, trying to tap into the legacy that Alex Salmond. The Greens meanwhile unveil an almost federalist plan for local authorities with a strong constitutional centre – very far from that old utopia. This is perhaps the best way to deal with another identity crisis for the left in England, through complete reinvention.