WELSH Labour First Minister Mark Drakeford’s intervention on Scottish independence is important and blows apart the Keir Starmer-Anas Sarwar line of saying no to Scottish self-determination.

In a thoughtful interview with BBC Radio 4’s Evan Davis last Friday, Drakeford said that Scotland had a right to an independence referendum and the Scottish Government had a mandate to hold one, completely contradicting Starmer and Sarwar.

He said of the SNP’s victory in 2021: “If you have a government that is elected by its people with such a proposition in its manifesto it should have the right to implement that manifesto. The Scottish National Party, much as I disagree with them on the issue, won the election on the basis they would seek another referendum. How can that be denied to the Scottish people?”

Drakeford is not making the case for independence, but for democracy and the principle of self-determination. He is also standing against the Tory debasement of the UK and Union which is seeing the re-emergence of the absolutist Empire State in Westminster aided by Brexit. He described the Johnson Premiership with its desire to plaster huge Union Jacks the length and breadth of the land as “an aggressive message of imperialist Unionism.” Can you imagine a Scottish Labour politician talking in such a clear and radical way?

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Welsh Labour have consistently taken a much bolder line on Scottish self-determination and sovereignty. They have continually spoken out, in common with the Scottish Government and Nicola Sturgeon, against a hard Brexit and the degeneration and dogma of the British state.

Welsh Labour are different from Scottish Labour. They are still the dominant party of their country, have adapted to devolution and been in power for the past 23 years – sometimes on their own, other times with the Lib Dems and even with Plaid Cymru.

Scottish Labour are currently in the wilderness, on leader number ten since the advent of the Scottish Parliament, have spent 15 years in opposition, and seem unable to adapt to the new political landscape of SNP ascendancy and the salience of independence.

Drakeford is Welsh Labour First Minister so his words have impact and influence. Even more than this, they come with form from a host of senior Welsh Labour figures who have made similar statements about Scotland and the nature of political power in the UK.

Carwyn Jones, the First Minister before Drakeford from 2009-18, made an important intervention after he left the post in January 2020 when he said that the hard Brexit being advanced by Johnson and the Tories was an attack on Scottish and Welsh autonomy.

Moreover, he laid this at the tradition of English parliamentary sovereignty which has no basis north of the border, saying that: “Scotland will have imposed on it a form of sovereignty that firstly doesn’t exist in Scotland and secondly cuts across the Treaty of Union of 1707.”

Welsh Labour is proudly, unashamedly Welsh and expresses a vision of self-government that is both political and cultural; centred on an increasingly distinctive, autonomous, confident Wales. It sees the degeneration and absolutism of the British state as a problem and threat and isn’t afraid to say so. And this even includes occasionally challenging Westminster Labour politicians playing their part in propping up this rotten order.

Scottish Labour in the last two decades has grown increasingly apologetic about its Scottish credentials and unsure of standing up and fighting for Scotland’s interests. It is against self-determination, and associates the cause of independence solely with the SNP and those pesky “separatists”, so opposes it without seriously thinking about or understanding it. And if you are waiting for a Scottish Labour politician to criticise Westminster as an institution (as opposed to what Tory Governments do), the British state, or British Labour, you will be waiting a long time.

Unlike Welsh Labour, Scottish Labour has turned its back on its own rich tradition of self-government. Keir Hardie and the Independent Labour Party (ILP) were for Scottish self-government and against Westminster absolutism and arrogance. James Maxton, Labour and ILP MP – of whom Gordon Brown wrote a biography – spoke in the 1920s of a “Scottish Socialist Commonwealth”, meaning an independent, self-governing country; underpinning the radical socialist and anti-imperialist sentiments of the ILP.

Nobody would believe a Scottish Labour Party now that came out for independence. However, of the party’s different potential positions, standing full-square with Westminster and with Tory denial of democracy against Scotland’s right to decide its future – and hence self-determination – are a disaster for the party and a complete cul-de-sac for it standing for anything radical.

The party should be standing for the right of Scotland to decide its future; for self-determination as a principle, and challenge the rotten, decaying order of Westminster and the Tory and Labour maintenance of it. This is after all the position of much of the wider labour movement, including the STUC.

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It would reflect that as many Labour pro-Union voters have deserted the party and gone to the Tories, Labour’s vote in Scotland has become more pro-independence, with 40% of Labour voters supporting it. This is a reality evident since 2014, but one Labour leader after another has tried to ignore it and hope that it would just go away. Instead, they have backed a Tory absolutist version of the Union which has nothing in common with the traditions of the labour movement and socialism.

Scottish Labour has had ten leaders over the devolution era – Donald Dewar, Henry McLeish, Jack McConnell, Wendy Alexander, Iain Gray, Johann Lamont, Jim Murphy, Kezia Dugdale, Richard Leonard and now Anas Sarwar. Some made an impact; some hung around; some, such as Jim Murphy, only lasted a few months and left quickly after experiencing electoral debacle and defeat: the near-wipe-out of 2015 at Westminster from which the party has never recovered.

It is now a long time since a Scottish Labour leader said anything of worth or that had much impact and which the wider electorate actually noted. On a wider level the Scottish party has not embodied or positively championed a single position or cause that anyone has taken any notice of since the party went into opposition in 2007 with the rot going much further back.

As for standing and representing anything original, Wendy Alexander once said the party had not had an original idea since 1906, which was harsh – as the party had a very fruitful, fertile period of radical thinking in the 1920s aided by the ILP – but she was broadly right.

Instead Labour knows for what it is against – independence and self-determination, even opposing Scotland’s right to decide and having still not come to terms with the rise and ascendancy of the SNP. There is a yearning for a return to “normal service”, that somehow the SNP will implode and that we can go back to the good old days of Labour v Tories.

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All of this is underpinned by a Labour miserablism about the big questions facing Scotland and our future. This when the answer to Labour’s predicament is in its own traditions, namely to embrace self-determination and challenge the SNP on their conservative version of it, and widen it to a politics which includes economic and social democracy for Scotland.

Draw from the ILP well, drop the “branch line” mentality, become finally an autonomous Scottish party, and stand up like Welsh Labour – and understand that there is no future for progressive politics in this version of Britain.