On the eve of the UK Labour party conference, Pete Wishart MP writes exclusively for Better Nation, calling all parties – and Labour in particular – to the independence cause.  Pete is SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire and is currently the SNP’s Westminster spokesperson for the constitution, home affairs, culture, media and sport and international development. 

What’s the chances of an all party campaign for “Yes to Independence”?  Well practically zilch, if we were to listen to the various spokespeople from the Scottish branches of the UK parties.  It would seem that they have collectively set themselves up in a bizarre contest to be the keenest defenders of the Union, and in that defence they will be steadfast. But why have they allowed themselves to be so entrenched on the Union side of the debate, and is there any prospect whatsoever of them even entertaining the notion of an Independent Scotland?

Let’s forget about the Tories just now, even with the contradictory prospect of an independent Scottish “Tory” party in a dependent Scotland, they will be the principle Union cheer leaders.  And what about the Liberals?  Well, they seem to be almost schizophrenic in their approach to the coming referendum with full home rule one minute then this curious Moore/Alexander “muscular unionism” the next.

No, I think it is to Labour that we must primarily look for some sort of encouragement in a meaningful cross party constitutional debate.

There is absolutely no doubt that many in Labour care passionately about the Union, but as Kenny Farquhason recently correctly pointed out, people don’t sign up to the Labour party to defend the Union! They tend to join for much loftier motives like achieving social justice or progressing equality issues. Surely, from the most unreconstructed old socialist to the most convinced right wing Blairite, it would have to be agreed that these fine intentions could be achieved in an independent Scotland?

There are signs, though, that perhaps a more relaxed perspective on progressive constitutional change is starting to emerge.  Former Labour First Minister, Henry McLeish, now advocates a devo max model of full fiscal autonomy – even George Foulkes made an interesting intervention on the same side a few months ago.  Furthermore, if you rake through the new Labour think-blog, Labour Hame, you can find any number of interesting contributions by some of their more progressive and forward thinkers.  There is a debate emerging in the Labour party and that must be welcomed.

And Labour has a proud tradition on constitutional change. In the 80s, Scottish Labour Action was an excellent example of free thinking on Scotland’s constitutional future. Compare the dynamism of SLA with the poverty of thinking on the Calman Commission and we see what Labour is missing in its internal constitutional debate.

Who knows, there may even be a group within Labour’s constituency that might be prepared to join a cross party campaign for independence?  I know that might sound almost deluded given what their politicians say, but remember in last year’s constitutional referendum (for AV) Labour had for and against campaigns, so why not in this referendum? Certainly a pro-devo max group must now be likely given the contributions from some of Labour’s senior figures.

The alternative is to be lumped in with the Tories, under the leadership of Billy Connolly, or some other Unionist celebrity, in a destructive “no” campaign. Investing so heavily in a doomed “no” campaign would see them increasingly irrelevant in a new, Independent Scotland.  Having a foot in more than one camp would allow the Labour Party to walk away from the referendum result in a much better place.

And what are they arguing against?  What is clear is that the Labour position against Independence has moved on but is still in need of further revision.  The “too wee too poor” arguments seem to have been nuanced recently, having been replaced by a sort of “better together” generality. But other than their intense dislike of us in the SNP, and an almost endearing attachment to the unitary UK state, I genuinely don’t know why Labour are so determined to oppose Independence.

We are in the process of shaping our nation for the century ahead and it deserves a better response than we have had thus far from the Labour Party.  Labour should at least have some sort of meaningful debate about their constitutional options before throwing themselves into a “no” campaign so readily and so enthusiastically.