The start of the year has seen keynote speeches from the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and a response from opposition leader Keir Starmer. Both proclaimed they were setting their visions and their priorities for UK governance. One glaring similarity between the two speeches is that they both largely ignored Scotland and the other devolved nations, even implying that Scotland as no more important than an English region. In particular Starmer’s clumsy attempt to suggest similarities between Brexit and Scottish independence demonstrates that he and his New Labour Party have zero understanding of Scotland nor any interest in working in the interests of Scotland.
Sunak did not even manage to say the word “Scotland”
Sunak didn’t even mention the words Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. He used the term “our Union” just once and talked about his priorities being enacted across the UK as a whole, implying that Scotland and the other two nations are no different to the English regions. Far from the previous ‘family of nations’ narrative or that ‘Scotland should lead the UK not leave it’, he failed to acknowledge the existence of devolution and ignored the different electoral priorities of the Scottish government.
Sunak did not acknowledge that the policy areas covered by many of his pledges are devolved and he did not discuss mending fences with the Scottish government.
Nor did he mention dealing with the Northern Irish protocol – surely one of the most pressing issues facing the UK Prime Minister. Getting this wrong could precipitate retaliation from the EU that could deepen the cost of living crisis. The Northern Ireland Assembly (Stormont) is currently suspended and the people of Northern Ireland are engulfed in a constitutional crisis that is a direct result of Brexit.
Sunak’s priorities are anglocentric. He has no understanding or interest in the specific issues affecting Scotland and this speech confirms that he views Scotland merely as an unimportant region of England.
Stamer tried to conflate support for Scottish independence with support for Brexit
Meanwhile, Keir Starmer claimed both the Brexit vote and the Yes vote in the first independence referendum were motivated by the same political goals. He said that both would be addressed in a “Take Back Control” bill – a bill which has nothing to offer Scotland.
Starmer says of Brexit: “As I went around the country, campaigning for Remain, I couldn’t disagree with the basic case so many Leave voters made to me. People who wanted public services they could rely on. High streets they could be proud of. Opportunities for the next generation. And all of this in their town or city. It was the same in the Scottish referendum in 2014 – many of those who voted ‘yes’ did so for similar reasons.”
By likening Brexit to independence, Starmer hopes will put Scottish voters off – and he won’t acknowledge that the 2014 ‘No” campaign told Scots that was the best way to retain EU membership, or that the vision of an independent Scotland in the EU is raising support for independence now. At the same time, he is committing his party to the impossible task of making Brexit work, while suggesting the UK has too many immigrants, in another attempt to curry favour with English right-wing voters.
Starmer’s “Take back Control” bill offers nothing to Scotland
Aping clarion calls of Brexiteers Farage and Johnson, he said his proposed “Take Back Control” bill would devolve powers over “employment support, transport, energy, climate change, housing, culture, childcare provision and how councils run their finances” – most of which are already devolved to Scotland – so either he doesn’t know how the UK operates or he is announcing a full scale assault on devolution.
Starmer also did not mention how he would negotiate with Scotland over its desire for full autonomy and for control of policies such as immigration, foreign policy, energy regulation and borrowing powers.
Starmer talked about setting up a British energy company – “Great British Energy”. He talked about “clean British energy” being nine times cheaper than imported fossil fuels. He did not acknowledge what is becoming an increasingly sore point of many Scots – that Scotland is one of the most energy-rich countries in the world – yet we pay some of the highest energy bills in the world. Scotland produces a large proportion of all of the energy produced in the UK but sees little benefit from that.
The use of the sloganised name Great British Energy is based on his wish to distract people from the fact that a great deal of that cheaper renewable energy is actually Scottish. We also wonder if he is aware that there was a company called British Energy and it was the UK’s largest electricity generation company by volume, before being taken over by EDF (Électricité de France) in 2009? Nothing says Great British energy than selling your biggest energy provider to the French governments publicly owned energy monopoly!
Starmer referred to Glasgow and Dundee in his speech, but only as part of a list of dynamic UK cities. He made no reference to Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales as separate countries with separate governments, different issues and electoral priorities.
Two sides of the same coin – the UK parties have nothing to offer Scotland
The priorities of both UK Unionist parties are policies for England that chime with the electorate south of the border. The leaders not discuss or acknowledge the growing rift with Scotland, the increased support for independence or the Scottish dimension to the energy crisis, where Scotland produces enough renewable energy to power itself and also exports 39% of our electricity to the rest of the UK and yet Scots pay higher bills.
Starmer addressed the fact that the UK’s economic problems are worse than comparable European countries but he failed to acknowledge the damaging reality of Brexit. It seems that no matter who the next UK Prime Minister is neither will govern for the benefit of Scotland’s economy, environment, or our communities.