WHO knows if Douglas Alexander's proposed national convention will come together, as he hopes, in 2015 to help plot Scotland's course over the coming decade?
Not even Labour is signed up to it ("It's a very interesting idea," one senior party figure straight-batted yesterday) and it may be that Yes and No supporters across civic society would struggle to build bridges so soon after a bruising referendum battle.
The idea is important for the pro-UK side and Scottish Labour. At heart it is about reclaiming the idea of change from the Nationalists; showing a No vote should not mean no change, that the referendum must be followed by a renewed focus on everyday issues such as economic growth and public services. The SNP said it was ironic the proposal should come on the anniversary of the 1979 devolution referendum which stymied constitutional change for a generation. Deliberate, more like.
In his lecture at Edinburgh University, Mr Alexander offered a lengthy critique of the Nationalists' case for independence. He explained the "central puzzle" of Scottish politics last year – that despite the SNP holding all the aces, support for independence fell – by suggesting the Nationalists had failed in attempts a) to portray the rest of Britain as a "foreign place," b) to cast independence as an escape from perpetual Conservative Government from Westminster, and c) to create a sense of inevitability about a Yes vote. The Olympics, he said, "crushed" the notion that Scots were uncomfortable being British. Labour's consistent poll lead over the Tories made it hard to argue that David Cameron would be in power forever. And as for the inevitability of independence, well, Better Together's 20-point poll lead told its own story.
Faced with those difficulties, he said, the Nationalists had been forced to adopt an "ideological" case for independence, a variation on the Tories-in-forever theme. In this respect, the Shadow Foreign Secretary's lecture was a direct response to Nicola Sturgeon's speech in Glasgow last December when she said the referendum was not about "how Scottish or British you feel" before adding, "my conviction that Scotland should be independent stems from the principles not of identity or nationalism but of democracy and social justice."
The implication that a Scotland hungry for a left-of-centre agenda will always be frustrated by a Britain incapable of change is a cultural conceit based on a false stereotype of neighbours to the south, Mr Alexander insisted. "Undoubtedly the clear majority of Scots, myself included, want change," he added, "but we do not see independence as the route to achieve the changes we want to see."
Which brought him to the idea of a national convention of trade unionists, voluntary sector bodies, church and business leaders which could debate issues like the economy and employment hitherto neglected because of the "relentless focus" on constitutional change. "Our economy, services and people cannot be left on hold while the constitutional deckchairs are shifted around by political deckhands," he said. To press home the point he set out key priorities for Labour's 2016 manifesto, including boosting jobs, help with energy bills and responsible spending choices, a reference to cutting universal benefits.
Senior Nationalists are taking the national convention idea as a back-handed compliment, recognition of sorts that their own constitutional convention, the broadly based body that would frame a bill of rights after a Yes result, is an attractive offer. They remain happily unconvinced Unionist efforts to present a No vote as a vote for change will impress the public.
For Labour, it's another piece of the political jigsaw as they seek to build from the referendum towards the 2016 Holyrood election and the enormous task of overhauling the SNP's 28-seat advantage.
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