SIR Keir Starmer must be the sort of guy who sees a fiver in the street and walks past it. If he had an open goal, he’d boot the ball the other way. If you gifted him a horse, he’d look it straight in the mouth.

He has blown it in Scotland. He’s handed success in Scotland at the next General Election to Nicola Sturgeon. Her only real challenge just shot himself in both feet. His positioning around immigration, Brexit, and another referendum is so appallingly tone-deaf when it comes to the Scottish left that he may as well be Tory.

Starmer humiliated every foreign NHS worker when he said “we’re recruiting too many people from overseas into … the health service”. It’s "British jobs for British workers" rhetoric. Immigration isn’t the solution, he insists – to a staffing crisis that’s literally killing patients. The NHS has always depended on overseas workers.

“We don’t want open borders,” he says. “Freedom of movement has gone and it’s not coming back.” Starmer’s positioning on immigration is a clear dog whistle to the hard right, dovetailing neatly with his lover’s embrace of Brexit.

Likewise, he hugs the Union Jack, muscularly. Even if the Supreme Court rules that there can be another referendum, he will say no. Yet he claims, in what can only be deemed a bare-faced lie, that the Union is “voluntary”.

Starmer is so out of touch in Scotland, so enthralled to an England-only perspective, that he deserves the thumping he’s going to get up here come the General Election. The tragedy is that his folly puts in jeopardy the hope of kicking out the Conservatives. He says his “road” to Number 10 “runs through” Scotland – well, he’s just mined the highway.

He fails to understand the history of his own party in Scotland. This country is filled with an electoral flotilla of voters who were, until the Iraq War, Labour through and through. When Tony Blair disgraced party and nation by embarking on an illegal, murderous war – based entirely upon lies – they had to find a new home. What else was there but the anti-war SNP with its social democratic veneer?

The harsh truth for both Labour and the SNP is that nationalists wouldn’t be in power if it wasn’t for Blair. He gifted Alex Salmond power in 2007, and the SNP expertly consolidated that position.

However, many of these former Labour supporters carry no real torch for the SNP. They would, in truth, be more than happy to vote Labour again – if Labour would just give them the chance. Starmer’s rhetoric around immigration and Brexit, though, is toxic; it’s kryptonite. It’s like asking progressive Scots to kiss a dead rat.

And then there’s independence. Plenty of former Labour voters, who swung behind the SNP, were slowly but surely won around to independence. It wasn’t Saltires and dreams of romantic Scotland which attracted them, but the idea of building a fairer country away from the irredeemable mess that’s Westminster.

So whilst they may be inclined to independence, they are still – or rather, should be – target voters for Anas Sarwar and Starmer. But Starmer has just trodden on Sarwar’s ambitions. A vote for Labour in Scotland is now, from a left and progressive perspective, a vote for Brexit, and a vote against fairness and decency in immigration.

However, it’s not just ex-Labour supporters who moved to the SNP and came to support independence, there are plenty of voters who still give their backing to Labour but want another referendum. It’s hard to pin down exactly how many current Labour voters support independence but the most recent British Social Attitudes Survey puts it at around four in 10 or 38% – that’s a hell of a lot of people Starmer risks alienating.

Despite the SNP’s threadbare progressive credentials and woeful record in government, it’s at least pro-European, and humane on immigration. That matters to progressive voters. For that large basket of leftie indy-inclined voters who’d back Labour given half the chance, Starmer’s wilful denial of democracy when it comes to the prospects of another referendum just instantly repels. He’s saying directly to Scotland: "You don’t get to decide your future, I do." That isn’t the Labour Party those on the progressive left want.

To many on the left, Starmer simply offers "Tory-lite". There are so many red flags – pun intended – about Labour that those fears seem justified. Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting is uncomfortably pro-private companies in the NHS. Labour has capitulated to right-wing propaganda about "woke politics", rather than doing what it was created to do: championing fairness and respect.

If Starmer were savvy he could have stolen the ground from beneath Sturgeon’s feet. He could have moderated his tone on Brexit and immigration, without handing a weapon to the right-wing press or scaring the English soft Tories he needs to woo; and he could have simply said that if the Supreme Court backs another referendum then he’d grant it. Is that hard? But he believes he must out-Tory the Tories.

Natural Labour voters just want to be able to cast a ballot for equality and justice, and many – whether indy-inclined or not – realise democracy demands another referendum if it’s held legally and there’s a Yes majority at Holyrood.

But Starmer cares about England. Scotland, like the Scottish Labour Party, is an addendum for him. The Scottish people see this, no matter what their affiliation. And so, Starmer’s folly creates a situation where the Tories may return to power at the next election. Rishi Sunak will calm enough nerves in England to lift the Tories in the polls. So Labour will have a fight on its hands for power.

The madness of the last few years thanks to Boris Johnson and Liz Truss made it highly likely that many on the Scottish left who had loaned their votes to the SNP over the years might switch back to Labour just to deliver a death blow to the Conservatives. But why would they vote for a man who’s really just a Tory in a red tie? Why would they vote for a man who disrespects their country? The winner, once again, is the SNP, courtesy of Starmer.

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