Martin Whitfield: Scottish Labour will campaign to stay in the EU and keep the UK intact

There is very little that people from rival ­parties seem to agree on in the ­current toxic ­political ­climate. But Labour’s Gordon Brown and the Tories’ David Lidington have both issued similar warnings this week about the risk to the Union.
Martin Whitfield is the Labour MP for East LothianMartin Whitfield is the Labour MP for East Lothian
Martin Whitfield is the Labour MP for East Lothian

At the weekend, a new opinion poll suggested Scotland is essentially split down the middle when it comes to the country’s constitutional future, with the elevation of Boris Johnson to No 10 potentially enough to tip some towards independence.

A separate poll published earlier this month found that Tory members prioritise delivering Brexit over keeping the United Kingdom together. So much for being the Conservative and Unionist Party.

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As Gordon Brown said yesterday, the UK is at stake in this dispiriting Tory leadership contest.

Gordon Brown warned this week that the Union is under threat. Picture: GettyGordon Brown warned this week that the Union is under threat. Picture: Getty
Gordon Brown warned this week that the Union is under threat. Picture: Getty

We risk ending up with an English nationalist, Boris Johnson, in Downing Street, and a Scottish nationalist, Nicola Sturgeon, in Bute House.

Scotland deserves better than two parties which seek only to create further division in society.

Brexit will be a catastrophe for Scotland and the UK. The economic damage has already started, and if we leave on October 31 then tens of thousands of people risk losing their jobs and opportunities for the next generation will be lost forever.

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The Leave campaign misled voters with a pack of lies. Leaving the EU without a deal would be unforgiveable, which is why parliament will do everything it can to stand in the way of a prime minister who attempts such a reckless act. But even if a deal is agreed by MPs, it’s clear that the decision must be put back to the people.

The only way to address the deep divisions across the country is through a confirmatory referendum. As the campaign group Best for Britain pointed out at the weekend, there are two million young people across the UK who didn’t have a vote in 2016 and now surely have the right to a say on their future.

The majority of people in Scotland know there is no such thing as a good Brexit, but we also know that breaking up the UK is certainly not the answer.

When the country is facing ­economic harm, why on earth would we make it even worse? The SNP’s blueprint for a separate Scotland would involve years of deep austerity, putting already-stretched public services at risk. Scrapping the pound and introducing a new currency would put wages, mortgages and savings at risk.

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We should reject nationalism, in whatever form, and work towards a fairer future for everyone in the UK.

That means pooling and sharing the vast resources of the UK as well as using the powers of devolution to improve lives in Scotland – something the SNP is frequently reluctant to do.

The Labour Party is now uniquely placed to reject the inward-looking nationalism of the Tories and the SNP, and be the party that believes in breaking down barriers between people. A party that is relentlessly pro-UK and pro-EU. I am delighted that Scottish Labour has recognised the errors of the European election campaign and is now behind a people’s vote and will campaign to remain in the EU in that contest. I hope there is a high-profile summer campaign on this to help win back the support of those we have lost.

But we must also campaign to protect Scotland’s place in the UK, especially now that the Tories under Boris Johnson have abandoned that field and can’t be trusted to stand up for the Union. In these troubled times, the answer is to bring people together, not tear them apart.

Martin Whitfield is the Labour MP for East Lothian.