Labour Leadership front runner Andy Burnham has vowed “not to repeat the mistakes” of the Scottish campaign and thus run a separate “Labour for Yes” campaign in the event of an EU referendum.
This rather demonstrates that Mr Burnham has not taken enough time to work out what the mistakes were. It was most certainly not a mistake for “Better Together” to run a joint campaign; if anything, the mistake was that it was too political and not sufficiently civic.
Mr Burnham is making two fundamental mistakes – which is worrying, frankly, for a potential Leader of the Opposition (from Labour’s point of view). Firstly, he is allowing his opponents to frame the debate – the SNP claims that the “Better Together” campaign brought Labour and Tories too close together, so Mr Burnham just believes this rather than challenging it. Secondly, he is treating a referendum like an election – but referendums are nothing like elections, focused as they are on a single issue and very often not particularly on politicians at all.
With regards to Scotland, Labour needs to challenge the SNP, not buy into its narrative. If, for example, Labour candidates are nothing but a bunch of “Red Tories” who make no real difference, why was the SNP so intent on seeing a Labour-led UK Government and not a Conservative one? If the SNP really wanted a Labour-led UK Government, why did it recommend that people in England split the left-leaning vote by voting Green? Oh yes, and by the way, if the SNP is so “anti-austerity”, why did it never use its tax-varying powers (and instead reduce Health spending comparative to England when it could have raised the gap), why has it overseen the lowest household taxes in Great Britain (while cutting hundreds of Further Education places that money could have been used for), and why did it make reducing Corporation Tax a focus of its own referendum case (something it itself has now effectively admitted was an error)? The contradictions are obvious – so Labour should waste no time in pointing them out rather than buying into the SNP’s own narrative.
With regards to referendums, the last thing the “Yes” side needs is a whole raft of different campaigns; actually, the very last thing it needs is a whole raft of a overly political different campaigns. What it really requires is a single civic campaign, albeit as an umbrella covering various different civic and local angles.
Andy Burnham may be most useful staying right out of it.