Barney Crockett, a Labour councillor in Aberdeen and former leader of the city’s Labour group on Aberdeen City Council (and a former Lord Provost), has resigned from the Labour Party. He’s described Starmer’s new energy policy as “more brutal than anything Margaret Thatcher did to industrial communities in the 1980s”. Crockett fears that the economy of Aberdeen and the North East of Scotland will be a massive casualty of the competition between Labour and Conservative to win the energy policy battle. To add insult to injury, Crockett is also furious because Labour’s high command, in neither London or Edinburgh, thought to consult the party in Aberdeen.
“The Labour leadership has made crucial decisions about the future of the UK, decisions focused on this area, without contacting anyone from this area or from the local Labour party,” said Crockett.
With ever-greater regularity, Starmer and his senior officers display a political style that is a cross between arrogance, carelessness and authoritarianism.
Keir Starmer’s knows the UK’s energy security is far less certain without Scotland’s energy flowing south, and it has to flow south at prices and in a regulatory environment that favour the UK’s economic needs. But the UK must also diversify its energy generation infrastructure to replace the, mainly, gas-fired generating stations in England. Their job is to supply base load energy for when the sun and wind are being uncooperative. Labour and the Tories are as one. For both, the answer is a new generation of nuclear power plants, except that Labour wants to have new nuclear plants in Scotland. The Tories were content with England and Wales only.
Starmer’s argument is that nuclear will keep down electricity bills. This is nonsense. More importantly, Scotland simply does not need new nuclear stations. That we will need the ability to assure base load electricity for when the wind lets us down is indisputable and Scotland needs to decide what that’s to be. It may be tidal energy. It may be heat pumps buried in parks, fields and gardens. It may be much higher standards of insulation in homes and public buildings. It may be hydrogen. It’s likely to be a combination of all those and some technologies yet to be proven. What we don’t need is old-fashioned nuclear. It’s expensive to build, expensive to run and it produces waste that’s expensive to keep safe and secure for hundreds of years. Scotland doesn’t need or want nuclear. Starmer appears to have done the same on nuclear as he has on oil and gas. He’s failed to ask Scotland. He knows what’s right for us. Is he just another Alister Jack, even if a more polite one?
If there’s one single reason why Starmer’s Labour will do everything it can to weaken devolution and the independence cause, it’s energy. Given twenty years, massive investment, compliant communities and governments that keep their eye on the prize, England can get much closer to energy self-sufficiency. Until that happens Labour will continue to say no to another independence referendum. Starmer has made clear that’s his position. Last week, Labour’s only MP in Scotland, Ian Murray, became the latest member of the Alister Jack fan club when he, with all the swagger of an imperial Viceroy, said grandly, “We won’t give another referendum.” No ifs, no buts, no maybe.
The burning issue of Brexit
Labour’s disregard for the feelings of many of its members and potential supporters is not of course confined to Scotland. Across the UK, voters have had enough of Brexit and would jump at the chance of rejoining the EU. Labour, having joined the Brexit cause and given comfort to the Tories (and probably extended the life of the Tory government), has decided that throwing a few crumbs suggesting “closer ties” is enough. It’s not. It’s not even sensible politics if Labour wins back Red Wall seats only to lose out to the LibDems and the SNP in seats where rejoining the EU is a burning issue.
Starmer’s Labour appears terrified to upset the London establishment. His shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, is wedded to not upsetting the City or the Daily Mail. Perhaps that’s why Labour has cast a successful Labour mayor into the wilderness.
Jamie Driscoll, elected Labour mayor of North Tyneside in 2019, wanted to stand for mayor of the new north east region. He didn’t even make the long-list. It appears he’s too Left wing for Starmer. But he’s locally popular. He’s surely the very sort of senior figure the Labour party needs to take back the region from the Red Wall Tories who sailed in on the back of Boris Johnson’s now wholly discredited “Get Brexit done” campaign, in 2019. Two of Labour’s most high profile mayors Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester and Liverpool’s Steve Rotheram have backed Driscoll, but to no avail. Starmer says no.
Civil rights blow
It can be no exaggeration to say that the entire British Left – Labour, SNP, Lib Dems, Greens – were horrified when Labour failed to support the motion in the Lords that would have killed the government’s legislation further restricting the right to protest. Labour excused its lack of action by claiming the Lords was doing the work of the Commons. The truth is that it was the Tory government playing unprecedented procedural games. Labour must have known this. Starmer’s Labour failed to champion a fundamental civil right. On top of that, Starmer has refused to say Labour will repeal recent draconian public order legislation, saying he wants to “see how it beds in.” In short, he’s thinking it might come in handy if he faces street protests when he’s in No10.
It’s a no from the Labour leader
In September 2022, Labour’s annual conference voted to change the method of electing MPs to the Westminster parliament from first past the post to proportional representation. The vote was not binding on the leadership. It is the will of the people who made him leader, who raise the funds he needs to fight elections and who tramp the streets canvasing for Labour candidates. Nor is it just the will of Labour members. When asked in surveys, the voting public increasingly says it wants to see electoral reform. 51% held that view when asked last September by British Social Attitudes. Starmer is unmoved. He ordered that electoral reform is not mentioned in Labour’s forthcoming election manifesto. If that is the way Starmer sees the internal democracy of the Labour party, how casual might he be when it comes to the democratic will of the people of Scotland, or Cornwall, or Surrey?
Liberal democracy is globally at its weakest since WW2. In the corridors of power we need men and women determined to be democracy’s champions, in spirit and in deed. Right now, the jury is out on Kier Starmer and his top team.