What Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation means for Labour in Scotland

Amid all the uncertainty thrown up by Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation, one thing is beyond doubt: this is a huge political moment and a real turning point – not just for Scotland, but for all of the UK.

Aside from its myriad political consequences, Sturgeon’s departure shows anything can happen at any time. With a year (maybe two) until the next election and plenty more time for curveballs, we need to expect the unexpected. 

The changing political situation north of the border could end up working in Labour’s favour, and they will sense an opportunity to regain lost ground in Scotland.

But any success Labour – or other opposition parties – see will depend on who the SNP chooses to replace Sturgeon and how they decide to govern the country and pursue independence going forward.

The party is now at a crossroads and there are big decisions to be made. Sturgeon was running out of road on the central issue of her leadership: Scottish independence. 

Her decision to use the next election as a de-facto referendum on the issue divided opinion within her party and was no doubt a major factor in her decision to step down.

But, with her popularity and reputation intact, she may have left at an opportune moment for the SNP.

A new leader may have time to craft a new strategy on independence, because the old one – based on trying to convert the SNP’s many electoral successes into a rerun of the 2014 referendum – clearly wasn’t working. 

If Sturgeon’s successor enjoys similarly high levels of popularity and manages to forge a new path towards independence, then Labour’s job will be just as difficult and the Tory charge of being in the pocket of the SNP could stick.

However, if the SNP lose their vigour then the road to No 10 gets a lot easier for Labour – but that’s when the real trouble starts.

Independence became a viable option when New Labour failed to offer an answer to deindustrialisation. Today, Labour feels similarly bereft of big solutions.

If the polls are to be believed, Starmer could still fall over the line at the next election. But if the party follows his cautious route to power, it could end up with another cycle of disappointment north of the border and elsewhere.

Like Brexit, independence is in part a post-material issue. Its supporters want control and sovereignty and won’t be bought off. 

The democratic principle is an important one – people want control over their own futures and don’t like being told they can’t have a say.

If Labour wants to take back Scotland and keep the Union intact, it needs to take these concerns seriously.

If the UK is to survive and thrive, it needs to be a willing partnership, not one where nations are coerced into staying or prevented from walking out of the door. 

Labour can only make it so by uprooting control from Westminster and handing out real, unconditional power to regions and nations across our country. 

The meaningful redistribution of resources through proper devolution would be a gamechanger, not just for Scotland but for the whole of the UK.

If the Brown report is supercharged and delivered – including proportional representation at Westminster level – then perhaps Labour has a future in Scotland. 

Without meaningful change, the personality politics of who is leader this week won’t make a fundamental difference either way.  

The independence genie might be out of the bottle for good – only time will tell.

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