This morning, we've seen several statements from Labour politicians online, pooh-poohing the Labour for Independence group as an SNP confection, a front, as if it was unthinkable that such a group, however large or small, might emerge from amongst the ranks of Labour supporters, voters and members.
Part of this concerns the involvement of SNP politicians and Yes campaigners in the group's activities. I've no interest in that here. What does interest me, however, is how keen these Labour politicians are to leap on the notion that Labour for Independence must be inauthentic. This enthusiasm seems significant, and highlights an incongruity between Labour's rhetoric and its constitutional politics which has always struck me as interesting.
It's a familiar sang. I didn't join the Labour party because I'm a Unionist. Nor am I a British or Scottish nationalist, either. That's not my politics. I joined because I'm passionate about equality, about addressing poverty, about ensuring that workers - all workers - enjoy decent wages, good conditions and are not exploited, mistreated, or their interests marginalised. I see the constitutional question - indeed, any constitutional question - through that lens.
It's impolite to accuse folk of bearing false consciousness. This sort of thing encapsulates the views of many of my friends, and generally speaking, I take them at their word. They hate all the right things. Jingoism, deference, crony capitalism. The United Kingdom and its politics frustrates them in many ways I share. On the nationalistic front, at most you could accuse them of being lethargic advocates for European or world government. Practical souls, they're generally prepared to toddle along, quite quiescent, within the limited confines of the British state. They wear no concealed Union jack underpants.
In the public eye, we hear similar rhetoric from many of the party's elected politicians about not being political nationalists. Sometimes this takes on a suggestive Marxisant shape, albeit that of socialism in one country (the UK) rather than the internationale, with talk of the shared interests and struggles of working people on both sides of the border. The power of capital, by contrast, rarely gets much of a look in.
Of these elected Labour figures, it is all too tempting to diagnose a lack of political self-awareness, or of disclosure. As we've seen in the referendum debate, the Labour leadership has, from the very top, increasingly de-emphasised these instrumental Unionist arguments about achieving favourable political outcomes within UK political structures (pace Colin Kidd). Supplanting it, Labour figures have begun to draw more concertedly on the resources of British nationalism, to make their positive case for continuing Union.
But it's puzzling. Apparently no unionists and no nationalists, you might expect agnosticism from Labour supporters on the Scottish national question, not uniform, passionate opposition to independence. Deprived of the ultramontane Tory's love of Union for tradition's sake, or the British nationalist's sense of national (or even ethnic) solidarity, believing that shared culture, goods and interests should entail shared institutions of government and politics, this Labour supporter would have to engage in a different calculation. Would independence for Scotland advance or retard socialist strategy, however vaguely conceived? What are the likely consequences of such a constitutional change, for Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom as we know it today?
If Johann Lamont and her colleagues are to believed, there can be only one answer to this strategic question. This is unconvincing. Wouldn't we expect at least part of a truly non-nationalist, non-unionist party to support independence? Surely this, above all, is an issue where reasonable folk may reasonably differ in their assessments. As Better Together never tire of emphasising, it isn't so easy to look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not. You've got to exercise your reason, and your judgment, and resolve one way or the other. If for Labour supporters, it's simply a question of democratic socialist strategy, and not primarily a question of identity or national feeling, wouldn't it be a touch strange if everyone in the party agreed that Britain's best in that utilitarian calculation?
Why might this be? One explanation might be that all of the democratic socialists who see independence as the most viable route to a leftier future have already bled away to the left of the SNP, alienated over the years by the drift of leadership and policy. Generally unremarked upon, one of the interesting challenges faced by the Yes campaign, and its attempts to be distinct but accommodate the SNP, is that the Nationalists and much of their support are arguably already the independence movement: a muddled, ideologically motley clamjamfrey of folk who support the party as the best motor for their constitutional preferences, liable to suffer mutinies and runaways once (if) independence is realised.
But what gets lost in all of this partisan zeal, and the simple binary between Nationalists and Labour, is the more interesting, muddled, ambivalence many more Scots may feel, who've been both Yorkists and Lancastrians in their days. One of Gerry Hassan's favourite topics is the ensemble of stories constituting what he calls "Labour Scotland". That tradition still has a strange glamour.
Despite Labour's dire current polling, despite the savagery with which many nationalists attack the outfit, the smack of nostalgia - and the abiding hope of redemption - is remarkable. Whatever frustrations and hostilities the really existing Labour Party in Scotland provokes, many independence supporters, and even some SNP members, stoke a cherished, if low-burning, flame of hope, for a Labour Party they could believe in again.