Ed Miliband makes case for union

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Media captionEd Miliband makes Labour's case against Scottish independence saying Scotland and the UK could make more progress together

An interesting speech from Ed Miliband in Glasgow today - and one in which he attempts to engage with the fundamental core of the constitutional debate in Scotland.

He could have talked about the currency. He could have talked about defence. These topics have formed the core of the Unionist campaign against independence over the past couple of weeks - and, it seems likely, will feature predominantly up to the autumn of 2014.

For the avoidance of doubt, these are entirely legitimate issues for debate. Mr Miliband and others, including Nationalists, will undoubtedly return to them.

But today Mr Miliband chose to address a more fundamental aspect of the debate - which was, in essence, whether class solidarity trumps national identity. (To be fair, it was more subtle than that.)

His core call was that the working people of Scotland have more that unites them with the working people of England than divides them.

Those of you with longer pedigrees will recall this argument from the days when internationally minded Socialists deployed it to argue against devolution.

Self-government, they argued, would distract from efforts to build class solidarity across boundaries.

Again, to be fair, Mr Miliband is saying more than that. He makes two broad points.

That efforts to sustain social cohesion are more effective across a broader economic polity, such as the UK than they would be in an independent Scotland.

And that Scotland and England are now so closely intertwined, both economically and socially, that it would be difficult - and futile - to disentangle these links.

The SNP make a range of points in reply.

That working people in Scotland share common concerns with their counterparts in other nations, notably England and independent Ireland. Does not mean they have to share a government or a state to sustain those connections.

And that the UK as a force has proved remarkably ineffective in promoting social cohesion, with, for example, the economic gap between rich and poor widening in recent years.

They argue further that an independent Scotland would pursue egalitarian outcomes - or be a beacon for social progress, as the first minister argued last week.

In essence, it is an argument about identity, about common interests. How those are perceived, what might be their impact.

I was intrigued by a further point from Mr Miliband.

Political message

In the Commons earlier this month, the prime minister said he was "in 100% agreement" with the Labour leader in campaigning against independence.

Was this mutual, I inquired of Mr Milband? Would he be sharing a platform with the PM and campaigning alongside him against independence?

The answer was that this was a matter to be settled later.

For now, Mr Miliband seemed keener to stress their differences. He argued that he was advancing a case based upon social justice and egalitarianism: areas, he suggested, where the PM would not tread.

Now, David Cameron and his Liberal Democrat colleagues would argue that they are pursuing social justice.

But the more interesting element is the political message.

Labour knows that one of Alex Salmond's objectives is to posit the argument as being, at least in part, a conflict between the options of Scottish independence and UK Tory rule.

Labour is reluctant to reinforce that by simply lending their voice to a campaign led or substantially featuring the Prime Minister and the Tories.

Hence Ed Miliband's attempt to rebut directly the arguments made by Mr Salmond in his Guardian lecture.

Hence too the Labour leader's attempt to stress the alleged efficacy of pursuing egalitarianism on the UK stage.