On Wednesday evening I did a talk in Motherwell for the local Yes group. The venue held 120 people, and it was full. Many thanks to the organisers for a fantastic evening. It was great to see that interest in the cause of independence is undiminished in Lanarkshire. One of the questions I was asked was how do we as independence campaigners respond to people who are attracted to the message of Jeremy Corbyn, a Labour leader who seemingly promises a return to socialist policies for Labour, and who presents himself as the opposite of the discredited Blairite and Brownite factions which previously dominated the party.
In his past pronouncements, Jeremy Corbyn has shown that he has a tin ear as far as Scotland is concerned. He has more sympathy and understanding of the issues around Latin American politics than he does about Scotland, and if he’s honest he’d admit that he finds Latin America more interesting too. Nevertheless he campaigns on a platform of social justice, renationalisation, and the redistribution of wealth, the very issues which attracted many working class people to support the independence movement in 2014. To some of those people, Jeremy Corbyn’s politics offer the prospect of achieving those same goals. Naturally they’re going to be attracted to his vision.
For most campaigners for independence, independence is not a goal in itself, it is the means by which we can effect much needed change in Scotland. It’s important not to lose sight of that. There would be little point in campaigning and labouring to achieve the independence of Scotland if all we were to end up with was the exact same social divisions, the exact same deprivation, the exact same poverty and social exclusion, the exact same unaccountability of those in power, just all tied up in a pretty tartan bow. For independence to be worthwhile, it has to be about making the lives of ordinary people in Scotland better, it has to be about improving the lot of those who struggle, and it has to be about making our political system more accountable and more responsive to the needs and demands of the people.
Trusting Labour to deliver is in itself a very big ask, it cannot be denied that Labour has historically promised all sorts of things which working class campaigners and socialist activists have dreamed of, and which it has signally failed to follow through on. It has been Labour party policy since the foundation of the party to abolish the House of Lords. We’re still waiting. Labour has never done anything to strip private schools of their financially privileged status as so-called charities. It took Labour 80 years to deliver on its commitment to a Scottish Parliament, and when it did finally deliver the party did all it could to strip that parliament of powers. It’s thanks to Labour that broadcasting wasn’t devolved to Scotland, making Scotland and Wales the only self-governing nations in Europe without public service broadcasters of their own. Labour’s perfidy makes for a very long list. The party may be led by Jeremy Corbyn now, but its ranks are still full of the placepeople and careerists who have let us down repeatedly in the past.
But that’s not the biggest problem. The biggest problem with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party is that even if we do show good faith and trust it to deliver, it only offers a short term fix, and that to only some of the issues facing us. Corbyn has little interest in the devolution settlement, he has no great interest in constitutional matters, and he has not presented any comprehensive plans to change what passes for a UK constitution. Voting for Corbyn makes it less likely that Scotland will have an opportunity to decide for itself what sort of future it wants, because his party is just as likely as the Tories to block an independence referendum. We’ll still have the House of Lords. We’ll still have the unrepresentative first past the post voting system for UK General Elections. Corbyn might be sincere, he might be able to get the sullen and uncooperative Blairite and Brownite factions of his party to cooperate with him, or at least not to block him, but after a few years there will be another General Election and we’ll be back to Tory rule again.
All this assumes that Corbyn’s Labour party can get into power and can achieve a majority of seats in Westminster. That is by no means a given. There is no natural left of centre majority in England which has by far and away the largest number of parliamentary seats. Even when faced with what is possibly the most inept, the most incompetent, the most divided government in living memory, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party still can’t command a substantial lead in the opinion polls. To have any confidence that he can be the next Prime Minister, Labour really ought to have a lead over the Conservatives that is 10% or more. Yet opinion poll after opinion poll has shown that despite the utter waste-of-spaceness of Theresa May’s government, despite it having as much of a clue about how to deal with Brexit as a goldfish does about airbreathing, Jeremy Corbyn still can’t achieve a breakthrough in the opinion polls. Over the last few months, the gap between Labour and the Conservatives has been about 3% or less. Opinion polls have a margin of error of 3%, which means that statistically Labour and the Conservatives are tying. Just how bad does Theresa May’s party have to get for Jeremy Corbyn to be able to beat her convincingly in the polls? They’re already doing appallingly badly and Corbyn can’t beat her.
This does not inspire much confidence that in a future General Election Labour will be able to defeat the Conservatives. If he does soften his position on Brexit he risks losing support in the pro-Brexit areas of the North of England. If he adopts his own preferred position of a harder Brexit, he risks losing support in London and the large cities and amongst younger voters.
One thing is sure, and that is that it won’t be Theresa May who is up against Jezza next time. If there is to be a General Election it will only be after the Tories have knifed Theresa in the back and there’s a new Conservative leader who will go into a General Election during his or her honeymoon period, with all the puffery and goodwill from the media that that entails. The media in the UK is biased towards the Conservatives. That’s simply a fact, and it’s not one that is going to change just because Corbyn supporters think it’s unfair. As a supporter of Scottish independence, all I can say is welcome to my world. Realistically however, the chances of Jeremy Corbyn being the next UK Prime Minister are rather less than 50-50. Those aren’t good odds on which to stake your future.
Voting for Corbyn means making it harder to get rid of the Tories forever. I’d prefer to get rid of the Tories permanently. Even with much of a supine Scottish media backing her, even with their dogged determination to cooperate with her in avoiding any difficult questions, Ruth Davidson still fell a very very long way short of attaining a majority in Holyrood. There is a natural left of centre majority in Scottish politics, a natural left of centre majority which doesn’t exist in England. If you are a supporter of socialism or social democracy in Scotland, it makes far more sense to vote for parties which are going to facilitate the opportunity for independence to come about because then we will have the opportunity to make the permanent and lasting changes that this country so badly needs.
In a nutshell, voting for Corbyn means getting rid of the Tories for five years. Voting for Scottish independence means getting rid of the Tories forever. Corbyn is the short term fix, it’s far better to have the permanent one.
The Wee Ginger Dug has got a new domain name, thanks to Indy Poster Boy, Colin Dunn @Zarkwan. http://www.indyposterboy.scot/ You can now access this blog simply by typing www.weegingerdug.scot into the address bar of your browser, the old address continues to function, the new one redirects to the blog. The advantage of the new address is that it’s a lot easier to remember if you want to include a link to the blog in leaflets, posters, or simply to tell a friend about it. Many thanks to Colin.
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