New Statesman: Do you support Scottish independence?
Jeremy Corbyn: I think they’ve got the right to a referendum if they want one. I would be much happier if they had their autonomy in the way they’ve got it now.
Jeremy Corbyn being elected as New Labour leader two decades after the Blairite takeover has everyone speculating over what it could mean for the party, and the UK in general. Eric Joyce thinks the SNP don’t have too much to worry about, while James Kelly ponders whether it could end up damaging for the cause of independence. For my part, I think it depends entirely on how the rest of New Labour reacts to his election, and how he reacts to the rest of the party.
So while The Devo Files is normally reserved purely for Scottish politicians – in that I think that only Scottish politicians should vote on Scottish matters, including which powers should be devolved – I thought it might be interesting to see what the new leader of the opposition did when the question of Scottish votes was put to him. After all, for as long as we’re part of the UK in its current form, there is nothing stopping English, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs from choosing to reject the wishes of nearly all of Scotland’s MPs, or indeed from choosing to support their Scottish friends. Where does Mr Corbyn stand?
Onto the files.
The first batch
These votes go back to 2011, when the Scotland Bill (still not fully implemented) was being hammered out.
Did not vote on a second reading of the Scotland Bill
Did not vote on requiring Scottish ministers to order officers to start counting within four hours of polls closing
Did not vote on devolving regulation of air weapons
Did not vote on keeping insolvency powers with the Scottish parliament
Did not vote on keeping responsibility for regulating health officials with the Scottish Parliament
Did not vote on devolving tax quarrying and mining
Did not vote on code of conduct for Scottish ministers in relation to the treasury
Did not vote on devolving the Scottish elements of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency
Did not vote on devolving responsibility for railways that start and finish in Scotland
Did not vote on devolving elements of the Crown Estate and accountability of the Crown Estate
Did not vote on devolving timescales, time zones, and British Summer Time
Did not vote on devolving food content and labeling
Did not vote on allowing the Scottish government to tax companies’ profits
Now, if Mr Corbyn was a Scottish MP like Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling, you would naturally be outraged that a Scottish politician resolutely failed to vote on a single Scotland Bill amendment. However, Mr Corbyn is not a Scottish MP – and thus, you could argue that he is respecting the will of the Scottish electorate by choosing not to vote on an issue that should be decided by Scots.
In an ideal world, this is how it should be: Scottish MPs vote on matters that affect only Scotland, and English MPs vote on matters that affect only England. Unfortunately, this is not how it works at all. Scottish MPs are always going to be outnumbered at Westminster in the current system, and the Conservatives rarely fail to vote on Scottish matters despite having a single Scottish Conservative for most of the past few decades. Therefore, Scottish MPs need all the support they can get for as long as this imbalance is in place. I’m reminded of a famous quote attributed to Desmond Tutu: “If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
The first vote after the referendum – and New Labour’s Scottish MPs’ last chance to win over the people of Scotland – was the famous hot topic of fracking.
Voted for the devolving the regulation of shale gas to Scotland
In voting with Scottish New Labour and SNP MPs, Mr Corbyn was supporting the will of the representatives of the Scottish electorate – which was, of course, still crushed by the coalition.
So far, Mr Corbyn abstained on 13 votes and voted in favour of more devolution once, making him officially better at devolution during the 2010 parliament than Gordon Brown. Of course, this is back when there were 40 Scottish New Labour MPs and 6 SNP MPs. What about post-2015?
Team 56 & Co
Next time around, Mr Corbyn is only able to support a single Scottish New Labour MP, but has 56 SNP MPs to contend with. How does he choose to vote?
Voted for requiring the consent of the Scottish people and parliament before abolition of the Scottish Parliament
Did not vote on preventing a UK referendum to be held during Scottish Parliament elections
Did not vote on giving the Scottish Parliament full control over taxation, borrowing and public spending in Scotland
Did not vote on a Constitutional Convention
Did not vote on giving the Scottish Parliament powers over all areas except the constitution, foreign affairs, public service, defence, treason and pension changes which would affect the UK’s liabilities
Voted for giving the Scottish Parliament a veto on the repeal of the Human Rights Act as it applies to Scotland
Did not vote on requiring the UK Parliament to have the consent of the Scottish Parliament before legislating on devolved matters
Did not vote on an independent commission on the impact of Full Fiscal Autonomy
Did not vote on creating a Scottish Office for Budget Responsibility
Did not vote on Full Fiscal Autonomy
Did not vote on giving the Scottish Parliament powers over income tax in Scotland
Voted for allowing the devolved administration in Scotland to pay certain disability benefits
Voted for allowing the Scottish Parliament to increase the scope of carer’s benefit eligibility in Scotland
Voted for allowing Scottish Ministers to change benefit payments in respect of rent without the Secretary of State’s agreement
Did not vote on changing the wording
Voted for devolving housing benefit
Voted for allowing the Scottish Parliament to create new benefits
Voted against devolving national insurance
requiring gender balance at the Scottish Parliament and public authorities
Did not vote on giving the Scottish Parliament powers over equal opportunities in relation to an appointment as a member of a Scottish public authority
Did not vote on requiring gender balance at the Scottish Parliament and public authorities
Did not vote on a wider range of circumstances in which the Secretary of State is required to consult with Scottish Ministers over renewable electricity incentive schemes
Voted for stopping Scottish police and fire and rescue services being required to pay VAT
Of 22 votes relating to Scotland this parliament, Mr Corbyn voted in favour of further devolution 8 times, abstained 13 times, and voted against devolution 1 time. From a devolution point of view, Mr Corbyn has done a lot better than most of the now ex-New Labour MPs from Scotland, although unfortunately it wasn’t enough to defeat either the coalition or the full-fat Tories. All in all, pretty cool of him, though I wonder what it was about National Insurance that made him vote against it…
Statements on Scotland
From a Scottish independence point of view, this interview is probably the most problematic for independence campaigners:
Obviously it is the right of people to decide what they want to do but the last time there was a referendum I was told by Alex Salmond it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
I don’t know how many lifetimes were involved in this.
I don’t think another referendum would be credible and I don’t think it is particularly likely.
I remember a while back people were saying they didn’t think Jeremy Corbyn would be credible, and didn’t think he was particularly likely to win the leadership. Nonetheless, Mr Corbyn got it right in the first sentence: it is the right of people to decide what they want to do. Not Alex Salmond, not Jeremy Corbyn, the people.
I think issues now are about the way in which the powers which have been devolved to Scotland operate, the funding of Scotland and particular issues surrounding welfare, as well as spending on education, particularly college education, and issues around the running of the economy such as privatisation of rail and of Calmac.
While Mr Corbyn has been very diplomatic, every one of those issues has been a focus of attack by New Labour in Scotland: “why doesn’t the SNP use the powers it already has,” “BLACK HOLE,” “what will SNP do to stop the Tories’ welfare cuts,” “SNP cut college places,” “SNP privatised Scotrail and Calmac.”
Lest you think I’m putting words in his mouth, here’s what he said about Full Fiscal Autonomy in Glasgow last month:
Left-winger Jeremy Corbyn, whose leadership bid has been boosted by trade union support, said: “The SNP are very good at presenting themselves as the anti-austerity party.”
But he argued that SNP plans for full fiscal autonomy would have resulted in “turbo-max austerity” in Scotland today.
“We need to be campaigning for fair funding for Scotland, which means perhaps formulating it around the needs, the poverty, the desperation, that some of the people of Scotland face,” he said.
“This city contains some of the poorest people in the whole of the UK … these things have to be addressed, and they have to be addressed by us.
“Labour has got to be the party that is standing up for the poorest people wherever they are.”
“Turbo-max austerity” may be a new spin, but it’s the same old nonsense that was the centrepiece of Jim Murphy’s catastrophic campaign in Scotland. Mr Corbyn’s talk about fair funding and “needs” is also darkly familiar, as most of New Labour’s justification for altering Scotland’s budget was through emotional blackmail (“there are poor people in England too, you know.”) Whether Mr Corbyn is talking about increasing Scotland’s budget to something more in line to its contributions to the UK, or reducing it to parity with other “regions,” it’s clear he’s relying on the same geniuses who gave John McTernan* a job.
So, Mr Corbyn, first thing to do: sack your Scottish liaisons.
I was very conflicted when it came to the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn becoming the New Labour leader. He is by far the only choice which could resurrect the socialist pedigree of what used to be the Labour Party, and you know you’re doing something right when the Tories and Blairites hate your guts. I am truly, genuinely happy that the people of England finally have someone worth voting for, and that the left in England finally have a champion that has already sent the right-wing establishment into a frenzy. If he could deliver even a portion of his manifesto – public ownership, Trident abolition, scrapping zero-hours contracts, national living wage, welfare support, housebuilding renewal, rent controls, integration of social care with the NHS, national investment bank – then by gum, maybe we can pull the UK back from the brink.
But what about the SNP: will Corbynmania run riot in Scotland too, taking away enough SNP voters to prevent a majority – and thus, prevent a future referendum? The key factor is just how effective Mr Corbyn is in reforming Labour: if he succeeds in his ambitious goals, we could well end up with a Unionist party well to the left of the SNP. The SNP’s majority is slight enough, and Holyrood was never designed for a single party majority. And Mr Corbyn will put bringing Scottish Labour back from the brink as a top priority.
EREMY Corbyn, Labour’s new leader, is expected to travel to Scotland next week as he puts winning back voters who switched to the SNP as one of his leadership’s “top priorities”.
Leftwing MSP Neil Findlay, who was Mr Corbyn’s campaign chief in Scotland, described as “absolutely fantastic” the Islington North MP’s emphatic victory – he won 59.5 per cent of the vote, gaining 251,417 of the 422,664 votes cast – and that people should expect the new party leader “to be in Scotland very soon and very often and he is committed to that”.
The Lothian MSP insisted the Corbyn victory meant “you can certainly put the red Tory tag in the bin”.
He said it also represented a “huge challenge to the SNP because we know that for them it’s rhetoric over reality in terms of their opposition to austerity. This is the real deal now. They have to make their mind up where they stand on a number of issues. So I’m very encouraged”.
Mr Findlay claimed Mr Corbyn’s politics would play very well in Scotland. “You only need to look at what people were saying at the rallies; they we’re saying they were Labour and they wanted to support the party but they left us at the election or the referendum because they did not think we stood up for Labour values anymore. This has been a campaign rooted in Labour values and we will now have a real opportunity to get a whole lot of people back.”
On the other hand, New Labour in Scotland made utter fools of themselves in their treatment of Mr Corbyn, not least their entire Westminster contingent (i.e. Ian Murray), and the people of Scotland are still far more engaged politically. Not only do they know that the SNP will support a Jeremy Corbyn government as surely as they said they would support Ed Miliband, if they are worried about the SNP being too “right-wing,” then a successful Old Labour government with Prime Minister Corbyn would have more than enough MPs to mitigate the SNP’s “right wing” tendencies.
It is most ironic that Jim Murphy’s protestations that “Scottish Labour” is a separate party, that has nothing to do with its UK counterpart, could come back to bite them – as you have to think Labour are going to put Mr Corbyn front and centre in the Holyrood elections. In order to use their best recruiter, they have to abandon the notion that Scottish Labour is independent of UK Labour. Not to mention several prominent Labour figures have, well, not burned bridges, but singed them a good deal. They just cannae catch a break, can they?
“There are loads of people [in the Labour party] who are quite prepared to say ‘Och, it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t look like a prime minister, there’s someone who’s authentic and says what they believe’.” she said.
“But I want there to be a Labour government; otherwise I’m wasting my time. I don’t want to spend my whole life just carping from the sidelines.”
“You have to convince me that he can be [prime minister],” she said. “Here’s a guy that’s broken the whip 500 times. So how can the leader of the party enforce discipline with that record?”
– Kezia Dugdale on Jeremy Corbyn last month
“I’ve got no problem with Jeremy. I think it’s about time the Labour party had a leader who is a pensioner who has been an MP for 32 years. We’re a broad party.”
– Scotland’s only Labour MP Ian Murray, before some heroic backpedalling
Okay, I admit it, I am crying. And it is not through joy. My party has been the subject of a hostile takeover #labourleadership
— Susan Dalgety (@DalgetySusan) September 12, 2015
More importantly, none of Mr Corbyn’s proposals would have any effect in 2016, because the Conservatives are still in power at Westminster.
Right now, I’m happy to let events play out. Whatever this will mean for the SNP and the cause, we will make it work. Either Corbyn will kickstart the revolution and make the UK a better place to live – potentially making the route to independence slower, but more bearable – or New Labour will collapse in on itself in a fracas of backstabbing and internecine chaos, and bring independence closer. All I know is: unionist or not, he’s Team 56’s most powerful new ally. He’s proven much more likely to vote for devolution than against: if he can get New Labour to ditch the stupid Bain Principle and actually start to work with the SNP, then that can only be a good thing.
Well done, Mr Corbyn. I look forward to seeing what you have to offer the people of Scotland.
*Mr McTernan backed Liz Kendall… the worst-performing candidate.