Who’s Worried?

CorbynidasLooks like it’s catching!

A wee thing I didn’t comment on in yesterday’s Devo Files was something that will be familiar to those watching New Labour in Scotland – that criticism of the SNP is never far away:

Margaret Richardson, a Labour activist and retired accountant, had been told by voters as she canvassed for Labour during the election that they distrusted Miliband after he stood against his brother David for the UK leadership.

“The SNP has had it all its own way in Scotland,” Richardson said. “It will help grassroots Labour, because I think people are looking for someone who’s actually principled. [Corbyn] seems for me sincere. I think with Ed, he was too much of a nerd.”

As I’d noted, it seems obvious to me that Mr Corbyn doesn’t know an awful lot about Scotland – but he’s not going to learn much from the company he keeps.

But even Corbyn’s allies agree that he knows little about Scottish politics or the SNP. Corbyn has spent several hours on his Scottish tour in private briefing sessions with Findlay and Katy Clark, a leftwinger who lost her Commons seat to the SNP in May. He is on a steep learning curve, said Nathan Morrison, a local organiser of the Corbyn campaign who was elected as a Labour councillor in Aberdeen at 19.

But he would be worth the investment. “There’s potential for that because, with Jeremy Corbyn’s policies, we would be presenting a river of red water between us and the SNP. They won’t be able to give us that nonsense of ‘you’re just red Tories’. There’s no way they could call a Jeremy Corbyn-led party that.”

Mr Richardson commits the same mistake that the right-wing media constantly does – tie an entire political party to one person, and paint that single person as representative of the entire movement. Hence everything to do with independence is “Alex Salmond’s dream/threat/wish.” It hasn’t worked as well with the current FM as she is by far the most popular party leader in the UK, and so hasn’t been demonised over decades to nearly the degree Mr Salmond has. We’ll soon see the Tories heap the same treatment on Mr Corbyn, presenting the entire trade union and socialist movement in the UK as “Jeremy Corbyn’s dream/threat/wish.” In this case, however, it’s inverted: whereas tying independence to Alex Salmond was meant to delegitimise it as a wider movement, tying Labour to Corbyn is to legitimise Labour as a socialist movement. But, as we’ve seen, that sort of tactic simply doesn’t seem to be working anymore.

Katy Clark is a case in point. Out of all the New Labour MPs in Scotland, Ms Clark was arguably the most left-wing at all: staunchly anti-Trident, anti-austerity, anti-war, one of the few MPs who could actually back up New Labour’s left-wing rhetorics by her voting history. From 2005 to 2010, she increased not only the number of voters in her constituency (19,417 to 21,860), but her vote share (43.9% to 47.4%) in a greater turnout (44,200/59.9% to 46,116/61.7%). Yet Katy Clark lost her seat in May. She lost 6,792 votes (31% of her 2010 vote), her vote share plummeted 19.4 points from 47.4% to 28%, in an even greater turnout of 53,869 (71.1%). Why is Jeremy Corbyn taking advice from the one New Labour MP who should have survived the SNP surge (Edinburgh joukerie pawkerie aside), yet didn’t?

Neil Findlay isn’t much better. He may still be a standing MSP, but he lost the New Labour leadership election to Jim Murphy, who I think we can safely call the worst “leader” in Labour’s entire history. And this was after he asked Gordon Brown to lead New Labour in Scotland – Gordon Brown, whose constituency of Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath went from 29,559 votes, 64.5% vote share, and a 50.2% majority (while Mr Brown was Prime Minister, don’t forget) to 17,654 votes, 33.4% vote share, and -31.2 point drop, going from one of the 5 safest New Labour seats in Scotland to a comfortable SNP gain. Why is Jeremy Corbyn taking advice from someone who lost to the biggest loser in the party’s history, and barely seems to know what he’s talking about?

Speaking of Mr Findlay, he has an article in that famous leftie rag, The Scotsman:

JEREMY Corbyn’s resounding victory represents a political change earthquake, the consequences of which will reverberate across Britain and beyond in the weeks, months and years to come.

Amongst other things, Jeremy’s victory shatters the illusion that socialist and social democratic parties must simply accept the neo-liberal ­consensus and the creed 
of ­individualism and self-
interest.

And what a difference a few months make. In May, Labour seemed to be down and out: the membership was depressed, even more so in Scotland, where we faced five more years of Tory rule coupled with nationalist triumphalism.

I’m sure Mr Findlay is well aware that even if every single seat in Scotland voted for his party, we would still be facing five more years of Tory rule. Just like when we voted in 41 of your party in 2010, only to get five years of Tory-led coalition rule. And so forth. Mr Corbyn’s election “shatters the illusion that socialist and social democratic parties must simply accept the neo-liberal ­consensus and the creed 
of ­individualism and self-
interest” – very true. Do you know what else shattered that illusion? A party which actively campaigned on exactly those principles gained half the vote share in Scotland and almost every seat. That party was not your party, Mr Findlay, regardless of how much you’d wish it to be so.

Yet, in the space of just a few short months and a tumultuous and historic summer the Corbyn campaign has electrified the party. The collective effort of 16,000 people has raised our heads and given us back hope with a promise to re-define the purpose of the Labour Party and change the county. A purpose that should always be about working for the betterment of all and challenging the political and economic status quo to create ensure a fairer, more equitable, caring and just life for everyone.

This message has enthused and reinvigorated the membership of the Labour Party, as it has for people outside the party. Literally hundreds of thousands of people have either joined the party or become registered supporters on the back of Jeremy’s campaign; 50,000 came along to pack out halls up and down the country to hear his message.

His policy programme, his straight-talking honesty, dignity and candour have captured the imagination of the public who are desperate for an alternative that rejects austerity and conflict in favour of investment in our people and peace.

As an SNP supporter, member and activist, I agree with just about all of this – because, again, this is explicitly the same platform which saw the SNP grow from 6 seats to 56, from 491,386 votes to 1.45 million, from the choice of 19.9% of the Scottish electorate to 50%. That “nationalist triumphalism” was in fact the triumph of an alternative to austerity, to neoliberalism, to privelege, and to Blairism. New Labour were not offering that change in the 2015 election. With Mr Corbyn, now, perhaps, they will – after the SNP proved its electoral success.

Yet even now, after the referendum, after the General Election, New Labour in Scotland cannot help but focus on the wrong enemy.

And now that the party has spoken we must get on and build a powerful opposition to this callous Tory government.

Finally, Jeremy Corbyn’s victory is especially important in Scotland. Labour can only get back on the pitch here with a radical and different approach, with a policy programme that is in tune with the wants and needs of the Scottish people. Working with our new Scottish leader, Kezia Dugdale, Jeremy will help us get back into the game here in Scotland. One thing is indeed certain: Labour is back, and I suspect that no matter how much they play this down, SNP strategists will be sleeping a little less easily in their beds following this weekend’s result.

Here’s the thing, Mr Findlay: you’re still putting the SNP on the side of the Tories, and are expecting the people of Scotland to do the same. But it wasn’t the SNP who accepted Tory money to campaign on their side in a referendum. It wasn’t the SNP who froze out a debate within their party over the question of independence, leading to a massive exodus of members and voters. It wasn’t SNP leaders who conceded the ideological ground to the Tories over austerity, unions, the NHS, and defence.

And guess what? People are going to remember. As you go on your anti-Trident campaign platform, people will remember that the loudest advocates of Trident renewal during the referendum and 2015 election were members of your party. As you promote your alternative to austerity, people will remember that it was your candidates who criticized the SNP during the 2015 election for their anti-austerity proposals. As you talk about saving the welfare state and stopping the attacks on the most vulnerable, people will remember it was your MPs who voted for benefits caps or abstained on key votes. Scotland saw what your MPs did, and took action. And they’ll do the same with your party’s MSPs in 2016, your councillors in 2017, and beyond.

I’m looking forward to Jeremy Corbyn proving his critics wrong, and delivering the sort of socialist revolution so many crave. But attacking the party who should be your allies – the party who proved you could win an election on an anti-austerity, anti-Trident, anti-war platform – is not going to build that strong opposition you’re looking for. Every “SNP bad” press release, every “SNPout” endorsement, every “nationalism is a virus” comment, is wasted not only because it clearly isn’t working, but because it’s attacking one of your strongest allies while the real enemy is cackling gleefully and delivering the same histrionic attacks that they did to the SNP:

It’s not nice, is it? We in the pro-independence campaign had enough of it over the past two years. Mostly from your party. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The Greens and SSP disagree with the SNP on a number of things, but they at least work together without treating other parties as if they’re the Tories. As much as you think the SNP strategists are worried, you can be damned sure the Tories are scared out of their minds. Who would you rather see defeated: the Tories, or the SNP? Think carefully about your answer.

You want to put the “Red Tory” jibe in the dustbin? It’ll take more than electing someone who you could never call a Tory as your leader, when you have 232 MPs, 38 MSPs, 6,885 councillors, and 211 Lords – not all of which share your, or Mr Corbyn’s, views, and many of which voted the same way as those ousted Scottish MPs. It’ll take more than having a socialist figurehead to get to your destination when so many neoliberals in the banks of your galley are rowing in the opposite direction. It’ll take more than rhetoric and promises of your rekindled socialism to undo the last five years of letting the Tories get away with their onslaught on the most vulnerable in the UK. But by thunder, if you have it in you, you could do it.

You don’t have to support independence. You don’t have to support the SNP. You don’t even have to like the SNP. Just ditch the ruinous Bain Principle, forget the tribalism, and stop sniping at the rivals who could be your greatest allies.

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2 thoughts on “Who’s Worried?

  1. Jacob Benjamin says:

    Corbyn is a God-send for Labour, but the old guard in the party are losing no time in reducing him to a toothless shadow of his true self as the party grandees struggle to vindicate their selfish vision for Labour, and ensure their own private progress up the greasy pole at Westminster.

  2. macart763 says:

    If Mr Corbyn wants to find out about Scottish politics or the SNP, he could do worse than a. visit indy sites and actually talk to Scottish ‘people’ and b. try talking to the SNP directly

    Maybe just me, but if I want to find out about a thing, I find it always best to talk directly to the folk who matter.

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