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Labour, politics

Corbyn should be a huge headache for the SNP. So why isn’t he?


What is it about the Scottish Labour Party that it seems incapable of recognising an opportunity for renewal when it presents itself?  South of the border, Labour is being remade by a grassroots revolution of precisely the kind that gave the SNP its landslide election victory.

Yet ,Labour’s only Scottish MP, Iain Murray, has declared his support for – wait for it – Yvette Cooper as UK leader. Her only recent intervention in Scottish politics was in June when she announced that an independent Scottish Labour Party was not going to happen. So there.

Cooper also said she would dump Labour’s “anti-business rhetoric”; “put country before party”; and promised to drop Labour’s “squeamish” attitude to the politics of immigration.

Of course,  both she and her rival, the former health secretary, Andy Burnham, insist that there is to be “greater autonomy in Scotland”. He said last week that “the notion that the Scottish party is a branch office has to change”.

Neither Burnham nor Cooper seem to be aware that previous Scottish leaders have said exactly the same. Indeed, Jim Murphy promised that Scotland would get “total devolution of policy making”. He even changed Labour’s constitution, adding a “new Clause 4″ which supposedly enshrined this total autonomy of Scottish Labour.

But like so much of what Murphy said – about abolition of tuition fees, increasing top rates of tax, raiding the London mansion tax for the Scottish NHS – these postures appear to have been wiped from history. As has Murphy’s offer of “devo max” – and yes he did promise it.

They must think that Scottish voters have all the intelligence of a pair of goalie gloves. For years Labour has been spinning off instant policies and wheezes which are then scattered to the winds when another leader is installed . And they wonder why people don’t vote for them here any more.

Andy Burnham made another clod hopping intervention by saying that the nationalist SNP were the “ugly brand of politics” thus insulting more than half of the Scottish population who recently voted for them.

But I wouldn’t advise Burnham to hold a beauty contest with Nicola Sturgeon right now. Scottish, and many English voters find the her brand of anti-austerity politics a lot more attractive.

There are definite signs of life in the party south of the border right now – indeed, it is being remade by a grass-roots revolt agains a tired Labour establishment. But neither Murray nor the rest of the Scottish leadership seem to want any part of it.

The Edinburgh MP went on to dismiss Jeremy Corbyn with a distinctly ageist aside. “I think it’s about time” he said sarcastically, “that Labour had a leader who is a pensioner and has been an MP for 32 years”

Right now, Labour in Scotland has a unique opportunity to distance itself from London Labour conservatism. The entire Labour movement is in a state fo flux with Britain’s largest trades unions, Unite and Unison, both backing a leadership candidate who is actually to the left of the SNP on issues like Nato membership.

But Murray doesn’t even want to talk about Nato let alone Trident, despite the fact that he got himself elected in Edinburgh South by spreading it around that said he opposed renewal of it. The debate about weapons of mass destruction, he said: “should be conducted within an environment of respect rather than trying to make divisions and wedges”. In other words by not rocking the boat.

Little attempt has been made to tap into the new generation of political radicals who are currently re-invigorating politics north and south of the border. I correct myself. Scottish leadership contenders, Kezia Dugdale and Ken Macintosh, have said they are both “socialists” which until recently was a taboo term in Labour.

Indeed, for many it still is, as the UK Labour interim leader, Harriet Harman, launches her sweep of Labour’s new members to root out the reds under the beds.

The touchstone for ideological acceptability in the UK part appears to be whether or not you recognise Tony Blair’s constribution to Labour. Until his baleful ghost is exorcised from the movement, Labour cannot move on.

Blair and his followers have been all over the media in recent weeks, threatening even to split the party. The ubiquitous John McTernan, Blair’s former adviser and a Murphy henchman, said that Corbyn should be deposed by a coup if he wins the leadership. “I don’t see any case for letting him have two minutes in office“, he said.

It seems incredible that he can remain in Labour while tens of thousands of new Labour members are being interrogated about their loyalty by the party hierarchy. What a way to invite a new generation into politics.

Listening to McTernan and other commentators in the press you could be forgiven for thinking that Labour was elected in 1997 renewal of Trident, £9,000 fees, Iraq and the privatisation of the NHS. It wasn’t

In 1997, Labour was still opposed to tuition fees, the privatisation of rail and supported multilateral nuclear disarmament.  Tony Blair promised a revolution in education,  the abolition of child poverty, minimum wage and public investment in the NHS. These were radical policies and some were even delivered.

Tony Blair even called himself a socialist. Though for obscure reasons he referred to this as “social-hyphen-ist”.
The truth about Corbymania is that it is a product of the same social idealism that delivered the Labour landslides under Blair. Anti-austerity, living wage, trades union rights, social housing, and end to nuclear weapons.

If Labour took a second to listen to its own voters, and not just the pundits in the Tory papers, they’d realise that these are the real “aspirational politics”. And that they can be popular – as the Scottish “Tsunami” demonstrated.

Nicola Sturgeon’s anti-austerity platform in the 2015 general election was very similar to Corbyn’s.  And she was attacked in the same manner for being “the most dangerous woman in politics”  a “marxist”  and a member of the “loony left”.

We’re always being told that Scottish voters’ attitudes are not much different to those of English voters, when you drill down into their attitudes to redistribution, immigration, welfare and social issues.  Well, the Scottish election result demonstrates that many of the left’s policies can be hugely popular if articulated with confidence and a sense of purpose.

Actually, Corbymania should be causing huge headaches for the Scottish National Party. They have been insisting that Labour is incapable of change and that they are the true inheritors of the social democratic politics in Scotland. Yet suddenly, change is in the air and a social democratic figure is leading he race.

This was surely an open goal for the Scottish Labour Party. But once again, they managed to miss.


About iain2macwhirter

Writer and journalist.


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