Corbyn mania hit Brighton this week in the blazing heat. It was the sunrise of the New Politics: a new age of grass-roots radicalism, with the Labour conference sovereign, real debates, and an end to top down machine politics.
Well in your dreams. Within 24 hour the old politics reestablished itself as the conference arrangements committee decided not to hold a debate on Trident after all. The unions didn’t like the idea apparently.
Dear, oh dear. Trident is supposedly a defining issue for the new Labour leader and his followers. Even the Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, who attracted praise for her address to a raucous meeting of the Blairite Progress group, has promised a debate at the Scottish conference next month
Almost all of the Corbyn agenda, it seems, is now provisional and subject to “review”: Syria, Nato, People’s Quantitative Easing. All views are valid, apparently, and there will be no whipping or collective responsibility. It’s not New Labour, not Old Labour but Whatever Labour.
And Corbyn appears to have defaulted back to New Labour postures on Scotland. “Flags don’t build houses”, he said. Perhaps not, but they have abolished the right to buy and relaunched council house building in Scotland.
Corbyn had a unique opportunity to outflank the SNP by reappropriating Labour policy themes. But this is not the way. Corbyn’s gaffes on the SNP “privatisation” of Scotrail and Calmac showed that he has been, at best, poorly briefed on Scotland.
To blame the Scottish government for the nationalisation of rail in 1993 is political misrepresentation of a pretty high order. The sale last year to the Dutch state-owned railway, Abellio, was under legislation reserved to Westminster.
Labour’s self-styled “last man standing” in Scotland, Ian Murray MP called for a “Peoples Scotrail”. But the Scottish government didn’t have the power to nationalise rail in Scotland last year. Unless it wanted to provoke a constitutional crisis, which Labour say is the SNP’s obsession.
Perhaps the Scottish government should be more imaginative in its interpretation of the EU rules on competitive procurement for ferry services. Maybe it isn’t doing enough to boost state-owned Calmac as a viable competitor to Serco. But to say that they have already privatised Calmac is silly.
Corbyn also said on BBC that the SNP is “ cutting local government funding” . It isn’t – though the Scottish government has imposed a council tax freeze ,which many believe comes to the same thing. But again, Corbyn should surely have been told that Scottish Labour has also supported the council tax freeze in recent elections.
The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, yesterday accused the SNP of following and essentially “Conservative” agenda and said they weren’t truly anti-austerity. This was in the same speech in which he told Labour MPs to vote for the Conservative Chancellor, George Osborne’s, Fiscal Charter, the embodiment ofTory austerity.
JC really needs to do better than this. It isn’t going to “bring Scottish votes back home to Labour”. The honeymoon – if such it was – between the indyref left and the Corbyn is very much over. The cop out on Trident is particularly bad news for Labour in Scotland.
Assuming Kezia Dugdale goes ahead with a debate at the Scottish Labour conference, the SNP will be overjoyed. The UK party holds sway on issues of defence – and it has apparently decided not to have any policy at all.
If Corbyn carries on like this then the 2016 Scottish parliamentary elections are there for the SNP’s taking. Nicola Sturgeon will be purring at the SNP conference next month. What has gone wrong?
Many yes voters are natural Corbynites and JC was supposed to bring Labour back to its radical senses. But the Islington MP is a long-time unionist, and shows little interest in Scottish politics. He has clearly decided that it will assist Labour “healing” to unite against the old enemy, the SNP.
This goes down well at Labour conferences, but does not play well in Scotland. Labour hammered relentlessly on the “you can’t eat a flag” theme before the last election and have been calling the SNP “Tartan Tories” for years – to no avail. Scottish voters simply don’t believe that Nicola Sturgeon is a Tory.
It is fine for Labour to challenge her on failing to deliver social democratic policies, on failures on educational attainment, even the failings in the NHS. But it is puerile to try to paint the SNP as Tories in disguise, only a year after Labour was hand in glove with the Conservatives in the Better Together campaign.
I’m afraid Corbyn’s new dawn has been postponed.
From Herald 29/9/15