Haven’t we been here before? Corbynism, England and the British road to socialism
The next Westminster election in Scotland will see Labour repeat the tactic used in the years leading up to the 1990s: people told that they must vote Labour to get a Labour Government, and nothing else matters. Therein lies a problem for the ‘independent left’ and the large number of people who have been regularly voting SNP, and for the SNP itself. It is a problem because if Corbyn’s Labour, in the last week of the campaign, is polling in the 40%s, Leonard’s claim will look like unvarnished truth – the SNP cannot form a UK government, but Labour can.
We can expect another socialist manifesto from Corbyn’s Labour, creating considerable energy and enthusiasm among activists and supporters who will believe he is within touching distance from power. We have been here before. In 1992, Neil Kinnock’s Labour looked like a winner, and Labour did well on that belief in Scotland. But winner it wasn’t, because England voted Tory again.
I think that will be the case at the next Westminster elections. Today, even after a disastrous election campaign, on English votes for English laws, the Tories have a majority of 61. That is the mountain Corbyn has to climb down there. While I am sure Corbyn will be able to mobilise a big Labour vote in England, he will also mobilise a big Tory vote to make sure he doesn’t win. Unlike the last Westminster election, when no one believed he had a chance, the next one will be fought on the basis that he does. That will be the Tory cry to their voters.
It will not be difficult between now and the Holyrood, then Westminster, elections for Labour to outflank the SNP on the Left. The gross inequality in Scotland, the social evils of poverty, no housing, bad housing, the deliberate state directed humiliation and destitution delivered to people by sanctions, and the prevalence of low wages, all call for socialist answers. In the context of Holyrood, the lack of extensive taxation powers, and limited welfare powers, means that an effective comprehensive attack on these evils is not possible, even if the SNP was a genuine left party, which it is not. Having wrongly described itself as a government (a description enshrined in legislation), it is now being judged as a government in the full sense of that word, and so wide open to a left critique, which we can expect the Leonard/Corbyn party to apply.
The next Holyrood and Westminster elections will be fought across the Central Belt, which has now resumed its role as the decisive power base in Scotland. It just happens to be the place where most of those economic and social evils are to be found in spades and, thus, open to a socialist message and programme as the only means of significantly altering the living conditions of the people, while the SNP will take the blame as the ‘Government’. The SNP mantra that Westminster is to blame for all Scotland’s problems becomes less legitimate the more often it is called in aid.
So, we can expect Labour gains at SNP’s expense across the Central Belt. What would such an electoral blow do to the SNP and the independence movement still hitched to its wagon? Initially, it would be drowned in the noise of Unionists rejoicing, crowing with glee at the certainty of no second referendum on independence. The independence movement as a whole would seem to have been delivered a death blow. But that sorrowful scenario would depend upon one political factor over which Scottish Labour has no control – how the English vote. If Corbyn cannot win there, then the first rule of the Union kicks in – that we again get again a Tory Government we rejected, against which devolution’s limited powers provide no defence.
The Leonard claim will be shown false, and disastrously so. Faced with another Tory Government, and we have again the political equation that was the breeding ground for the independence movement. The movement might find within itself an independence that unhitches it from the SNP’s electoral fate, and so be much stronger. Or it may stay hitched and see its first priority to help build the nationalist party to take control in the elections that come after 2021 and 2022. Whatever the relationship between the movement and the SNP, the failure of Corbyn to deliver England, which will reveal the emptiness of Leonard’s position, will be the basis of a new drive to independence. The weakness in my argument is if Corbyn wins in England. Pigs will fly first.
Jim Sillars is a former Labour and SNP MP