European Elections – Reject Hypocrisy, Reject the Far-Right, Vote Labour

Tomorrow the European elections that might never have been take place and, as with much of the politics of Breixt, it’s a total shitshow. The far-right continue their resurgence, hitching their wagons to the narrative of a ‘Brexit betrayal’ and asking voters to send a message by voting for the Brexit Party. With something of a depressing inevitability, evangelical remainers continue the absolutely clueless tactics which have defined their cause by being happy to feed this narrative by also turning the elections into a proxy referendum and demanding people vote to ‘stop Brexit’. The Tories, hamstrung by the continued zombie presence of Theresa May and The Deal That Would Not Die, are haemorrhaging votes to the Brexit Party while Labour, the only party which actually attempts to recognise the referendum result while acknowledging how close it was by advocating a softer Brexit, finds itself squeezed by the Brexiteers and Remainiacs on either side.

I wrote before the Scottish independence referendum that I thought it posed a dangerous moment for the left, with the potential to lead it down a cul-de-sac. I think that has largely come to pass and the treatment of every election in Scotland as a proxy for that referendum has seen a centrist SNP remain dominant, stoking the notion that Scotland as a country is ill-treated by ‘Westminster’ and constantly danging the prospect of another vote in front of it’s the indy faithful to keep them on board. The dominance of the constitutional question has also led to something of a resurgence for the Tories in Scotland, fuelled by them portraying themselves as unionist-ultras. Thus we find Scottish politics caught in a mutually-beneficial stranglehold of competing nationalisms, while Labour’s attempts to focus on ‘domestic issues’ (boring things like child poverty) and a muddy offer on the constitution see it slip through the cracks.

There is zero doubt in my mind that the attempts to reorient UK politics, and elections, along the axis of leave/remain offer a similar dead-end for the left. Indeed, since 2016 we’ve already seen a shift away from a critical support for remain on the basis that it was the best option at that time (in the context of a Tory government and resurgent nativist politics) to a strident, moralising certainty that remaining in the EU is the fount of all goodness and that anyone who accepts the referendum result is some wicked enemy. People have built identities around their desire to ‘remain’ in the EU and it’s an identity which ignores the many negatives of the EU, and the enormous complexity of the Brexit context, to simply assert that ‘remain = goodness’.

The ‘moderates’, meanwhile, continue the disingenuous opportunism which so characterises them by portraying themselves as noble anti-racists fighting to ‘stop Brexit’ to protect the most vulnerable in society. It’s irrelevant that their politics offered ‘controls on immigration’ which got more and more restrictive; it’s irrelevant that their politics largely offered support for an EU referendum; it’s irrelevant that their politics offered a ‘remain and reform’ which largely seemed to mean ‘ending freedom of movement’ and it’s irrelevant that their politics has offered a decade of austerity which has already harmed the most vulnerable in society. I don’t believe that most of these people actually care about whether or not Brexit will harm ‘the vulnerable’ – after all, if that truly was their driving concern they’d be advocating for a Labour government which will do far more to help these people than remaining in the EU would. It’s about their identity, their innate goodness, and everything else is subservient. That’s why their arguments are so often threadbare and the thin attempts to paint ‘reverse the referendum result’ as ‘more democracy’ and ‘listening to people’ are so risible. They are afterthoughts meant to convince other people they are convinced are fools, not real convictions.

This leads me to the vote tomorrow. It will be no secret that I plan on voting Labour. I honestly believe that its primary position of respecting the referendum result, while pushing for a softer Brexit, is not only the option which offers the least likelihood of adverse outcomes in a myriad of ways but also the most honest and principled approach from a party which promised to implement the referendum result. It’s a favoured tactic of the Remainiacs to, bizarrely, agree with the Brexiteers that anything less than no-deal would be a ‘betrayal’ of Brexit. They do this because it best suits their notion that ‘Brexit = catastrophe’ and it fuels their narrative of being engaged in a noble Manichean battle. Leave voters will be angered by soft Brexit, they cry, while advocating for no Brexit at all. It’s incoherent, it’s dishonest and by promoting no-deal, it’s profoundly irresponsible and the votes of the ‘remain parties’ to undermine soft Brexit should be unforgivable.

Yet it’s clear there are many who, no matter what, intend to use these elections as a re-run of the referendum. The Brexiteers have made their intransigence and hypocrisy well-known, and it’s no surprise they’d swing behind the Brexit Party. The Remainiacs, on the other hand, are swinging behind a bunch of parties which contributed to this entire mess then have attempted to wash their hands of it. Let’s have a brief look at the hypocrisy of the so-called ‘Remain parties’:

  • The Green Party – the Greens called for an in/out referendum on EU membership in its 2015 manifesto. To be clear, the party wanted the binary referendum which it now decries. Caroline Lucas voted for the referendum at both its second and third readings (Jeremy Corbyn, incidentally, voted for it at neither). Caroline Lucas sat in the Commons while the Tory front bench stated ‘there will be no second referendum’ and didn’t utter a peep and, indeed, there was no mention of a second referendum until after leave won. It’s a deep irony that the Greens complain about our broken politics while running around accusing others of ‘betrayal’ for respecting the result of a referendum the Greens both campaigned and voted for.

 

  • The Liberal Democrats – the Lib Dem record in the coalition government needs little elaboration at this point but, suffice to say, the austerity, anti-immigration policies, anti-welfare policies and broken economy they facilitated make any claims to care about ‘the vulnerable’ absolutely laughable. They like to cry that they had to enter coalition to alleviate the worst of the Tories but the confidence and supply arrangement of the DUP has rather torpedoed that argument. With regards to the EU referendum, the Lib Dems were calling for an in/out referendum throughout Nick Clegg’s time as leader. When it finally came to parliament, the Lib Dems voted for it. Notably, there was a Labour amendment to the referendum bill which would have required ‘…the publication, at least ten weeks before the referendum, of the terms of any renegotiation between the UK and the EU and the consequences of leaving the EU’. The Lib Dems didn’t bother to show up to this vote, so it’s quite something for them to now insist that another vote is necessary because people didn’t know what they were voting for. Tim Farron wrote a column attacking the prospect of a second referendum as ‘pathetic’ and ignoring ‘the will of the people’, and tweeted that this ‘isn’t a neverendum’ – the crucial point being, of course, that this was in the context of remain winning. The Lib Dems, then, are another party characterised by a staggering and cynical hypocrisy on this.

 

  • Change UK – I know, I know – at this point it’s like kicking a dead dog. But it’ll come as no surprise that Change’s position on this is hypocritical, given everything about them is. Every Change UK MP who was in parliament at the time supported the referendum. The Tory members have voted repeatedly for Tory Brexit and voted against the opportunity to put a second referendum before parliament – because it was tabled by Jeremy Corbym. The Labour members, meanwhile, run around claiming to care about migrants and ‘the vulnerable’ while being almost entirely made up of people who wanted Labour to be more stridently anti-immigration and pro-austerity. It’s laughable. Chuka has, in his time, advocated the ‘reform’ of freedom of movement to stop EU citizens coming here to find work, clearly feeding the ‘coming here to take our jobs’ narrative. He’s also advocated only allowing the immigration of skilled workers, that immigrants should be ‘forced’ to integrate more and, in the months after the referendum, was calling for an end to freedom of movement altogether. He also dismissed calls for a second referendum in early 2017. Chuka’s position on this has been characterised by nothing more than what he deems best serves Chuka’s career at any given time – much like the rest of Change UK.

 

  • The SNP – It’s to their credit that the SNP are the only major party which voted against the EU referendum. Yet their position remains deeply cynical and opportunistic. In the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum, as senior figures from the EU lined up to say that an independent Scotland would be outside of the EU, the response of the SNP was not only to dismiss this as scaremongering but to threaten to kick out EU citizens living in Scotland should this happen. I repeatedly point this out because it’s the exact same use of EU citizens as cheap bargaining tools that has characterised Theresa May’s position and it makes a complete mockery of the SNP’s current grandstanding on the issue (indeed, the threat was made specifically by Nicola Sturgeon – then Deputy First Minister, now First Minister). Post-referendum, meanwhile, the SNP hedged its bets after the revelation that a third of its own supporters voted to leave, seemingly settling on a position where a soft Brexit in the single market and customs union was the best possible outcome. It’s only with the charge of the light brigade transformation of the ‘minor’ parties into single-issue Remainiac pressure groups, and the perception that this hurts Labour, that the SNP has decided its policy is actually to ‘stop Brexit’…so it can remain in the EU in the UK…then leave the UK and EU…to rejoin the EU. It seems quite ironic to me that the SNP should so eagerly adopt a position of ‘we should ignore a referendum result to leave a union if leaving it turns out to be quite complicated’ because, well, you know…

 

  • Plaid Cymru – PC abstained in the second and third readings of the EU referendum bill (they did vote for a motion to decline the second reading) and its manifestos made little mention of it beyond wanting to remain. In the aftermath of the referendum, however, Leanne Wood attacked calls for a second referendum, saying there would be ‘repercussions’ if voters could see ‘the political establishment not listening to them’ and that the proper mechanism for voters to express their views was through an election. Given she and PC are now gung-ho for a second referendum, I’m unsure what’s changed.

Parties should, of course, be able to change their minds. But you will search in vain for any of the above parties recognising the contortions and hypocrisies in their own positions, let alone explaining them. In short, you have parties which have shifted position for little more than perceived electoral gain attacking Labour for a fairly consistent position, because that consistent position is not ‘FULL BREXIT!’’ or ‘NO BREXIT’. This is putting the short-term electoral gain of those parties ahead of all else and they certainly do not deserve to be rewarded for it.

Labour’s position is not only correct and justified, it’s the best way to combat the resurgent far-right,  which would clearly love to be able to go out into communities with the message that Brexit was thwarted by the elite. I’ll be voting Labour tomorrow and I urge you to do the same.

Brexit: The Mendacious Hypocrisy of Tim Farron and the Liberal Democrats.

As British politics sinks further into a hellhole of competing nationalisms and utter bullshit masquerading as ‘being informed’, it’s time for another election! “Yay!” said absolutely no-one. If you’re reading this I think I can safely assume that you know what my views on the Tories and SNP are, though with the relentless Tory march to the right much of what I’ve written on them feels somewhat out of date. It’s been pointed out that the policies and rhetoric of the Tories currently bear comparison with the BNP; I could also observe that upon reading about Marie Le Pen’s platform, I couldn’t see many substantive differences with that of Theresa May. The Tories are a far-right party and it’s only a capitulant media which bafflingly continues to frame them as ‘centrist’ and May as ‘safe’ and ‘competent’ which is stopping more of us from appreciating this terrifying fact.

Let nothing I write here distract from the fact that the prospect of five more years of the Tories is a truly terrifying prospect. Yet the current government did not emerge from a vacuum, and neither did Brexit. With this in mind, I wanted to write a little about a party I tend to ignore: the Liberal Democrats. Following their 2015 election disaster, which saw them almost wiped out, the Liberal Democrats have been bobbing along, barely budging in the polls. They’ve been so irrelevant that the media hasn’t even saw fit to cover their woes, in the same way it’s focused on Labour and Corbyn. Now, however, the Lib Dems have spotted their chance. That rope has been thrown which they hope will guide them back to the hallowed land of people caring again. Yes, the Lib Dems OPPOSE BREXIT!

Anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to politics post-Brexit will be aware that the Lib Dems have branded themselves as ‘the Remain party’. Their victory in Richmond Park was seen as a proxy re-run of the referendum, so it’s unsurprising that they propose a second referendum. This referendum is ostensibly on a Brexit deal but everyone understands it to actually be a chance to re-run the first one and reject Brexit. They’ve gone big on being the ‘real opposition’ to the Tories, based almost entirely on Brexit, and hammer Labour’s difficult position on the issue.

When Theresa May called this unnecessary election, she framed it as being entirely about Brexit. May did this because she knows she will win in an election based on the nationalism, xenophobia and racism she has inflamed and exploited since Brexit, and because she has little record to defend. Unfortunately, it’s clear that many adamant ‘Remainers’ are walking straight into this and framing the election as a proxy Brexit referendum. As most of these people seem to be supporting the Lib Dems, I wanted to make a few observations about the lines which I keep seeing wheeled out.

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First of all, I think few ‘Remain’ voters would deny that immigration, and more specifically anti-immigration myths and sentiment, played a massive role in Brexit. Many profess to wish to oppose Brexit because they are ‘pro-immigration’. Yet if this is your motivation, it’s rather curious to support a party which was part of a government with an absolutely dire record on this matter. The coalition, which Tim Farron voted with in almost every single vote, set an arbitrary target to reduce immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’. made immigration rules stricter and crueler, illegally deported thousands of students and sent the infamous ‘Go Home’ vans around the country. Some Lib Dems justify this on the basis that it would have been even worse if they’d not been present, which is curious to say the least. Nothing and no-one forced the Lib Dems to enter a formal coalition with the Tories and we cannot know what would have happened had they not – we can only judge what actually did happen in its government, as we do (and should) with any other government. We can also note that the Coalition Agreement included a commitment to “introduce a cap on immigration and reduce the number of non-EU immigrants.” So the idea that Farron’s Lib Dems are an attractive defender of migrant rights is…curious, to say the least.

Now, onto Brexit itself. It’s clear that all of the main parties have played their role in fostering the climate that led us here, but given Farron and the Lib Dems now repeatedly accuse Labour of being ‘pro-Brexit’, let’s have a look at some history.

In 2008, Tim Farron resigned from the Lib Dem Shadow Cabinet because he supported a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty but the Lib Dem position was to abstain:

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Given his current position, you have to wonder what Farron would have done had he won a referendum and voters rejected the Treaty but let’s be generous and come a bit more up to date. The 2010 Lib Dem manifesto committed itself to referendums if there was ‘fundamental change’ in the UK/EU relationship, not an ‘In/Out’ referendum.

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In 2011, with the Lib Dems in the coalition, parliament looked at whether there should be a ‘European Referendum Committee’ which would clarify when an EU referendum should be necessary. The Lib Dems voted with the Conservatives against this (and against Labour):

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In 2011 most Lib Dems, and most of all parties, voted against calling for an EU membership referendum. In 2013 and 2014 there were Private Member’s Bills to legislate for a referendum, which were largely ignored by every party except the Tories.

It’s clear that the Lib Dem capitulation to the Tories played a large role in its 2015 meltdown and the Tory majority, which led us to the referendum and Brexit. It’s also clear that Labour in government played a big role in fostering the atmosphere. We can note that, whereas Ed Miliband steadfastly refused to commit to an EU membership referendum at the 2015 election, both Labour and the Lib Dem manifestos included a commitment to an In/Out referendum should there be further substantive transfer of powers:

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Then, following the Tory victory, Farron joined most of the remaining Lib Dems in voting for a referendum (only the SNP voted against it):

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There then followed a series of votes on amendments to the referendum bill. We can note that Farron didn’t vote to allow 16 and 17yos to participate in the referendum (but did later.) In fact, Farron and most of the Lib Dems didn’t seem to vote on a single amendment. This is most interesting when it comes to an amendment which would have required:

…the publication, at least ten weeks before the referendum, of the terms of any renegotiation between the United Kingdom and the European Union and the consequences for the United Kingdom of leaving the European Union.

In short, an attempt to ensure that everyone voting in the referendum had the best possible idea of what they were voting for. Given his current rhetoric around this matter, it’s curious Farron didn’t vote on it. Indeed, no Lib Dem did (Labour and the SNP voted for it):

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If our political journalists were any good, you’d expect them to be raising this with Farron again and again as it rather undermines his current stance. You’d perhaps also expect them to be highlighting this:

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Yes, Mr ‘Second Referendum’ Farron himself openly mocked the idea when it was advanced by Nigel Farage, somewhat hilariously invoking ‘the will of the people’ as a wry aside. Indeed, he went further, labelling the notion of a second referendum ‘pathetic’ in Prospect Magazine:

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If it’s not yet clear that the current Lib Dem position is little more than hypocrisy and opportunism, let’s look at one more thing: Farron’s frequent claims to be the ‘real opposition’ to the Tories. Leaving aside the hilarity of the party which brought us the coalition using this attack, Farron, in leading this ‘real opposition’, has voted in little more than a third of divisions (votes) in this parliament – far less than when the Lib Dems were in power:

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The leader of this ‘real opposition’ didn’t vote on a proposal to limit public spending cuts immediately following the first Tory Queen’s Speech; he didn’t vote on an Opposition Day motion calling on the government to address the housing crisis; he didn’t vote on a proposal to produce annual reports on addressing the gender pay gap; he didn’t vote on targeting assistance at those on low- and middle-incomes; he didn’t vote on requiring schools to include Personal, Social, Health and Economic education at school, including sex education; he didn’t vote on demands for more assistance for refugees; he didn’t vote on the notorious Trade Union Bill; he didn’t vote on attempts to prevent or ameliorate the tax credit cuts, to protect Employment and Support Allowance or against the Welfare Bill which further reduced the benefit cap and cut various benefits; he didn’t vote on an Opposition Day motion on the dispute over Junior Doctors’ contracts; he didn’t vote on the call to reconsider tax credit cuts which even some Tories supported; he didn’t vote on the third reading of the Immigration Bill, effectively extending border controls further into everyday life…

…you get the idea (that’s still only up to the end of 2015). The notion of Farron and the Lib Dems being the ‘real opposition’ is risible and hanging it entirely around the votes on Article 50, where the Lib Dem position was contrary to all that had gone before and where the government was never going to be defeated, is mendacious in the extreme and makes a mockery of any possible ‘progressive alliance’. The Lib Dems know they have zero power to prevent Brexit (and you’ll note the tactics people have to prevent it are never more fully-formed than ‘elect some MPs who don’t want Brexit’), and are exploiting the fact most people don’t pay much attention to politics to offer false hope to those for whom it is now the single most important issue in politics.

Yet however we feel about Brexit, the idea that opposing it should mean voting for politicians and parties with a dire record on immigration, on poverty, on employment rights and so on is at best naive, at worst woefully out-of-touch. We certainly should not reward Tim Farron and the Liberal Democrats for their cheap opportunism, of the kind which has so destroyed faith and trust in politics and contributed to our grim political landscape.

 

 

It Would Be Disastrous For Labour To Oppose Article 50.

So Brexit is proving to be a shitshow and a disaster for the left, as all of us who weren’t deluded enough to believe in Lexit knew it would be. I don’t think many of us actually expected it to happen, though – even when the polls showed a tight race they usually had ‘Remain’ in the lead and there was a widespread sense that people would ‘see sense’ on the day. So the result not only came as a shock but (for many of us) felt like a hammer blow to our identity, our notion of the country we lived in and its place in the world. Yet as we get further on from the vote it seems increasingly obvious that this isn’t something which happened on the day of the referendum, or even during the referendum campaign: this has been decades in the making and too many of us were blind to it. Some remain blind to it and have retreated into an almost petulant rage that most people didn’t vote ‘the right way’.

Much of the worst rhetoric from the ‘Leave’ side, and from the Tory government under the ostensibly ‘Remain’ Theresa May, has presented those opposed to Brexit as an out of touch elite and enemies of democracy. It shouldn’t need to be pointed out how dangerous and disgusting this is, yet it’s difficult not to wonder if it’s given unwarranted power as many celebrate a multi-millionare hedge fund manager winning a court battle on parliamentary sovereignty. That in itself is fine – Brexit has been sold to us as ‘taking back control’, after all – yet it’s very clear that for many this presents an opportunity for Westminster to override/ignore the referendum result in a vote. These people have reacted with blind fury to Labour’s pledge that it will respect the referendum result and will not seek to ‘frustrate’ the triggering of Article 50, instead seeking to influence the kind of Brexit we end up with by demanding detailed legislation be presented before parliment to be debated and amended. This has commonly been presented hand in hand with the myth that Jeremy Corbyn was somehow to blame for the result of the vote, despite 2/3rds of Labour voters opting to ‘Remain’ (the same % as SNP voters) and Corbyn being by far the most prominent Labour figure, and third most prominent ‘Remain’ figure, in the campaign.

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Yet Labour cannot prevent Brexit in parliament and, more than that, it would be utterly disastrous were it to try. As briefly as possible, here is why:

  1. The numbers just aren’t there. The Tories will vote en masse to trigger Article 50 for several reasons: party discipline, the fact the party is currently benefiting enormously from Brexit in the polls and the certain pressure from UKIP which any Tory MP voting it down would find themselves under. The DUP will support it. UKIP will clearly support it. That already guarantees that the vote will pass, without getting into the Labour MPs in areas which heavily voted ‘Leave’ who would almost certainly support the vote whatever the ‘official party position’.
  2. Accepting that the numbers aren’t there, it would be madness for Labour to squander what little capital it has on this issue by gifting the Tories, UKIP and the majority right-wing media the narrative of it ‘seeking to subvert the will of the people’. Absolutely everything it had to say on Brexit after a vote against triggering Article 50 would be met by this message being hammered home again and again and again.
  3. Instead, saying ‘we respect the result and will not overturn it, but we will seek to ensure parliament has oversight of and influence over the kind of Brexit we get’ does not lend power to the idea that Labour is ‘opposed to democracy’ and actually offers the prospect of pro-EU Tories supporting amendments which could make a real difference in preventing what is being called ‘hard Brexit’.

It’s an imperfect position, certainly, but the only feasible one. We then move onto what I’ve found to be a common response to this: “well shouldn’t Labour offer leadership and do what it thinks is right, rather than blindly following a ‘majority’ who voted on a bunch of lies’?

As I noted earlier, this has been decades in the making. Parties across the political spectrum have happily blamed the EU as an easy scapegoat for domestic decisions (even the SNP blamed the EU in the row over privatising Calmac) while politicians have at best ignored popular hostility towards immigration and at worst fanned it. As I documented in my pre-referendum post, the majority of people have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about with regards to immigration yet polls have consistently found that most view it negatively (including in Scotland). In my lifetime it has been common for politicians to use the rhetoric of the far right on immigration, push increasingly intolerant policies on asylum and immigration and engage in a perverse arms race on who can be ‘toughest‘ on the issue.

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In the 2015 Labour leadership campaign Andy Burnham repeated dangerous myths about migration and called for tighter controls, while Liz Kendall disgracefully conflated desperate refugees with migrants presumed to be ‘cheating’ the welfare system. Immediately after the Brexit vote Owen Smith, in the Labour leadership campaign, argued for a ‘progressive case against freedom of movement‘and suggested there were too many immigrants, while leading Labour figures like Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper lined up to chuck ‘freedom of movement’ under a bus. During the leadership campaigns and referendum, Jeremy Corbyn singularly refused to feed these narratives, yet what should be an unremarkable, fact-based position is considered so extreme that he has faced enormous pressure to backtrack on it. This lead to the dismal spectacle of a heavily-trailed seachange in his immigration position wherein he moved a bit to the right in his rhetoric yet didn’t actually seem to alter his position (apparently following an intervention from Diane Abbott), managing to piss off his supporters for no apparent reason.This in itself was treated as a ‘gotcha’ by the media, which has been utterly woeful in presenting the facts of immigration.

Far too many of those now calling for ‘leadership’ on Brexit have refused to step up and fight to drain the swamp that has been the immigration ‘debate’.’Addressing concerns over immigration’ has been the ‘moderate’ cry to demonstrate how serious and ready for power they are. Even the supposedly pro-immigration SNP has played this game and it’s worth noting that the independence White Paper proposed exactly the kind of points-system which is so beloved of reactionaries. For too long we have been timid on both the EU and on immigration, conceding more and more ground to a right-wing which has only moved further and further right in response. In retrospect it was a remarkably brave move for Ed Miliband to rule out an EU referendum if he won power – it’s notable that the now-decidedly anti-Brexit Green Party actually promised one in its manifesto and complained of “the EU’s unsustainable economics of free trade and growth” (a position not to dissimilar from Corbyn’s previous rhetoric). By the time the vote on holding the EU referendum came around after the 2015 election, only the SNP felt able to actually oppose it.

Calls for ‘leadership’ now are laughable because it’s been lacking for so long, replaced by crude and contemptible attempts to ride and exploit ‘public opinion’. The same mindset and tactics were at play in the EU referendum: we were so sure ‘Remain’ would win that there was little thought put into how the referendum should be conducted and little preparation made for what happened if the vote went the other way. Tim Farron, now a passionate advocate for opposing Brexit, explicitly mocked the idea of a second referendum prior to the vote. Yet now calls for a second referendum are common from people who would have found this a democratic outrage coming from Nigel Farage, and the idea that the vote is invalid because’Leave’ voters were duped is commonly expressed. ‘The referendum was only advisory!’ All referendums in the UK are ‘only advisory’ – the point is that absolutely no-one campaigning or voting believed this one was until the result wasn’t what they wanted. Absolutely no-one is fooled that demands for another referendum are anything other than attempts to reverse the vote. Most of the arguments for ignoring the referendum result are arguments for not holding the referendum in the first place (and I think most ‘Remain’ voters didn’t particularly understand what they were voting for any more than ‘Leave’ voters understood what they were voting against) and that ship sailed long ago. It’s notable that last week’s Yougov poll found that 66% of Remain voters supported either Labour or the Tories, while a majority in every region of the UK endorsed May’s ‘negotiating points’. There is not some groundswell for overturning the vote.

This brings us to probably the most profoundly scary reason why Labour (and indeed other politicians) trying to prevent Brexit in parliament is such a terrible idea. As we’ve seen, rhetoric around ‘elites’ trying to ‘subvert democracy’ has been common in the aftermath of the referendum and we’ve heard how bigotry has surged. Yet if politicians were to actually prevent the result of the referendum being implemented as the worst extremes of the right keep suggesting they want to, this would provide a founding myth for the far-right of the kind we have not seen in my lifetime. There is no doubt in my mind that not only would UKIP surge dramatically in this scenario but that less ‘respectable’ fascists like the EDL would explode in popularity, emboldened by the simple and powerful narrative that the ‘elite’ were ignoring ‘the people’.

Yes, Brexit is an absolute shitshow and it’s a disaster for the left. But we lost the referendum because we long ago lost the arguments which mattered most to people. We neglected the left as a a movement and I’ve noted with irony that some of the most vocal advocates for reversing Brexit are from the camp so fond of the ‘we can’t achieve anything without winning elections’ faction. It’s no wonder they would want politicians to save us but we aren’t going to address how we got here by indulging that tactic. The only thing that can begin to pull us back from the precipice is a strong, dynamic social movement which we all need to step up and be part of. That means letting go of the dangerous fantasy that we can vote Brexit down and realising we must win the argument on immigration, on inequality, on employment rights and on so much more. To do that we actually have to take that argument to people and we have to create both pressure for politicians to support us, and a base from which we can support politicians who do. We have to be involved in pro-migrant and anti-racist movements. We have to have uncomfortable conversations with work colleagues, with family, with friends. No-one is going to put this right from above. It’s up to us.

 

 

 

Why We Still Support Corbyn

This coup has been planned for months. It was going ahead whatever the referendum result was, which makes the cynicism of the plotters in exploiting a national crisis to pursue their long-held ambition to depose Corbyn even more astonishing. The government is in meltdown, the economy is tanking and the far-right is surging, both as an organised group and in terms of rhetoric. It is unforgiveable that so many Labour MPs have chosen this moment to indulge their games – and make no mistake, as the coordinated drip-feed of resignations has demonstrated, this is political game-playing to many of them.
It seems clear that one of the main tactics of the coup, in the absence of actually being able to defeat the ‘unelectable’ Corbyn in an election, is to smear a lot of shit and hope some of it sticks. So we have claims that Corbyn voted ‘leave’, with ‘proof’ which suddenly dissipates overnight. There are claims that Labour members making their disappointment in their MPs clear is somehow comparable to an MP being murdered on the street by a fascist. Activism of the kind which has massively contributed to every victory the left has ever had is reframed as ‘threatening’ and ‘bullying’. JK Rowling has drawn a clear equivalence between Corbyn (and his supporters) and the people who murdered Jo Cox. It’s risible and disgraceful stuff.
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One of the big attack lines is that Corbyn supporters are a) largely not Labour party members and b) in a cult. The former is easily tested – hold another leadership election. The plotters are trying to avoid this because they know it’s not true. The latter is an appealing position because it means no-one actually has to consider why he has enjoyed such massive support amongst members, both old and new.
Yet it’s also nonsense. To be clear, I’ve not encountered a single person who is slavishly devoted to Corbyn as an individual. People are well aware of his personal limitations. I’ve said quite a few times over the past 9 months that if the Labour right had simply sat on their disappointment, worked with Corbyn and helped to get the message across while fighting the Tories, the grassroots would be far more willing to ditch Corbyn if election results made it look like he was a non-starter. Instead they’ve not only repeated the mistake they made with Ed Miliband but gone nuclear with it, openly and constantly trying to undermine Corbyn to the extent that his support has adopted a bunker mentality and only grown more and more determined to support him. We aren’t stupid and we can see that even in the face of a PLP doing everything it can to make his ‘unelectability’ a self-fulfilling prophecy, and hammering home the ‘we cannot do anything without power’ line at every opportunity, the reality has been rather different:
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Even in the above context, however, it’s clear that the Brexit crisis has massively changed the context of politics in this country and if there were some ‘slicker’ Corbyn who had similar politics but could command more confidence from the PLP, many Labour members would seriously consider supporting them. But there isn’t. The people attempting this coup have again and again been asked who their alternative is and again and again they have said ‘we don’t know’. They ‘don’t know’ because they understand that, as Hilary Benn, Tom Watson and even Owen Smith have made clear with their support for opposing free movement in the past few days, this coup is not only against Corbyn but against the politics he represents. That any politician who calls themselves ‘left-wing’ thinks that now is the time to (again) be throwing migrants under a bus is not only astonishing, it’s completely inexcusable.
These people want a return to (their) business-as-usual where ‘connecting with people’ means feeding ignorance and lies about immigrants, about welfare, about Europe and refusing to even begin to stand up to the powerful forces which are *actually* harming people. That’s the politics that got us to this point in the first place and we have to completely oppose it. Corbyn represents the red line against this for many and that is a major part of why he continues to enjoy support from members. Now, more than ever, we need a progressive politics that is anti-racist, pro-immigration and which addresses people’s ‘real concerns’ by saying that it’s not immigrants or the EU which are to blame for the housing crisis, for insecure and low-paid jobs, for the attacks on our health service, for austerity, for the redistribution of wealth upwards. These are matters of ideology actively pursued by our own government in their efforts to bolster and build on an economic system which works against the interests of the many. Anyone who is progressive needs to stand against the rhetoric which elides this in order to point the finger at easier, far more vulnerable targets.
We cannot return to the days of immigration control mugs. Yes, times have changed. That politics has got us this far – no further.

The Death of Solidarity

This feels like the nail in the coffin of any notion of ‘solidarity’ across these isles. The surge of competing nationalisms has been clear for years now, and much of the left has been happy to indulge and even feed it rather than fight it, rather than make the case for us standing together, rather than saying that our enemy was not some conveniently identifiable ‘other’ but a neoliberal ideology which by all reason should have died following the global crash. This felt like our last chance to draw a line in the sand, to recognise that we had to step up to the plate with regards to anti-racism, with regards to anti-immigrant sentiment, with regards to populist anti-intellectual movements which brand facts as ‘Project Fear’. We’ve failed.
Scotland and London both voted massively for remain. Having argued against Scottish independence in significant part because I thought it fed nationalism and destroyed solidarity, today I feel sad but resigned to Scotland becoming independent. Who could blame anyone voting for it when faced with this? There are already increasingly loud calls for London to split off from the UK. The economy is tanking and the far-right is celebrating not only here but across Europe. I never thought I would see the day where my reaction to David Cameron resigning was sorrow rather than joy and that is a mark of how dark this day is.
There are, right now, millions of EU migrants in the UK who now have no idea what will happen to them. There are millions of UK citizens in the EU who have no idea what will happen to them. And there are millions of people who, as one friend told me yesterday, look at this and see the familiar politics of a brick in the face just for the colour of your skin. Those of us who are privileged enough for this to be an existential defeat rather than one which is going to destroy our livelihoods or our homes need to stand with these people now. It’s the least we can do. I have cried too many tears over too many defeats. We need to stand against the calls, which are already coming and will only increase in volume, for tighter ‘immigration controls’. We need to stand against the nonsense, unchallenged for far too long, that it’s ‘not racist’ to blame housing policy, employment policy, health policy etc on ‘immigrants’ without having the slightest clue what you’re on about. We need to stand against our country becoming a small, angry and pathetic place, even though it feels much too late for that. We need to join trade unions. We need to support local struggles re: housing, health and austerity. We need to support migrant rights. We need to organise to fight racism on our streets. We need to support Jeremy Corbyn, one of the few politicians who has stood against this hateful tide, from those in his own party who would have us believe that competing with UKIP and the Tories on anti-immigration sentiment is the way for ‘progressive values’ to win.
It’s London Pride tomorrow and people have been fond of using ‘love wins’ in recent weeks. But the sad, scary fact of the matter is that love doesn’t win. Action wins. The kind of action which understands that fighting racism and the far-right means not capitulating to them or aiding their normalisation (hello, “I’m not UKIP but…” people arguing for their inclusion at Pride) At the moment the hard right are a hell of a lot more organised than we are. We need to begin to change that if ‘solidarity’ is to be anything other than a distant memory.

Vote Remain.

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I’ve already made my feelings on this referendum clear: it has been profoundly depressing in pretty much every conceivable way. Revelling in ignorance and prejudice has been reframed as ‘taking control’; facts unfavourable to your cause have been cast as ‘scaremongering’ and ‘Project Fear’. It’s easily been the most hateful, and terrifying, campaign of my lifetime.

Yet I still have hope. The above photos were all taken this morning on a single 100-metre walk in Hackney. Hackney is one of the most diverse boroughs in one of the most diverse cities in the world – over 60% of its population is not White British. Approximately 25% of its population have a main language which isn’t English. It’s one of the most deprived local authority areas in England. It has a higher than average LGBT community. There are powerful forces in this country, as we have seen over the past few months, who seek to turn diversity into division and blame poverty (along with every other problem imaginable) on anyone who is perceived as ‘different’. For all its problems, Hackney says a clear “no” to this. The far-right, whether it be UKIP or any other group, are not a force here. Last year Hackney again returned the black female socialist Diane Abbott as its MP, with a vote share increased by 8%. I am confident that today Hackney will reject the politics of racism and hatred by voting to remain in the European Union.

This matters. The far-right and those who validate it try and suggest that not to be hateful, not to be fearful, not to be racist, is somehow a ‘metropolitan’ value held by an out-of-touch elite. No-one could ever claim this about Hackney, which has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the country. The fact that the places with most immigration tend to be most positive about it (and the converse) seems instructive here: everyone living in Hackney, no matter where they are from, is surrounded by immigration, surrounded by diversity. We know it’s not a problem. We know it’s a good, a great, thing.

Those living in areas with little immigration, on the other hand, are obviously more likely to be taking their views on it from the dominant narratives pushed by the media and our political class. This brilliant article is enormously insightful regarding this, explaining how a manufactured ‘public opinion’ is used to mainstream racism, stigmatise migrants and the working-class (while framing these two identities as mutually exclusive) and “deflect responsibility away from government and capital”. We have seen this in abundance in this campaign, where mendacious politicians who have been cutting and privatising our public services, imposing harsher immigration regimes and building a low-wage, precariat job economy have had the audacity to blame immigrants for their continuing policies.

This has gone on too long and we on the left have been too complacent in fighting it – and fight it we must, from germs of hatred expressed in casual racist remarks in Hackney to EDL marches in Coventry to the far-right killing Jo Cox in Birstall. People usually wheel out Lincoln’s quote about ‘the better angels of our nature’ as a trite Hallmark sentiment about everyone getting along, depoliticising what must be a political fight against hatred and bigotry. Fighting fascists and the far-right is a political act. Fighting Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove is a political act. Fighting racism requires action above platitudes. This is why, whatever the faults of the EU, in the current climate voting Remain is a political blow against these forces. Make no mistake, the fight will, must continue past today but it’s time to draw a line in the sand and say ‘no more’ to the wretched rhetoric and policy that has characterised our politics for too long. Vote Remain. Vote ‘no more’.

It’s up to all of us.

The EU Referendum: Lies, Immigrants and Lexit

I wrote in February about how the EU referendum ‘debate’ would be a clusterfuck of ignorance and prejudice. That required no particular insight – it was always going to be that way – yet I still find myself surprised and dismayed by just how dreadful the discourse has been. Last night’s ITV debate, which found Boris Johnson essentially parroting Daily Express headlines, was astonishingly grim to watch. It was particular breathtaking to see Johnson accusing the Remain campaign of being ‘Project Fear’ literally moments after claiming that the EU was flooding our streets with ‘terrorists and murderers’ (something which, incidentally, isn’t true.)

13327630_10153709421132547_3902684968294376424_n(photo by @nikvestberg)

I think most people have known all along how they’ll vote in the referendum, even if they can’t quite admit it; I think some can’t admit it because they know, deep down, that they’re voting based on kneejerk prejudice rather than any informed opinion. These people tend to adopt a ‘plague on both your houses’ stance, complaining that both sides can’t be trusted and it’s difficult to know who to believe. At face value this doesn’t seem like an unreasonable complaint but then you consider that it has never been easier to educate yourself about issues you are interested in. On Channel 4 news the other day a teenager began speaking about how she had felt uninformed but then went online and found an abundance of information, not produced by either campaign, which struck her as impartial. Now, I realise and accept that not everyone will have easy access to the internet or be particularly adept at using it but I also think if you’re self-aware enough to say ‘I don’t trust the campaigns, I just want some impartial information’, you then have an obligation to make an effort to find that information. It takes seconds to find descriptions of the structure  and powers of the EU. The European Parliament offers a series of factsheets on various aspects of the EU. This LRB article on why leaving the EU would be enormously complicated offers a good, relatively brief, overview of its powers in the context of this referendum. Organisations like the BBC and Wikipedia have put together simple overviews of the EU. The entire point of a referendum (and a big part, I think, of why they are invariably disastrous) is that no-one is going to come along and hand you a 5-page dossier explaining the ‘right’ way to vote. It’s up to us and it requires a bit of work.

As a general rule of thumb, if it sounds utterly absurd it’s probably not true. The EU has not banned kettles. The EU does not ban bananas being sold in bunched of more than three, as a trip to your nearest grocers or supermarket will confirm. The profit margin of the UK fishing industry has increased under the Common Fisheries Policy, in contrast with the tabloid stories of rampaging foreigners stealing ‘British fish’ and destroying boats. At every turn we should seek out the truth of what we hear and aren’t sure about; importantly, we should seek to understand, rather than seek out facile memes which merely stoke our prejudices as happened too often in the Scottish independence referendum.

One of the more unexpected developments in the ‘debate’ has been the tactic of people like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and even Nigel Farage to blame any and all problems with the NHS, wages, immigration policy, housing etc on the EU (and specifically on immigration) and suggest that all these would improve if we left. These extremely right-wing politicians have suddenly discovered that they’re actually rather left-wing, wanting to increase NHS spending, increase wages, relax our immigration policy, build more housing. It’s mendacious in the extreme. Let’s be clear here: they could do all of these things now. The reason they haven’t is that they don’t want to. They are no friends of the NHS and the Tories have presided over “the smallest increase in (NHS) spending for any political party’s period in office since the second world war”. Only last year Boris Johnson was demanding a UK opt-out from EU employment laws, “stopping EU social and employment law imposing costs on business”. His government has presided over restricting access to employment tribunals, freezing maternity and sick pay and a draconian crackdown on trade unions. It has tightened immigration laws based not on evidence but on cheap party political gain, with an entirely arbitrary promise to reduce immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’, absurd restrictions on international students and pointless and cruel promises to deport non-EU migrants earning less than £35,000. The government’s extention of ‘right to buy’ to tenants in housing associations, meanwhile, is an ill-thought out disaster and its housing policy generally is predicated on keeping private housing costs high rather than investing in affordable homes. If anyone thinks Johnson, Gove and co will row back on any of this post-Brexit, I have some magic beans I think they might be interested in.

The common foundation to this line of ‘attack’ is, of course, that the UK is beseiged by immigrants and cannot cope. Yet what matters aren’t scary big numbers but investment, population density, resource use and consumption patterns. The vast majority of the UK isn’t built on, London’s population density compares favourably to other big cities while the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, isn’t even in the top 100 when it comes to population growth. We are not bursting at the seams.

To be blunt, most people have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about when they speak about immigration. The *entire* foreign-born population in the UK increased by less than 5 million in 21 years, and 3 million of these people went to London. Approximately 12% of the UK population was born outside of the UK, a percentage which puts us towards the bottom of the OECD chart (and most of this population is found in London). Most migrants only come here for less than 2 years. Migration most certainly has a positive impact on our economy and due to our population demographics, we’re going to need more of it. Most evidence suggests that migrants do not cause unemployment of UK citizens and have minimal-to-no impact on wages (government policy is far, far more important for these matters).

Far from being ‘scared’ to have a discussion about immigration, our politics and media has for too long been complacent in challenging pernicious myths (that’s putting it generously – clearly many have been strongly pushing these myths themselves). Anyone who speaks to you about the NHS or housing or a ‘strain on public services’ without referencing government investment and (of particular relevance to this debate) government cuts is seeking to mislead you. It’s time we grew up when it came to immigration. It is not a problem, we do control our borders and leaving the EU will not reduce immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’ (and neither should we want it to).

Some people have spoken of ‘lexit’, as if the left could benefit from leaving the EU and have some say over the aftermath. This, as some of these people are now recognising, is a myth. There is no such thing as ‘lexit’. A vote to leave the EU will not help the refugees trying to enter Fortress Europe. A vote to leave the EU will most definitely bolster the likes of Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove, John Mann, the EDL, the BNP and every two-bit ‘I’m not racist’ in the country who moans about ‘uncontrolled immigration’ and repeats drivel about the EU banning kettles. It will have a material impact on the lives of thousands of migrants in the UK. Racists and reactionaries are by FAR the dominant forces seeking to leave the EU and you can’t separate yourself from it. Perhaps you are aware of that and still want to leave. Ok – but please do so based on some semblance of fact and not because of the drivel which has characterised this debate. As Jeremy Corbyn has argued, the EU is far from perfect but right here, right now, one option is clearly far worse than the other. Vote remain.

The EU Referendum, the SNP and Political Fog

Before the election last year I wrote about the problem of ‘politics as comic book’, a ‘twilight’ world of good and bad, right and wrong, conducted by fighting fog because relatively few people had any idea what they were talking about. We’ve long known, for example, that the public remains stubbornly misinformed about issues like welfare and immigration.

In some respects the rise of ‘populism’ in recent years takes advantage of this, offering simple certainties in an age which seems frighteningly precarious and complex: your problems are caused by immigration, by the European Union, by Westminster, by ‘bankers’. This populism has largely been associated with smaller parties, contrasted with the ‘responsible’ and ‘mainstream’ larger parties who had a duty to combat it. This started to change with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn here in the UK and now Bernie Sanders/Donald Trump in the USA: these are politicians who are presented by those who identify as ‘moderate’ and ‘reasonable’ as offering simple, populist responses to complex problems.

Yet it is increasingly unavoidable that this is little more than self-delusion. What these people like to call the ‘centre-ground’ of politics is conducted in that hinterland of unreality where no-one really has any idea what they’re talking about but everyone pretends otherwise. It’s clear, for example, that much of our politics is addressed at the myths around welfare and immigration rather than the reality. This has found strong, grim expression in the discussion around the referendum on the European Union.

It’s obvious that public awareness of the European Union, on the basic level of what it is and what it does, is woeful. In a survey last year less only 27% of respondents in the UK could correctly answer three relatively simple questions on the EU – if people have no idea of the number of members, the chances that they have any understanding of how laws are made or even what the bodies of the EU are aren’t high. Yet, as with (and not separate from) welfare and immigration, strong feelings and perceptions of the EU have come to dominate our political discourse with little regard as to how informed or otherwise they may be.

So it was that we ended up with yesterday’s bizarre spectacle of the Prime Minister trumpeting an improved ‘deal’ for the UK in the EU and asking that people vote to remain in it as a consequence. The two centrepieces of this deal underlined that this was about responding to ignorance rather than any practical concerns: a ‘red card’ veto over ‘unwanted legislation’ and an ’emergency brake’ on ‘migrant benefits’.

The ‘red card’ is clearly aimed at those who believe the much-renowned ‘faceless bureaucrats’ at the EU impose legislation on the EU, “like some distant imperial ruler legislating for its colonial subjects.” Aside from not even beginning to address the lack of education on EU decision-making or, for example, the distinction between the EU and the European Court of Human Rights, the ‘red card’ basically already exists. That’s a lot of noise mad about nothing much at all.

The hoopla over ‘migrant benefits’ gets, I think, a lot closer to the actual ‘concerns’ many have regarding the EU – concerns based on ignorance, xenophobia and just plain racism about ‘uncontrolled immigration’ and migrants ‘coming over here and taking our jobs/benefits’.  Suffice to say, the available information doesn’t support this being a problem at all. The data is sketchy but suggests that:

EU migrants make up only a small proportion of the overall benefits caseload. They accounted for 2.5% of benefits the DWP administered in 2014 – mostly out-of-work benefits – in 2014, and 7% of tax credits, based on the HMRC definition discussed above.

The DWP analysis says EU migrants on “in-work” benefits cost the taxpayer £530m in 2013. That represents a modest 1.6% of the year’s total tax credit bill.

The vast majority of EU migrants living in the UK are in employment, while EU migration has been found to have “no statistically significant effects” on employment for those born in the UK (and in fact contributes billions to the UK economy). I’m also aware from personal experience that many, even on the left, are completely unaware that people living in the EU can’t just come to the UK and start claiming benefits. There are conditions,  and the benefits they can claim are limited. It’s also the case, of course, the people from the UK are resident across the EU and some of them claim benefits.

The scare about EU migrants claiming benefits, then, feeds into the demonisation of welfare and immigration in general. We might not expect David Cameron to address these, given how well the Tories did out of inflaming English nationalism in May 2015. Could we expect the ‘moderate’ wing of Labour to do so? Of course not:

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In claiming this as a ‘substantial win..for Britain’, Chuka Umunna reinforces the harmful myths around the EU and throws migrants under the bus. This comes after Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall spoke of wanting to restrict EU benefits in the Labour leadership election (contrast with Corbyn’s rhetoric). These are intelligent people who presumably identify as ‘progressive’, perhaps even left-wing. I find it hard to believe they aren’t aware that they’re responding to concerns which are largely baseless, and flirting with deeply unpleasant sentiments as they do so. Yet this is what seems to pass for ‘centre-ground’ politics – fighting fog to avoid being seen to challenge ‘ordinary people’, who must be deferred to always (except when they believe in things which punch upwards rather than downwards, such as nationalisation and wealth taxes).

Ignorance about the European Union isn’t, of course, confined to those who view it negatively. The incoherence of the SNP’s position, demanding ‘independence’ and ‘all decisions affecting Scotland, made in Scotland’ while being uncritically pro-EU, remains largely unchallenged. Amongst Scottish nationalists I would assert that much support for the EU comes not from a deep understanding of it (or a belief in countries working together in unions), but rather as a response to anti-EU sentiment being associated with right-wing English nationalism. This may be more benign than anti-EU sentiment but it is no less based in fog.

The SNP, of course, have made exploiting many people’s ignorance about politics into an artform. Whether it be going to war to prevent Westminster from implementing much the same law on fox-hunting as Holyrood did, constantly misrepresenting (read: lying about) EVEL while not even bothering to vote on the Housing and Planning Bill (EVEL’s first use) or presenting economic plans largely idential to Labour’s and framing it as ‘anti-austerity vs Red Tories’, the SNP understand that what is going on in Scottish politics has little foundation in fact and much in nationalist rhetoric. We saw this perfectly illustrated yesterday, when Scottish Labour called the SNP’s bluff on austerity and announced proposals to use the Scottish Rate of Income Tax to invest in public services. The SNP line on the SRIT has been consistent since Swinney’s December budget: that it’s not a ‘progressive’ tax and would hit the poor more than the wealthy. This is plain incorrect when it comes to SRIT as is and it’s even more wrong about Labour’s proposal. Yet the SNP knows that the faithful need lines and so it dutifully pumped them out: by making plans to protect the poorest income tax-payers, it was acknowledging the tax wasn’t progressive (a circular argument if ever there was one); the rebate was unworkable and possibly ‘illegal’; the tax rise was a ‘unionist’ tax to pay for Tory policies.

It was this last claim which most exposed the utterly daft, if deeply sad, state of Scottish politics, unleashing lots of unhinged ranting about ‘unionism’. Scotland doing things differently was apparently a ‘nightmare’ scenario:

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Bearing in mind that public spending in Scotland is consistently higher per capita than in the rest of the UK, asking people to pay a bit more for more spending seems a no-brainer. Especially in a context where the SNP has, for example effectively cut Council Tax with its 8 year freeze, leading to a crisis in local government, while using the funds to ensure free university tuition while cutting student support for the poorest (something the SNP, again, condemned at Westminster, safe in the knowledge few would know they had done much the same). Clearly ‘doing things differently’ in Scotland is fine when it comes to enacting policies people like but when it comes to paying for it, it’s unacceptable. This is because we have the bizarre situation where, for many, the SNP get the credit for everything perceived as better than the status quo in England/Wales, but anything difficult is judged against an imaginary independent Scotland. Scotland is currently ‘too wee, too poor, too stupid’ to do things differently because once the country is’independent’ it will be able to do everything better. The SNP has, of course, never actually said how it would pay for doing things differently: its White Paper offered a corporation tax cut, it is cutting air passenger duty and, prior to is general election plans proposing ‘anti-austerity’ plans largely identical to Labour’s ‘austerity-lite’, it proposed more borrowing. The latter is, of course, a valid option but one which again relied on a lack of any realistic consideration (and again was probably inconsistent with EU membership). As Professor Wren-Lewis put it, it was “being in denial about macroeconomic fundamentals because they interfered with…politics.” If the fatuous fog of the EU ‘debate’ is infused with xenophobia and English nationalism, the Scottish variant has much the same effect of impeding informed debate.

Let’s be clear: people will support different political parties, different policies, different ideologies, for many reasons. I don’t mean to fetishise some ‘reality’ which exists in an ideology-free vacuum. There are certainly discussions and debate to be had about the European Union or spending/policies in Scotland. Yet to get to them we have to first acknowledge where we are and face the truth that what’s actually happening – the truth, as far as we can get it, of how much is spent on what, of what laws actually mean, of what governments are actually doing – is a secondary consideration.  It would be tempting to accredit this to an age where ‘opinion’ has become a sacred right with no corresponding responsibility to inform oneself but this isn’t a recent development, as this excerpt from The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists shows:

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If we are to have any hope of a better world we have to be able to debate and to be proved wrong.  Facile assertions that challenging the perceived status quo ‘insults ordinary people’ or ‘talks down Scotland’ or ‘presumes to know better’ are little more than dangerous demagoguery. It is beholden on each of us, as far as we can, to fight the political fog and refuse to flatter that which we know to be untrue. This doesn’t mean shouting about the media attacking Corbyn or protesting outside the BBC – it means attempting to understand where power lies, how it is operated and how it can best be challenged to achieve our goals. The alternative is darkness.

The Cul De Sac of Self-Delusion – A Year After Indyref

This was my Facebook status on the morning of 18th September 2014:

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I wasn’t going to write anything about the anniversary of the referendum as I’ve written at length about the result, the sad collapse of much of the left into nationalism, the nationalist myths which have firmly taken hold and the left’s delusions about the SNP. I even wrote in December, only 2 months after the vote, about how my prediction in that status was quickly being shown to be true. There seems little more to add but a couple of things I’ve read today made me want to put down a few thoughts. Both pieces, I think, clearly show the predicted ‘cul de sac of self-delusion’.

The first is this statement from RISE, the new ‘left alliance’ in Scotland which professes to represent Respect, Independence, Socialist and Environmentalism, on the election of Jeremy Corbyn. RISE is, apparently, a ‘people’s movement’ based in ‘discussion and dialogue’ – yet not if you’re a supporter of Scottish Labour, it seems. The statement drips with glee at the ‘historic meltdown’ which has seen Labour rapidly decline in Scotland, with most of its support going to the SNP which, as Colin Kidd argues here:

…did not so much topple Labour as impersonate it. But the situation is more complicated still. The SNP had for decades courted old-style Liberals in small towns and the rural peripheries, and more recently has also won the votes of disorientated Scottish Tories, impressed by the SNP’s unfussy competence as a minority government between 2007 and 2011. As a result, the SNP currently occupies virtually the whole bandwidth of Scottish politics, unionism included.

As has been typical of the left, RISE seems positively joyful at this rearranging of the chairs. Its statement presents Scottish Labour as fundamentally broken, going to pains to separate it from UK Labour under Corbyn (an interesting move given the pro-indy movement’s fixation on Johann Lamont’s comments that Scottish Labour was treated as a ‘branch office’ by the leadership in London). It asserts:

The vast majority of progressive opinion in Scotland has rejected both austerity and the Westminster set up which is imposing it at the behest of the big business and the bankers. These voters back both socialist answers to the crisis and the independent Scotland we need to implement them.

This is typical of the delusions which comfort the left in Scotland. Voters opting for austerity imposed by the SNP rather than the Conservatives is presented as a wholesale ‘rejection’ of austerity. This is also bizarrely presented as support for ‘socialist answers to the crisis’. Current polls for next year’s Holyrood election have the SNP on over 50% of both constituency and regional vote, with some having it above 60%. The socialist parties, on the other hand, hover between 0%-3%. Even if you generously include the Greens, this amounts to less than 10% support for parties clearly to the left of the SNP – a very strange support for socialism indeed.

It’s notable that the mention of socialism is very quickly followed by a mention of independence. This is new paradigm of Scottish politics, the prism through which everything must be viewed. We saw as much in the SNP’s spectacularly crass statement, issued within seconds of Corbyn’s victory, setting him up to fail and presenting such a failure as a pathway to independence. It underlined that constitutional issues remain the central reason for the SNP’s existence, even if its mention of Trident (one of the only issues it has credibly been able to outflank Labour on from the left) attempted to obscure the fact. Corbyn’s response to this highlighted the gap between the SNP’s rhetoric and its actual record in power:

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Rather than face the reality that almost all of the electoral benefits of the pro-independence referendum fallout have been captured by the SNP, RISE smugly asserts that the movement Corbyn wants to build “is not possible to develop…around the Labour Party.” The unspoken remainder of that assertion is ‘because it does not support independence’. As the RISE statement shows, independence in itself continues to be presented as inherently progressive, inevitably leading to better things.

This is also the case in a Bella Caledonia piece marking the referendum anniversary. This begins with an entirely not-nationalist appeal to a quote from 1935 asserting that the “Celtic fringe” is always opposed in attempting to build nationhood. This not-nationalist rhetoric rests on the continuing myth that there is something fundamentally different about people in Scotland compared to the evil oppressors in England (the ‘Celtic identity’ is a modern invention – this is very good on that) and also the collapsing of everyone in Scotland into the pro-independence camp. You cannot, after all, continue to contrast ‘Scotland’ with the wickedness of the ‘UK’ if you recognise that Scotland is not a homogenous mass of opinion.

Yet, hilariously, BC immediately moves on to attack the “absence of self-awareness, the lack of history, the shallowness of empty promises” of Better Together. Of course it does. Better Together has, with the ‘Red Tories’, ‘Westmonster’ and ‘unionists’ come to represent all that is wicked in the binary world of the nationalists. Rather than just being a bit of a rubbish (at times offensively so) campaign, it is now a byword for “lies distortion and fear”, contrasted with the ‘hope’, ‘ideas’ and ‘vision’ of the Yes movement (the white paper’s corporation tax cut really carries a lot).

Despite a claim that “Self-criticism is key to building a stronger Yes 2.0” the piece is resplendent in the worst aspects of the ‘Yes movement’ – aspects which have become absolutely central. It lists ‘Proud Scots but’ amongst the enemies of independence, insidiously conflating national pride with support for independence. It asserts that, rather than wait, the Yes movement should “begin to build the institutions, structures and projects” crucial to make its case. This has been the mantra of the ‘it’s not about the SNP’ left for the past two years – when exactly are they planning to start?

It heaps every problem of the political system, every flaw in every politician, onto the back of ‘unionists’, as if pro-independence politicians are saintly (and Sturgeon didn’t lie about, for example, Labour ‘signing up to £30 billion of cuts). I doubt many sympathetic to Bella Caledonia’s aims will bat an eyelid at a sentence as lazily sinister as “the Unionist side will always have the might of the propaganda machine behind them”. That, as someone who doesn’t support independence, he will have ‘the might of the propaganda machine’ behind him will certainly be news to Jeremy Corbyn, who has been subjected to a swift media mauling in his first week as leader. It will be news to him that he is “inexorably tied” to the House of Lords and the monarchy, both aspects of the constitution on which he is far more radical than the SNP.

Yet it’s one of the founding myths of the modern Yes movement that the evil media lies about noble independence. BC writes:

As we look back we can see the Project Fear as a form of inoculation against British propaganda. Having been exposed to a small amount of the virus, next time we will be immune.

This sounds positively unhinged yet it’s typical of a significant body of opinion. All those pesky questions about the currency, pensions, national debt, energy, oil, defence etc – they are reduced to a ‘virus’, dismissed as not worth bothering with. As I wrote the day after the referendum:
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It’s silly to dismiss all challenge to and criticism of the media. It’s equally silly to go to the opposite extreme and suggest that everything in the media which challenges your own view is ‘biased’ and the product of wicked unseen forces. Such thought takes us to very dangerous places indeed and closes off the possibility of serious, constructive media reform (of the type suggested by e.g. Dan Hind). This is why it is so important that Corbyn’s supporters couch their response to the media’s recent hatchet jobs in an understanding of power and interests, presenting facts and alternative views rather than retreating into hysterical shrieking about ‘propaganda’ and ‘viruses’.

The central failing of the BC article is emblematic of the most damaging cul de sac which the left has gone down. It presents “the day-to-day grind of poverty, poor housing and low wage(s)” as the product of “British governance”. It draws on a Lancet report suggesting life expectancy in Southern England is amongst the ‘best in the world’ while in Scotland it is amongst the worst, clearly continuing the narrative of poor Scotland being oppressed by the wicked, decadent ‘Southern Englanders’. Aside from completely ignoring the myriad of complex, interacting reasons for any ‘north/south divide’ (not least industrialisation and its decline) it completely avoids the massive inequalities which exist within Scotland itself. Recognising this means recognising that poverty, housing and pay are not constitutional issues but rather ones related to our economic system (something which leaps out at you in the Guardian’s reporting of the issue).

Poverty may be present, to varying degrees, in all advanced capitalist economies but we’re somehow asked to believe that the central problem for Scotland is which parliament is making which decisions. If Holyrood had some more control, it could somehow stop it. This delusion not only divides the left, suggesting that a socialist Labour led by Corbyn could never be a true ally, but also draws immense talent and energy away from the real issues of importance. Even RISE, professing to want a socialist Scotland, would rather make electoral hay by dividing people with similar views along constitutional lines than point out that independence would only defer the battles which need to be won (while presenting the working-class in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as ‘different’.)

The left has become entrenched in these cul de sacs, to the extent that I am under no illusions as to the likelihood of Jeremy Corbyn winning much of it back in Scotland. I am very sympathetic to this argument that only a vote for independence could restore some perspective to Scottish politics. In the meantime, however, I am hopeful that Corbyn will be able to expose that the independence movement is overwhelmingly built on nationalist ground, with the ‘socialism’ bit being little more than a decorative afterthought to make it seem more appealing. Then, at least, the self-delusion will be exposed.