Vote Labour

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I got an e-mail from someone regarding people who were planning on voting Liberal Democrat and some of the standard anti-Corbyn talking points you hear wheeled out: that he’s ‘weak’, that he ‘hasn’t done anything’, that Labour would be doing better under a different leader and all the rest. I started to write a paragraph in response and it turned into something a bit longer, so I thought I may as well post a slightly modified version of it here.

With regards to Corbyn being a ‘weak leader’ who has ‘destroyed the Labour Party’, let’s step back a bit. Tony Blair took over Labour in 1994 and inherited a poll lead of around 25 points. Labour was never going to lose the 1997 election. Labour then won an enormous landslide and, while it did many good things, it never used that power and goodwill to challenge the fundamentals of what the Tories had done to society since 1979. We’ve already seen how easily many of its gains have been dismantled. Labour lost 5 million voters between 1997 and 2010 and studies have shown that a significant number of these were working-class people who simply stopped voting, presumably disillusioned with what was on offer. Labour was in such a bad place that in 2015, after 5 years of a truly cruel austerity agenda which has hurt so many people, it basically stood still in the polls and the Tories actually increased their seats and won a majority.

When Corbyn won the Labour leadership, Labour had suffered two election defeats in a row and was bobbing around in the late-20s/early-30s in the polls. Ed Miliband had hesitantly shifted the party ever so slightly to the left on some issues and this was viewed by many in the Labour establishment as why the party lost. Corbyn, then, was running against other leadership candidates who were all arguing variations of the same thing – that Labour had to accept some level of austerity, had to accept anti-immigration politics and had to move closer to the Tories.  The crossroads Labour faced in 2015 wasn’t ”the policies of 2019 with Corbyn, or the policies of 2019 with a more polished leader, it was Corbyn or a firm shift to a being a more reactionary, Tory-lite party. The brilliant, progressive agenda Labour currently has is because of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

Since Corbyn took over, this ‘weak’ leader has faced furious, daily attacks in the media and a Parliamentary Labour Party largely to the right of him who have tried to undermine and remove him at every turn. In the face of such attacks, pretty unprecedented in our lifetime, he has shifted the Labour Party solidly to being a left-wing, progressive party with a truly transformative agenda that would fundamentally alter the UK for the better.

He has completely changed the narrative on austerity, which has gone from something widely viewed as necessary in 2015 to something which every single party now wants to distance themselves from. He has inflicted more defeats on the government than any other opposition leader in history, stopping cuts to disability benefits, cuts to tax credits, the repeal of the fox hunting ban, the return of grammar schools, the ‘dementia tax’, the removal of the pension triple lock, ensuring parliament got a ‘meaningful vote’ on Brexit and then defeating the Tory Brexit deal again and again. In 2017 he oversaw the biggest increase in the Labour vote since 1945, without which the Tories would have won a majority and Tory Brexit would have happened long ago. This is not a ‘weak’ leader by any stretch of the imagination.

What have the Lib Dems done? Jo Swinson, Ed Davey and other senior Liberal Democrats were demanding an in/out EU referendum since at least 2008, and regularly attacked both the Tories and Labour for not wanting one. In 2010 they entered into government with the Tories for no reason other than having a common purpose, and then inflicted policies on the country which have seen poverty (including child poverty) soar, homelessness soar, NHS and education spending crash with the door to privatisation in both thrown open wide, wages stagnate, the biggest fall in living standards since records began, council funding cut to the bone, a huge increase in in-work poverty and a huge increase in self-employment which doesn’t pay enough to live on, zero-hour contracts and insecure agency work. This is the tip of the iceberg of the legacy of the coalition, which is all around us, and I don’t think anyone who truly understands it could ever vote for them again until it’s clear they have fundamentally changed.

They haven’t fundamentally changed. Jo Swinson supported everything the coalition did more than most Tory MPs did. She was still defending austerity during the Lib Dem leadership election. It’s because the Lib Dems, in helping the Tories ruin the country, so destroyed their own image as a ‘progressive’ party that they have clung desperately onto Brexit, now painting themselves as the party which wants to ignore the result of the referendum *they wanted and voted to have*. During the referendum campaign, the Lib Dems explicitly mocked the idea of a second referendum as ‘undemocratic’. They said that the result would be ‘the will of the people’. They said this because they thought remain would win, and the complete 180 on that is exactly the kind of bullshit which turns so many away from politics.

They have zero plan on Brexit beyond running around blaming everyone else and offering fantasy positions. They’ll revoke article 50 if they get a majority, knowing they will never get a majority. They want a second referendum, but they can’t say what the second option would be and refuse to support the only party which can actually deliver another referendum – Labour. They are targeting Labour MPs in marginal seats where the Tories are second, making it more likely that a Tory Party standing on a hard Brexit platform will win seats. They care about absolutely nothing but the survival of their party and are merrily screwing the country again to secure this.

In brief, I’d ask the kind of people you’re describing a few simple questions:

– Why has the narrative on austerity changed between 2010 and now, to the point where every party distances themselves from it?

– Why do the Lib Dems, under a leader who advocated, voted for and still defends the dismal record of the coalition and the misery it has wrought, deserve to be forgiven?

– Why do the Lib Dems, who wanted an in/out EU referendum before the Tories did and who voted for the 2016 referendum, deserve to be rewarded for now wanting to ignore that referendum?

– How will voting Lib Dem actually stop Brexit? What is the actual plan that doesn’t involve a Labour government? There isn’t one.

People are calling this the most important election in a generation. Some people mean that only because of Brexit but the truth of the matter is that it’s the election which offers the starkest choice over the direction of the UK which we’ve seen in my lifetime. The Tory party has moved even further right and fully embraced a reactionary, xenophobic, racist nationalism which it hopes it can ride to power. The Lib Dems just pump out lies and positions which don’t bear a moment’s scrutiny, hoping that enough people are so incapable of critical thinking that they have an almost Pavlovian response to ‘stop Brexit!’ In this they have unfortunately been joined by the Greens and Plaid Cymru, who have joined in the Unite to Remain pact which is supporting Tories like Stephen Dorrell (who served under Thatcher and Major), Sarah Wollastone (supporter of Phillip Lee’s motion to stop people with HIV settling in the UK) and targeting Labour MPs in marginal seats. And the SNP is going what the SNP always does, telling everyone that everything and anything that happens is a reason for Scotland to leave a union, and that everything will just be better if some magical forces are unleashed by doing so. Sound familiar?

I don’t think I ever voted Labour before 2010. When I did so then, it was because I knew that a Tory government was a real alternative. In 2015 I had more optimism about the potential of Ed Miliband as Prime Minister than many but I still had profound reservations. Corbyn’s Labour is far from perfect but it is the first time I can recall where a party has put forward a platform which I can positively advocate for, filled with hope and passion. The 2019 manifesto hasn’t yet been released but announcements over the past few months and the general direction of travel suggests it will be even more radical and transformative than in 2017.

Corbyn’s Labour understands that democracy in the UK required drastic and radical renewal. But it also understands that what really matters is offering change which gives people power – real power which, rather than replacing one set of politicians for another, allows people to live their lives with dignity, filled with opportunities and hope. Real power which removes from people the blight of worrying about how they are going to feed themselves and their families, how they are afford a safe and decent home, how they are going to pay the bills, when they are going to receive the operation they need, how they are going to get an hour or two away from work to take their mum to a hospital appointment. Real power which begins to give people a say in the direction of the places we work at every day, the running of the transport we use and how the wealth which we all create is spent.

I truly believe that this is the greatest opportunity I’ve seen in my lifetime to change the course we are on and demand something which is not only better, but something to feel enormous hope about. And all you have to do is vote. Vote Labour.

Theresa May: Dancing to the Tune of her own Bullshit

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All I’ll say about the dancing is – the absolute state of the Tories that you know that went through several levels of sign-off and was seen as ‘humanising’ Theresa May.

Instead, a quick parsing of some of the central lines from May’s speech, of the kind you won’t find much of in our media:

“You do not have to agree with a word Diane Abbott says to believe passionately in her right to say it, free from threats and abuse.” – the Tories explicitly and relentlessly targeted Abbott in the 2017 election campaign. The lines were so frequent and so uniform that it was very clearly coordinated at the highest levels. The racist and sexist abuse Abbott was receiving was very clear and at no point did Theresa May care to call off the dogs.

“I know that no party has a monopoly on good ideas. That getting things done requires working together – within parties and beyond them. When our politics becomes polarised, and compromise becomes a dirty word, that becomes harder.” – Theresa May called a snap election last year explicitly to crush the opposition and enable her to ram through whatever Brexit she wanted. There’s only one reason she now claims to care about compromise – she lost her majority and her party is constantly scheming against her.

“Conservatives will always stand up for a politics that unites us rather than divides us.” – ‘Citizen of nowhere.” “The closed blinds of their next door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits.” Go Home vans. Deporting British citizens to please the UKIP vote. Don’t make me fucking laugh.

“The Jeremy Corbyn Party rejects the common values that once bridged our political divide.” – Yeah, Jeremy Corbyn not sharing values with the Tories is KINDA THE FUCKING POINT, THERESA.

“Would Clement Attlee, Churchill’s trusted deputy during the Second World War, have told British Jews they didn’t know the meaning of anti-semitism?” – I dunno Theresa. Would he have claimed to care about anti-semitism while supporting rabid anti-semites  like Viktor Orbán, as you do, being the only party in Western Europe to vote in support of his government in the European Parliament recently?

“When the Leader of the Labour Party is happy to appear on Iranian state TV, but attacks our free media here in Britain” – It wasn’t Jeremy Corbyn who forced a newspaper to smash up computer servers due to its whistleblowing – that was the Tories. And yeah, appearing on Press TV wasn’t too smart – but authorising the selling of military and surveillance equipment to Iran seems a bit worse (that’ll be the Tory-led coalition).

“They want to support a party that is decent, moderate, and patriotic. One that puts the national interest first. Delivers on the issues they care about. And is comfortable with modern Britain in all its diversity.” – Yeah, I’m going to call attention again to that snap election called entirely for perceived political gain. I’m going to call attention to the nativist anti-immigration rhetoric and policy which has so characterised Theresa May. I’m going to draw attention to the fact that, even in 2018, most Tories don’t support equal marriage.

“A party of patriotism, but not nationalism.” – a minute ago you were bleating about the fact Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t have a hard-on for the British army.

“A party that believes your success in life should not be defined by who you love, your faith, the colour of your skin, who your parents were, or where you were raised – but by your talent and your hard work.”  – The Tories have plunged hundreds of thousands more children into poverty, social mobility has worsened and the government’s own social mobility advisor quit in protest, your background continues to massively impact your life chances and most people in poverty are in working households – the highest proportion on record, in fact.

“The freedom to make decisions for yourself, rather than have them made for you by government.”Righto, Theresa. Aside from mass surveillance and your efforts to ‘regulate’ the internet, your party’s policies on education from school through to university have been to monetise and oppose critical thinking as a good in itself.

“And if we are secure and we are free, then opportunity is opened-up. The opportunity to take your future in your hands. To dream, and strive, and achieve a better life. To know that if your dad arrived on a plane from Pakistan, you can become Home Secretary. That if you spent time in care, you can be in the Cabinet. That if your grandparents came to our shores as part of the Windrush generation, you could be the next Mayor of London. That if you are pregnant with your first child and engaged to your girlfriend, you could be the next First Minister of Scotland.” – To boast about the opportunities afforded to immigrants when your government has already made it much more difficult for people to come here, and has been deporting the Windrush generation, is almost sociopathic. Your Home Secretary just announced further plans to toughen up immigration rules which his own dad wouldn’t have met. And bold of you to reference a lesbian couple having a child when you voted for a homophobic amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which would have made access to IVF for lesbian women far more difficult.

“Indeed, Conservatives have looked after our NHS for most of its life. And this year we gave the NHS a seventieth birthday present to be proud of: the biggest cash boost in its history. An extra £394 million every single week.” – The Tories have presided over the largest decline in NHS funding as a % of GDP since records began.  Even taking into account this year’s additional funding, the Tories since 2010 have offered historically low increases in health spending at a time when it has never been under greater pressure.

“So today I can announce a new Cancer Strategy, funded through our 70th birthday investment, will form a central part of our long-term plan for the NHS.” – That’s nice. It’s a shame it comes after Tory cuts to Public Health budgets and to cancer spending in the health service.

“The free movement of people will end, once and for all. In its place we will introduce a new system. It will be based on what skills you have to offer, not which country you come from. Throughout our history, migrants have made a huge contribution to our country – and they will continue to in the future. Those with the skills we need, who want to come here and work hard, will find a welcome. But we will be able to reduce the numbers, as we promised.” – So, moments after banging on about opportunity, not being a nationalist party and being moderate, you’re actively boasting of restricting opportunities and hammering immigration for zero reason other than to appeal to petty prejudice.

“Our wonderful public servants are the best in the world. The compassion of our NHS staff, the dedication of our teachers, the bravery of our police, and the matchless courage of our armed forces.” – That’ll be why you capped public sector pay for almost a decade, public sector jobs have been cut by over a million since 2010 and falling teacher numbers have left schools in crisis.

“Thanks to Labour, the country was not prepared.” – The Tories, of course, spent most of the Labour years berating them for their ‘red tape’ and demanding further deregulation of finance. The 2005 Tory manifesto boasts of offering ‘less regulation’. In the year leading up to the crash, the UK’s public debt was less than it had been when Labour took office

“Our economy is growing.” – The slowest economic recovery on record, the longest fall in living standards on record, wages have declined in real terms and austerity not only dampened and delayed recovery but led to a loss of around 5% of GDP forever.

“Unemployment at its lowest since the 1970s.” – The figures the government use for this exclude underemployment, economic inactivity and sickness, and the fact that (for example) record numbers are on zero hour contracts. Independent research suggests an unemployment rate of approx. 800,000 higher than the government claims. Of course, more jobs don’t necessarily mean much when you’ve built a low-wage, low productivity, low investment economy.

“The parent who swaps a benefit cheque for a regular wage.” – To re-iterate – most people in poverty live in a working household.

“But when you nationalise something, people pay for it twice – once when they use the service, and again every month through their taxes.” – To take the railways as an example, government support for privatised rail dwarves what it was for nationalised rail – and if you include the spending of Network Rail which benefits privatised companies, it’s even larger.

“Of course, everyone should pay their fair share (of tax)” – The Office for National Statistics’ own figures show that, taking into account all taxes, the poorest in society pay 38.6% of their income in tax, as opposed to 34.2% for the highest earners.

“They would also have to increase borrowing again. We already spend more each year on debt interest than we do on our schools. After all the sacrifices we have made, they would take us back to square one.” – UK debt as a % of GDP in 2010, after the financial crisis – 64.6%. UK debt as a % of GDP now, after almost a decade of austerity and ‘sacrifices’ to lower borrowing – 85.3%. Yes folks, the Tories have massively increased the public debt and they don’t have the excuse of bailing out the banks after the financial crisis.

“The money raised will go towards tackling the scourge of rough sleeping” – Homelessness has increased every single year since the Tories came into power.

“Solving the housing crisis is the biggest domestic policy challenge of our generation. It doesn’t make sense to stop councils from playing their part in solving it.” – For an in-depth look at the housing crisis and its roots in the government of 1979, read this.

“There must be no return to the uncontrolled borrowing of the past. No undoing all the progress of the last eight years.” – Just to hammer it home again – borrowing has increased under the Tories. Borrowing has increased a LOT under the Tories.

“Debt as a share of the economy will continue to go down, support for public services will go up.” – I mean really, it bears repeating – DEBT AS A SHARE OF THE ECONOMY HAS GONE UP. Spending on healthcare as a share of the economy has gone down. Spending on education as a share of the economy has gone down. Spending on welfare as a share of the economy has gone down. Central government funding for local authorities as a share of the economy has gone down.

“Because, a decade after the financial crash, people need to know that the austerity it led to is over and that their hard work has paid off.” – Paid off with lower living standards and wages but a government debt which is considerably larger than before? As for austerity being over, independent analysis of the most recent Budget saw no end in sight.

Mhairi Black and Jeremy Corbyn

Rather than rewrite it, here’s a thread I did on Twitter addressing Mhairi Black’s latest attack on Corbyn:

Vote Labour

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Let the people everywhere take heart of hope, for the cross is bending, the midnight is passing, and joy cometh with the morning – Eugene V. Debs

‘And these words shall then become
Like Oppression’s thundered doom
Ringing through each heart and brain.
Heard again—again—again—

‘Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number—
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you—
Ye are many—they are few.’

– Percy Bysshe Shelley

Unless there is a major upset, the Tories are going to win the election on Thursday. They certainly don’t deserve to – their election campaign has been dismal and contemptuous, demonstrating an arrogant sense of entitlement and appealing to the very worst in us. May called this election solely for her own advantage and clearly didn’t expect to have to do much beyond stoke crude nationalism, inflame petty xenophobia and rely on a largely prostrate media to hammer home that she was The Only Serious Option. Her efforts to avoid interacting with the public and refusal to debate her opponents have exemplified this galling hubris and it’s depressing that she’ll probably still win despite it.

Yet there can be no doubt that May has gotten more than she bargained for in this election. Something remarkable has happened, with the Tory lead in some polls crashing from over 20 points to only 1 to 3. Some of this owes a lot to May’s aforementioned contemptuousness inspiring a backlash, a refusal to be taken for granted; much of it, however, is due to Jeremy Corbyn having the kind of campaign which political wisdom has told us for two years was impossible. Corbyn has been, in stark contrast to May, warm, open, compassionate and reasonable: qualities which have no doubt resonated even more with many people given they’ve been told repeatedly that he is a dangerous, unhinged extremist. His approval ratings have soared over the course of the past few weeks and suddenly all those months of Very Wise People sneering at the notion of ‘media bias’ against him seem very silly indeed. It turns out that when they see and hear him themselves, folk quite like him.

There are, of course, many ‘sensible moderates’ who still refuse to countenance this fact and scramble around for excuses as to why Labour has had such a good campaign. They tell us it’s the manifesto (ignoring the fact that such a manifesto would never have happened without Corbyn), that it’s May’s unpopularity (after spending months telling us she was a safe pair of hands parking tanks on Labour’s lawn), that if Labour had some other leader it would be soaring ahead in the polls (the only other options being uninspiring technocrats whose response to Ed Miliband’s defeat was to argue for a shift right, particularly on immigration). Indeed, some of these ‘sensible moderates’ clearly still want Corbyn’s Labour to do badly so that they can be proved right, to the point that they have shifted the goals as the poll numbers have improved. It is very clear, if it wasn’t already, that all of the talk about how ‘principle without power is useless, we want to win’ has been self-serving drivel – they just hate the left and still can’t emerge from their petulant strop at not being in control of the party.

If Corbyn’s Labour were to win this election, these people would either have to put up or shut up – get behind him and his manifesto, or go elsewhere. That in itself would be a positive development. As it is, however, even if he is defeated Corbyn has changed the game in a way few were anticipating. He has drawn a much-needed line in the sand and shown his critics that yes, left-wing ideas can be very popular when presented by someone who clearly believes them, that a ‘social movement’ is not something to be mocked, that ‘move right, move right’ doesn’t have to be the received political wisdom on how to appeal and that yes, class and ideology still matter as many of us always knew it did.

The odds may be against Corbyn winning but, as far as my words have any value, I implore everyone and anyone who cares about solidarity and social justice to vote Labour on Thursday.  I’m sure no-one reading this would be voting Tory but I’m sure some are contemplating voting Liberal Democrat or SNP. My views on both are well-documented (my most recent blog was about the astonishing hypocrisy of the Lib Dems under Farron) but it’s given me no pleasure to witness the self-serving contortions of so-called ‘progressives’ trying to justify not voting for the kind of Labour Party policies they’ve apparently demanded for years. Suffice to say, if you can’t vote for Corbyn’s Labour because of Scottish independence, you need to face up to the fact that you’re a nationalist before you are a socialist. If you can’t vote for Corbyn’s Labour because ‘Scottish Labour attacked Corbyn’ but can happily vote SNP when it has repeatedly done the same, you probably have to face the same thing. If you ‘want to vote Labour in Scotland but don’t want to split the vote and let the Tories in’, you should ask why splitting the vote wasn’t much of a concern in 2015 when the polls suggested a dead-heat between Labour and the Tories in the UK.

Corbyn and Labour are far from perfect and few would claim that of either – we are electing politicians, after all. Nonetheless, Corbyn has offered a tangible sense of hope. Far from being an unelectable ‘loony left’ faction, Corbyn’s Labour has found its policies on the economy praised by mainstream economists, its policies on housing praised by housing experts, its policies on education applauded by headteachers and is now finding its warnings about police and security cuts, and the UK’s disastrous foreign policy, being widely agreed with in the mainstream media. More than this, however, Corbyn’s Labour has offered hope in ourselves. I realise that sounds trite but as the left has suffered defeat after defeat in recent years, it has been immensely powerful and very moving to see people responding to a platform based on solidarity, on those seen as weak, vulnerable and unvalued coming together and standing up against the powerful. When Corbyn won the Labour leadership, he ended his acceptance speech by saying:

I say thank you in advance to us all working together to achieve great victories, not just electorally for Labour, but emotionally for the whole of our society to show we don’t have to be unequal. It doesn’t have to be unfair, poverty isn’t inevitable, things can, and they will, change.

The emotional victory described her has already happened – people who have spent most of recent political memory being told they were out of touch, crazy, selfish, unreasonable are now on the offensive, strong in the knowledge that their message can resonate and that appealing to fear and resentment is not the only, or even the most effective, way to do things. Such is the audacity of hope and its importance cannot be overstated. This is not going to go away on Friday morning, whatever the result. If Labour were to defy all expectation and win, we would immediately have to get to work. If we lose, however, we do not sit desolate in defeat but rather embrace each other even closer, moving forward with hope, hope, hope, knowing with certainty that together we can make things better and, as a result, with a renewed understanding that we must.

That comes on Friday. For now – vote Labour.

Article 50 and Scotland

Rory Scothorne, one of the insightful authors of Roch Winds, has written an interesting blog which serves as a counterpoint to my argument on Article 50. It’s compelling in parts but on reflection I disagree and I wanted to outline why:

1 – It stands as one of those arguments which should have been made prior to the referendum happening, appearing as a desperate afterthought now. As a basic point of principle, it’s difficult (not impossible, of course) for your opponents to condemn you for doing what you said you would. Much of the capital Rory believes Labour could win by professing to ‘stand up’ for Scotland and Northern Ireland could have been won previously by insisting on the mooted ‘quadruple lock’. Yet Labour was largely mute on this, due in large part no doubt to the fact that it was seen to fuel ‘separatist’ ideas: Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland are not members of the EU except as part of the UK, so the referendum was framed as a ‘UK-wide’ question. Scotland is no more being ‘dragged from the EU against its will’ than London or Newcastle is, yet the idea Labour would oppose Article 50 ‘on behalf of London and Newcastle’ would be widely viewed as absurd.

2 – Having not previously been loudly making the ‘quadruple lock’ argument, hinging opposition to Article 50 on it now would be viewed as weak and opportunistic. Crucially this would not only be the case in England – it would 100% be how it was framed by the SNP, which never misses a chance to stick the knife into Labour. It would further destroy Labour’s base in England without offering any certain uplift in Scotland, where Labour would be viewed as very late to the party and dependent on the whims of its Westminster leadership. In that regard it could actually further strengthen the Nationalist cause.

3 – Rory argues (rightly) that Corbyn and Labour are not well-placed to capitalise on English nationalism. It does not follow that it should then attempt to capitalise on Scottish nationalism, on which it is always going to be outflanked by an SNP which does not have electoral or indeed moral considerations beyond Scotland’s borders. If “your average English petit-bourgeois” considers Corbyn to be unpatriotic, the exact same could be said of his/her counterpart in Scotland. Indeed, Rory himself speaks of “the current lack of interest in Scottish politics coming from Corbyn and his supporters down south”. I don’t think this is entirely fair because, as it stands, Corbyn speaking on ‘Scottish politics’ is easily presented as ‘Westminster interference’ while leaving it to Scottish Labour is viewed as either not caring or outright contempt. Such are the dynamics of nationalist politics and feeding the SNP narrative of Brexit as a ‘Scotland’ vs ‘England’ issue fuels both English and Scottish nationalism and only further destroys any possibility of a future Labour recovery in either.

4 – Rory speaks of how it would be necessary to ‘abandon socialism’ in order to appeal to ‘English populism’. While this isn’t incorrect, the implicit counterpoint is that this isn’t the case in Scotland. Yet as the past few years have amply demonstrated, while Scottish nationalism may posture as far more left-wing and radical than its English counterpart, when it has actually come down to practical action and policy it has proved itself to be largely cautious, conservative and not far removed from the right of the Labour party. There is little evidence to suggest that Corbyn pursuing radicalism offers any more electoral gain in Scotland than in (parts of) England (and indeed Scottish Labour’s 2016 manifesto, clearly to the left of the SNP’s, tells us that Labour’s problems in Scotland go far beyond offering any move towards socialism).

5 – The fundamental point remains that both parliamentary and electoral maths mean Brexit is going to happen, whatever Labour’s position. If, as Rory states, Brexit is “is unavoidably a symbol of anti-immigrant sentiment, nostalgic fantasies of foreign despotism, and the least useful (though still, admittedly, politically interesting) sort of anti-elitism”, then that reflects dominant trends in politics more widely which won’t be swept away by opposing Article 50. If anything they will, as I argue, be further emboldened. Labour’s great failure in the Scottish independence debate was to largely co-sponsor the Conservative Party’s doom-laden vision of Scotland outside of the UK rather than pushing a positive, left-wing argument for a UK rooted in the solidarity which is essential for any large-scale left-wing platform to succeed. It is crucial that it does not now make the same mistake and distinguishes itself from the Tory vision of Brexit as loudly as possible – a case which simply won’t be listened to by many (including many Remainers who have accepted the result) if they are viewed as trying to reverse the referendum.

6 – The idea that opposing Brexit offers a way back for Labour in Scotland seems more rooted in the nationalist narrative of Scotland than in anything tangible. It’s worth remembering that behind the ‘Scotland voted Remain’ story, 1/3 of the electorate there didn’t vote and the difference between Leave and Remain was approx. 600,000 votes (1.66 million for remain vs 1.01 million for leave). As I noted in my blog, last week’s Yougov poll suggested that while a majority in Scotland still want to remain, clear majorities also endorse Theresa May’s main ‘negotiating points’ for Brexit, including on immigration where Scottish public opinion remains regressive. We can also note that behind Scotland ‘relative europhilia’ lies a more complex history where a plurality or majority have wanted to leave the EU or reduce its powers. I have long argued that Brexit becoming tightly associated with right-wing English nationalism has far more to do with a majority in Scotland falling ‘in love’ with the EU than any substantive support for it. It’s also been clear in polls that a majority in Scotland currently have no appetite for leaving the UK in order to join the EU, hence even the SNP focusing on the single market rather than EU membership. Rory even notes that it’s the Tories, not Labour who seem most likely to experience a significant revival in Scotland – a fact which owes much to the centrality of the ‘national question’ in Scottish politics. As it stands, a significant % of those who currently support the SNP will never vote Labour unless it supports independence, and many of those going to the Tories want nothing less than total opposition to further devolution.  Labour opening itself to countless, easy attacks in England on the basis of Scotland’s support for the EU would seem to me to be a battle lost before it even begins.

7 – Nicola Sturgeon has indeed been successful at positioning herself as ‘Scotland’s chief lobbyist’ on this issue. Yet, given what I’ve outlined above, the answer to this isn’t to seek to join her but to hammer home the contradictions inherent in her position. As I’ve said, there is no doubt in my mind that the SNP would not welcome a commitment from Corbyn to oppose Article 50 but would instead quickly find a new angle of attack. A (welcome) commitment to federalism does not mean pretending we currently have it – Labour is best placed to argue that the current set-up in the UK isn’t fit for purpose while constructively offering solutions, just as it is best placed to argue that if Brexit is (regretfully) going to happen, it should happen on as social democratic a platform as it can secure (which admittedly is perhaps not much of one). These may not be compellingly instant positions but I think they will stand the party in good stead in the long run, just as hammering home the SNP’s incoherent position on the UK vs the EU and its singular fixation on referendums will.

8 – As Rory argues, the current Labour position is weak and subject to attack by both political and media opponents. I don’t dispute this, instead arguing in my blog that their current position is the least bad of the terrible options. Yet in speaking of the position most likely to bring Corbyn to power Rory ignores his own compelling arguments, both with regards to the UK and to the wider environment for socialism, as to why that’s almost certainly not going to happen. Labour should have been positioning itself on Brexit, on the English and Scottish questions (and on a whole lot else) for the past 2 years but has instead been consumed by infighting. It has likely squandered its chance and, barring any seismic occurrence, it is not going to come to power any time soon. It is not unreasonable, then, to be concerned with minimising losses and seeking to guard against a reactionary post-Corbyn future for the party. It’s clear that some on the left harbour illusions that a socialist leader without Corbyn’s baggage or presentational issues would be a compelling figure for the electorate, yet it is undeniable that the stakes are piled formidably high against any such leader. This is why I argue that turning the tide is going to take time (something I think Rory agrees with) and that it requires all of us committed to socialism to engage in social movements. So, while I think Rory’s course of action would only make the terrain more treacherous for socialism in the long run, I fully agree with his conclusion:

The world that socialists must navigate is increasingly one of hermetic subcultures, economic decline and political crisis as a form of governance. I suspect that the most effective responses will be closer to the traditions of anarchism than socialism. If national struggles for constitutional power are not working, then localised extra-legal resistance which emphasises subcultural or community solidarity must take precedence. If national identities cannot be mobilised for the left then they must be disrupted and subverted, their institutions disrespected and their everyday cultural manifestations ruthlessly undermined. There may be no more room for good patriots; only good traitors. Corbyn has shown the occasional, accidental flash of treason — it’s up to those who have supported him this far to start doing it deliberately.

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.

Some Post-Election Thoughts

A half-hearted nation will want to hold fast to its grievances, and in that sense Scotland has done well. The nation’s brickwork is cemented with resentments, from ruined monastery to erupting towerblock: blame, fear, bigotry and delusion, their fragments powder the common air – and always the fault is seen to lie elsewhere, with other nations, other lives. Scotland is a place where cultural artefacts and past battles – the Stone of Destiny, Robert Burns, Braveheart, Bannockburn – have more impact on people’s sense of moral action than politics does. The people have no real commitment to the public sphere, and are not helped towards any such commitment by the dead rhetoric of the young Parliament. Yet the problem is not the Parliament, it’s the people, and the people’s drowsy addiction to imagined injury – their belief in a paralysing historical distress – which makes the country assert itself not as a modern nation open to progress on all fronts, but as a delinquent, spoiled, bawling child, tight in its tartan babygro, addled with punitive needs and false memory syndrome.

I have quoted this piece before and return to it often. Although written in 2002, I find it astonishingly prescient with regards to Scottish politics over a decade later. Yesterday’s Holyrood election underlines that ‘nationalist’ vs ‘unionist’, or competing versions of nationalism if you like, has become the dominant division in Scottish politics. It gives me no pleasure to be proved right in my assertions that this is a disastrous state of affairs for the left. Let’s be clear here: the Scottish electorate has elected two parties who advocate low tax and spending cuts as their government and its opposition. It has done this due to at best misguided, at worst deeply stupid battle over rearranging the chairs of government; many of those who voted SNP have supported conservatism in the belief that an imagined future radicalism is worth inaction now. The myths of Scottish exceptionalism, particularly that it is more left-wing than rUK, have never looked so facile. With a turnout of 55% we can also lay to rest the notion that Scotland is in the midst of some ‘carnival of democracy’. It’s deeply ironic that many loud voices have spent the past few years demanding more powers for Holyrood and pointing the finger at Westminster, yet when it comes to it the just-over-half of the electorate who bother to vote go for parties who don’t actually want to do much with the new powers (it would be unfair of me not to acknowledge the SNP’s proposed Air Passenger Duty cut, which I’m sure will usher in a golden age).

I’ve seen some people wondering how on earth Scottish Labour could move clearly to the left of the SNP and still come third. As I’ve been arguing for some time, much of the hatred for Labour in Scotland has become pathological and owes little to policy or even its record. It’s for this reason that Labour achievements in office are ignored, distorted or claimed for the SNP. This goes hand in hand with nationalists wanting the Tories to do better than Labour and celebrating this as a ‘good result for Yes’:

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The Tories pose no existential threat to Scottish nationalism. Indeed, the existence of the Tories as a party of government, to the right of the SNP, is absolutely essential to feeding the myths of Scottish exceptionalism, enabling nationalists to argue that fault lies elsewhere and portraying independence as the only way to achieve ‘progressive values’. A left-wing Labour party, led by an unabashed socialist in the UK and advocating old-fashioned tax and spend policies in Scotland, does pose an existential threat to nationalism. We caught a glimpse of this when Owen Jones asked Mhairi Black if she would rather have a UK governed by a socialist government or an independent Scotland. She of course chose the latter and the reality behind her assertion that ‘Labour left me’ (which already made no sense given she was 3 when Blair came to power) was laid bare. Whether it be Black, RISE or even to a large extent the Green Party, the ‘it’s not nationalism, it’s socialism’ advocates tend to favour and/or provide cover for the former when push comes to shove. The opposition to the SNP provided by the latter two parties has been woeful (the Greens voting against a tax rise to offset cuts, in the hope of some vague future radicalism, was a particular low point) and it has been clear that they hoped to ride the SNP’s coattails into power on second preferences. RISE in particular has unthinkingly bought into nationalism while insisting it’s actually socialist:

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You would think that ‘socialists’ would be willing to work with other socialists whatever their view of the constitution, rather than dismissing them as ‘unionist’. This dreck was never going to fly and it’s why RISE polled a woeful 0.5% in the election.

Now, it’s interesting that the SNP have fallen just short of an overall majority as this poses a challenge for the party. If it replicates its strategy of the 2007 strategy and does deals with the Tories, much of its rhetoric of grievance will fall apart. Yet if it relies on the Greens (or even Lib Dems) you would (hopefully) expect that the latter parties would push for the kind of tax rises, extensive land reform and radicalism elsewhere which the SNP has avoided in its clear desire not to scare the horses. It could be argued that if this second route is taken the SNP’s constant fixation on what it can’t do would be greatly undermined; on the other hand, with the constitutional question looking set to remain the defining issue for the foreseeable future, you could also argue that conservative Yes voters don’t really have anywhere else to go.

One thing which is clear is that Scottish Labour’s manifesto has exposed the lie of SNP ‘progressiveness’ and Scottish exceptionalism. ‘Red Tory’ has never sounded so hollow. This is why it was an important strategic move in an election Labour were never going to win (if Thomas Docherty‘s view that a more right-wing manifesto would have helped matters is remotely typical of opinion in the party then I despair – it would instead only have provided fuel to the ‘Red Tory’ fire). I see some Scottish Labour figures are already arguing that Full Fiscal Autonomy is the only way to save the party. Perhaps this is true but, if so, it’s an acknowledgement that left-wing values cannot defeat popular nationalism (though there are thoughtful left-wing voices who are discussing how to ensure a federal UK can be progressive).

We also see that it’s in Scotland where the Tory vote has surged most in the UK – an over 10% increase on 2011 in the list vote – whereas Labour in England seems to have avoided the catastrophe expected under its beleaguered socialist leader, has done surprisingly well in the south of England and is almost certain to win back London City Hall. In Wales, meanwhile, Labour will remain the largest party but UKIP have surged by 12% in the constituency vote, an interesting if bleak indicator of the kind of nationalism which is dominating there. Myths have been shattered, certainties have crumbled and the politics of the UK has rarely looked more regional and dominated by competing nationalisms. If, as expected, Sadiq Khan becomes London Mayor later today I will celebrate. I will celebrate because being a socialist who loathes nationalism offers few moments of satisfaction and the future doesn’t exactly inspire.