The result of the Labour leadership contest is a political earthquake that ranks up there with any in British political history. The tremors will be felt for a long time to come. It opens up a second front in the battle against the neoliberal establishment in Westminster the first front being the independence referendum and the subsequent continuation of a powerful pro-independence bulwark in Scotland that has marginalised Scottish unionists to the periphery.
The second front obviously takes a different form – Corbyn after all is for maintaining the union – but it draws in many of the same characteristics: a popular movement against the political establishment and corporate elites, and their ideological sycophants in the media.
For the progressive independence movement in Scotland, it is important that we work with those across the UK who want to intensify the problems for the Tories. That should mean a renewed anti-austerity movement across the UK combined with an even stronger and more diverse pro-independence movement in Scotland. Put simply: ‘divide the state – unite the movement’.
Arguments against austerity
Austerity has been a supremely powerful weapon in further entrenching elite rule in the UK and in weakening working class organisation. But the Tories are overstretching themselves – and could pay the price for this.
The economic ‘recovery’ is weak and vulnerable, and the means by which the economy has been stabilised – pumping money into ailing banks and re-inflating the housing bubble – makes the UK among the most susceptible to another financial crisis, which is highly possible within this term of the Tory government.
In such circumstances, the economics of austerity could be exposed, and a UK Labour leader willing to challenge it directly, as well as widespread fatigue with cuts – which have now been going on for half a decade – could be a powder-keg.
At the level of UK strategy, it makes sense to build relationships which generate mutual support between pro-independence campaigners and Corbyn supporters. That would bring ‘divide the state – unite the movement’ to life. One place where this could manifest itself on the streets outside the Tory conference in Manchester.
Scotland and Corbyn
It doesn’t matter where you live in the UK. If you hated Blair and support socialist principles then Corbyn and the left of the party taking over is a hugely exciting development. But there will not be a transfer of Corbynism to Scottish Labour, and to understand this you need to understand the relationship between Corbynism and grassroots movements.
Central to Corbyn’s view of the Labour Party is that it should be part of a broader movement. Normally in traditional Labour circles this refers to the unions. But Corbyn has a broader conception of the movement. He is an ardent supporter of the anti-war and pro-Palestine movement and instinctively looks towards campaigning organisations rather than big business as sources of political pressure. He is very much a product of the movement. His campaign rallies could have been Stop the War meetings or People’s Assembly forums. In England, partly as a result of the antiquated voting system, much of the left had been waiting for this moment. Too difficult to build a new party to challenge for government from the Left, the only hope is for a socialist to lead the Labour Party. That is one reason why Corbyn has a chance at turning Labour into a social movement in England. The base exists, and is prepared to mobilise. Just look at the over two hundred thousand who voted for him.
But in Scotland the situation is the opposite of this. Here Labour are in ruins – they have no credibility with grassroots movements whatsoever, standing utterly opposed to the biggest one in Scotland’s history – the Yes movement. They have split generationally with a massive section of their base and cannot win it back. The national question runs deep into every issue in Scottish politics. It is the reference point for all political discussion and it is fused into a stabilised mass movement determined to have and win another referendum.
The point is this: the left wing politics of Corbyn and the social movement organisation that embodies Corbynism are unable to be realised by the Scottish Labour Party.
It is likely that the situation will worsen further for Labour in Scotland. They are set to lose MSPs left right and centre.
But many people in Scotland are inspired by Corbyn’s authenticity in standing for solid socialist principles and his complete opposition to austerity. He has a systematically anti-establishment world view – opposed to the monarchy and Nato – and socialist outlook – for taxing the rich and democratic public ownership – that the SNP could not claim to stand for.
For the radical left in Scotland to be viable it needs to shed the out-dated elements of British unionism that Corbyn still believes in. It was a big mistake for Corbyn to come to Scotland and not just say that he was opposed to independence, but state that there wouldn’t be another referendum if he was Prime Minister – it sounded like more of the same from UK political leader’s, not ‘a new kind of politics’. Corbyn should know that the people of Scotland will decide if there’s another referendum, not him or any other UK politician.
And the pro-independence left must rapidly develop a distinctive voice – something that combines the best of Corbynism and the independence movement and that coherently shows that the SNP alone is not the only section of the independence movement. Diversity, radicalism and dynamism is needed to ensure that a coalition of forces advocating independence and socialist policies emerges in the next Scottish Parliament.
For everyone on the radical left, politics in the UK today is an exciting but hugely complex time. Guiding principles are needed to carve a path through: standing with those in England who want to fight the British establishment and have expressed this through the Corbyn movement, while maintaining and strengthening the first front of the independence movement is one way of mobilising he resources of the left in general to maximum effect in the immediate battle with the Tory government and in the strategic importance of winning Independence. Make no mistake – the radical left is going to be central in the years to come.