JEREMY Corbyn is making a wonderful mess of things isn’t he? But for Scotland there is an up side to his leaked manifesto. Labour have moved firmly to the left and now there is once again an identifiable difference between the two major Westminster parties, and GE2017 will probably be the last ever battle between true left and right in British politics.
Faced with the collapse of the political and economic system and facing a popular democratic rebellion against the political elites and the economics of finance rather than capital investment, Labour have gone left and the Tories have adopted a hard-line ultra-British Unionist stance. This old-fashioned politics is about as relevant as arguing what is best, Philips or Betamax – when the world has gone digital. And by the end of this General Election, people might begin to see that.
Regular readers of this column will know that I predicted Jeremy Corbyn would be a disaster for Labour before he won the leadership the first time around. Two years ago I wrote: “With Foot in 1983, just as now with Corbyn, the left thought they had an uncompromising, principled, socialist politician to admire but the cold hard fact is that it is easier to admire such politicians than it is to make them Prime Minister.”
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And that: “If Corbyn wins the Labour leadership race on an almost identical manifesto (to 1983) against a background where voters in England have moved significantly to the right in the last 30 years, then Labour’s next manifesto will be more of an obituary than suicide note and civil war will ensue within the Labour ranks.”
It is actually fun to wonder what Scottish Labour will think of Labour manifesto policies such as renationalising large swathes of the energy sector and the railways, and scrapping tuition fees.
There is nothing in Labour’s manifesto for Scotland. It commits to the renewal of Trident and to continuing to invest in nuclear energy which can only come at the cost of investment in Scotland’s renewables potential. It clearly states that they would oppose a Scottish referendum, which hardly matters as they won’t win. But in England they might not do as badly as Theresa May hopes – as many of these left-wing policies are actually quite popular right now. Renationalising the railways has about 60 per cent support and appeals to millions of commuters in London and the south-east in particular. whose experience of consumer choice has only meant packed rains, steep price increases and chaotic timetables. That critical 60 per cent support level applies to taxing the richest in society more progressively, controls on landlords, the real Living Wage and ending tuition fees in England. If they all make it into the final manifesto (and this very deliberate leak makes sure they will) a few more English voters might stick with Corbyn given he is offering Brexit, but with a trade deal, and less economic damage. Nothing on offer will save Labour in Scotland though, and this, combined with Labour’s doubling down on the Union to stop the Tories stealing No voters, may split the Unionist vote more than it has recently and leave the door open for the SNP to save seats in the few areas where they really will be challenged.
So what is the SNP’s optimum message? This is the “hard Brexit” election and the SNP have been fighting for Scotland to retain its economically vital membership of the single European market (not just limited access). They should simply state that they have a pre-existing Holyrood mandate for ScotRef and that they will hold an independence referendum at the time most beneficial to the prosperity of Scotland.
The SNP don’t need to make the election about independence – that’s for the 2018/19 ScotRef. They can get a bigger win by asking the question: who will stand up and fight for Scotland ... Theresa May or Nicola Sturgeon?
One of the reasons Labour in Scotland have been sinking fast is they have focused on attacking the SNP on independence and forgetting to attack the most right-wing Tory Government since Thatcher.
So if the SNP don’t make this election about independence then it takes the sting out of the “stop the SNP message” and allows them to focus on the damage a Tory hard Brexit would wreak on ordinary hard-working Scots. Given Labour can’t stop Theresa May in Scotland, that gives the SNP an edge they didn’t have in the council elections.
The Tories haven’t actually come back, in the last Holyrood and local elections traditional Labour voters (of a Unionist hue) tactically switched. At Holyrood, they could stop an SNP majority and in the local elections they could stop SNP majorities knowing both times that the Tories couldn’t win.
On June 8, such tactical votes come with a high price.
The Tories are going to win in England and Theresa May could have a Thatcherite-level super-majority and claim the few seats she does win in Scotland give her a mandate to ride roughshod over the objections of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Labour.
The Holyrood vote provides a mandate for ScotRef so the SNP must fight against a hard Brexit, and point out that the FM will stand up for Scotland while the PM’s plans will do untold damage to our economy and cost jobs.
If the SNP had expected the opportunity to have a referendum would come around so soon they would have been ready for one, but they are not so they must hit their opponents’ weak spots – on the issues where the SNP are ready. Independence is a fight for another day – the SNP first need to make sure Scotland sends their MPs back to Westminster with a new mandate to oppose May’s damaging hard Brexit and then trust that independence will follow.