By Scottish Labour Young Socialist activist, Aiden Anthony O’Rourke.
Nationalism in Scotland takes two forms; Scottish nationalism, or British nationalism – for socialists, one is no better than the other. It seems that nationalist strategy is to weaken a Labour party led by its most left wing leader yet, because naturally a strong Labour party fighting for the working class hampers the ideal argument for independence, ‘Britain bad, Scotland good.’
Let’s be clear. Attacking Corbyn does not help the Yes movement; does not help the Labour movement; prevents Labour becoming the mass working class party we need; and crucially, does not help the working class, north or south of the border, defeat the Tories. Instead, it forces socialists to lower their politics in order to fit in with the restrictive nature of referendums, look no further than the Brexit shambles as an example.
With all due respect to the current leadership in Scotland, it is a mistake to try to compete against the Tories, and SNP, by raising a third pole of nationalism; labour’s current woes stem from this very issue. Notions of a new act of union would better serve those proposing such policy if they sought to understand why the constitutional question has become the dominant issue in Scottish politics.
It is precisely because of widespread feelings of alienation from a system that doesn’t work in their interests that many people have come to see the democratic deficit that currently exists in Britain. This doesn’t just apply to Scotland, but across Britain, particularly in the north of England – where Thatcher, and then Blair, struck hardest.
One lesson Labour in Scotland must take away is that the events of the last three years didn’t come out of nowhere. They are the inevitable result of an arrogant sense of entitlement within the party that has driven the working class, in their droves, into the arms of nationalism. The popular notion that there was once a time in which a donkey could be pinned with a red rosette and still win is something which applies far more to the SNP in today’s Scotland; even so, despite such a crass analogy, it was very much the case that, in past decades, Labour’s position was unsurmountable.
The question we need to ask, is why? The answer should be obvious, because there once was a time when labour truly served the interests of not just the working classes, but the people as a whole. Under Blair, and his inheritors, labour lost their heads – as a result, in Scotland they lost our hearts. We’re currently soul searching, as far as the left is concerned, returning to the socialist values that won such overwhelming support in Scotland for generations is the only way to go. Labour’s biggest lesson is that it is not entitled to anything, support is earned, trust is built, and strength is gained.
George Orwell refers to England as ‘A family with the wrong members in control’. That analogy can be applied to today’s UK, where it is clear that limited devolved government in the smaller nations amounts to little more than handling pocket money. If ‘preserving the union’ is the aim of the current labour leadership in Scotland, then it must abandon the undemocratic framework and terminology of the last three centuries.
The simplest way to do this is to campaign for a fully federal, socialist united states of Britain. This should consider the creation of an English parliament; the devolving of all powers – with the exception of defence – to national governments; the replacement of the house of lords with a senate elected by the people; the abolition of the monarchy; and a wide ranging discussion, within our party, and society as a whole, on a host of other measures aimed at bringing power closer to the people.
At the very least, today’s labour must be as radical as in Kier Hardie’s day. Our starting point must be offering the modern version of home rule for Scotland, just as he would have done. Further, we should look back to the achievements of 1945, when the conditions facing our people were so much worse, but where our resolve to act against all the odds – even in the face of near economic collapse post WWII – to better the lives of our fellow citizens led to the establishment of the welfare state. From a socialist perspective, this system wasn’t perfect, but it went a long way in tackling some of the worst extremes of the poverty, and misery, that no human being should have to endure.
Clearly, there is a lot to be debated, and a lot more still to be done. Time is precious, but we must ensure that we resist any kneejerk reactions in putting our party back where it needs to be. Every day, the process of renewal within our party continues, discussions are held, and radical policy shaped. The election, and re-election, of Jeremy Corbyn signalled something that myself – as a yes voting, recovering left nationalist – would never have thought possible: a democratic, socialist Labour party capable of effectively leading the Labour movement towards a socialist Britain. It is up to all in our party to come together; to draw upon the history of our victories to inspire us; to draw upon the experiences of our defeats to keep us focused; to understand the scale of the challenge we face to motivate us; to see past what divides us, focusing all of our efforts on supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s efforts to return a Labour government; and to never forget that unity is strength.