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Corbyn's Policy On Scotland May Cost Him

18/05/2017 11:25
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In an otherwise excellent manifesto - the most transformative and progressive of any prospective Labour government in a generation no less - Corbyn's stance on Scotland woefully mistaken. It lines him up on the same side as the Tories in seeking to block a second referendum on Scottish independence, despite the "material change in circumstances" thrown up by Brexit when it comes to Scotland; the very same material change upon which Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was elected First Minister in 2016, prior to the EU referendum. Moreover, with the Scottish Parliament voting in March to support the First Minister's right to call a second referendum on independence in the wake of a EU referendum that saw 62% of voters in Scotland voting to remain, Corbyn's position on Scotland is anti-democratic.

Whoever advised him to take a position that constitutes a U-turn from the one he held previously on indyref2 -- i.e. that indyref2 is "absolutely fine" --  has served him badly. The surge in support the SNP experienced before and after the first referendum on independence in 2014 was largely made up of ex-Scottish Labour members, supporters and voters. The Tories not the SNP are reviled across working class communities north of the border, reflected in the Scottish Labour's vertiginous collapse in support in the same period on the back of Labour's calamitous decision to campaign alongside the Tories in opposition to independence in 2014.

The position Labour's leader should have embraced towards Scotland was one committing to cooperating with the Scottish Government on the compromise it has proposed to Westminster on allowing Scotland to retain its membership of the single market in a post-Brexit UK. This very compromise, roundly dismissed by Theresa May's Tory government, would have endeared the Labour leader to voters in Scotland, placing clear distance between him and the Tories and proving that his leadership of the Labour Party marks a clear departure from the dismal legacy of his predecessors.

The national question in Scotland cannot and will not go away with a few sentences in a manifesto denouncing independence and refusing to countenance the Scottish Parliament's demcratic mandate. And Brexit cannot be so easily dismissed or abstracted either. Here I think I speak for many in confirming that my opposition to Scottish independence in 2014 was based on the UK remaining part of the EU, which people in Scotland were assured by the Better Together campaign was contingent on voting No.

That Corbyn's support for Remain during the EU referendum campaign was tepid at best is inarguable. His attachment to the anti-Europe position of his political mentor, Tony Benn, is well known, as is the anti-EU stance long held by his shadow chancellor John McDonnell. However this is not a Tony Benn exit from the EU we're talking about; it is a Nigel Farage/Marine Le Pen exit and there is a world of ideological and political difference between both.

In Scotland retention of single market membership and the free movement that goes with it is essential both economically and on moral grounds. Within the dominant political culture in Scotland, EU migrants are not deemed the enemy. This is in sharp contrast to England, where xenophobia and anti-migrant bigotry is the new normal. In Scotland a skills shortage also dictates that migrants play an essential role in the economy and society, while 80,000 Scottish jobs are dependent on membership of the single market. It is Tory austerity not the EU that has wreaked havoc in working class communities across the UK, and the depiction of the SNP as no different from the Tories, propounded by Labour Party voices over the past few years, is simply untenable.

The Tory dismissal of Scotland's right to hold a second referendum on independence in the wake of Brexit has only confirmed that for them Scotland is just another region rather than a partner nation within the UK. Corbyn's support for the denial of this right is not only a U-turn on his previous position on Scotland, but also reveals the same myopic vision of a Union that remains engulfed in a constitutional crisis of Westminster's own making.

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