Mhairi Black: The election of Corbyn changes nothing
THE election of Jeremy Corbyn was one of those occasions which prove you can never truly predict politics, especially when watching events unfold from within the cynical walls of Westminster.
When he announced his candidacy for the leadership I had multiple conversations with Labour MPs, old and new, who spoke of their frustration and anger that he had put himself forward.
He was, they said, “bringing the party into disrepute” and causing them to have “an old 1980s debate” that they didn’t need to have. The fear that they would be forever unelectable was palpable. If the SNP landslide was considered cataclysmic by many Labour MPs, then the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader was to be considered apocalyptic.
I, like so many others in Scotland, know that this is not an attitude shared widely among a substantial number of the people in the UK, especially in Scotland. The election of a socialist leader is to be viewed by many as a sign of hope. A sign that Labour in England and Wales may actually begin to work with the SNP and take the hand of friendship that has been outstretched. What has been questionable is the insinuation that this is evidence that Labour is returning to its roots as the party my grandpa and father used to vote for. I have received many (often taunting) emails and tweets asking me when I will be “coming home” to join Labour under Corbyn’s leadership. The answer is that I won’t be, and I hope to use this article to articulate exactly why.
For many years there has been a romanticism attached to Labour as the party of social justice, that sticks up for the working class, when the reality could not be further from the truth. Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader seems to have given a burst of energy to this sentimentality which I feel needs closer inspection.
However, firstly I must give credit where it is due. Much of Corbyn’s campaign was incredibly similar in terms of tactics and reception to that of the Yes campaign. It was carried out at a grassroots level with multiple open public meetings for people to speak their minds. It was built on the hope that things could be better if only we could hit some kind of reset button on our political establishment. Even the vilification by the media was similar to that which the Yes campaign faced. Relentless vilification and false portrayal by the media is something I am very familiar with and find as challenging as I do intolerable. It is because of this that I want to make explicitly clear my respect and admiration in the way that Corbyn handled himself, with dignity and class, and it is something that should be noted. His campaign vindicated the viewpoint of many disillusioned voters in rUK, telling them that it was indeed okay to stand up to the political consensus around austerity.
However, even if Corbyn stays true to his beliefs and holds strong in the face of unrelenting criticism, the fact is that he has yet to convince his own party of his beliefs and ideology. The idea that purely because of the leadership result Labour have somehow reverted to a collectivist, Nye Bevan, post-war Labour Party overnight is as ridiculous as it is naive. The shift in the political philosophy of the Labour Party to the right has been long cultivated over more than 20 years by many willing party members and elected members both in Westminster and in the Scottish Parliament. Let’s not forget that despite the current Scottish Labour leader’s convenient claim that she would be “delighted” to work with Jeremy Corbyn after his surge in support, Kezia Dugdale originally stated that Labour would be “left carping on the sidelines” if the left-wing candidate won the leadership.
The Cabinet itself is filled with New Labour Blairites, whose voting records often suggest that they will be completely at odds with some of Corbyn’s flagship left-wing views. Not only is the lack of women in major positions a worrying feature of his Cabinet, but the appointment of the unelected Lord Falconer as shadow justice secretary immediately calls in to question his assertions that the Lords should be reformed/abolished in place of an elected second chamber. Will it be the same when it comes to votes on other flagship ideals?
If I were to play devil’s advocate I would say he is simply trying to unite his deeply divided party by bringing in a wide spectrum of opinion, which in theory is fine and sensible, but therein lies the problem at the heart of Labour and the problem at the heart of Unionism.
Scotland has made clear what its position on these issues is and has done so for many years. We have voted Labour for the past 40+ years. We voted Labour in 1970, 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992, 2010 – and each time we were rewarded with an English-elected Conservative government. We have voted for policies on the left of the political spectrum and yet continually find ourselves at the mercy of Thatcherite policies.
I say this in full knowledge that I will receive many lazy and redundant responses telling me to get over the referendum result and that I am just a bitter independence supporter. I will receive multiple complaints of “that’s how democracy works. You don’t always get what you want”.
I reject that argument because we are not talking about a lost election, we are talking about a very real democratic deficit that exists in Scotland so long as we are part of this Union. It is the main reason I believe in independence and the ultimate reason why I have no desire to join Labour. Scotland has found the very confidence that Corbyn has inspired in some places in England. It exercised it during the General Election when people realised they deserved better than what they were being offered by their traditional party and decided to vote based on policy rather than on blind and romanticised party loyalty. Despite Scotland electing 94.9 per cent of its representatives on an anti-austerity platform, why is it then acceptable that Scotland should be forced to endure increased austerity? By Corbyn placing an unelected Lord in his Cabinet, he not only brings into question his commitment to elected accountability, but he demonstrates that in attempting to unify his party there is, and will always be, the need for right-wing compromise.
Despite this upsurge and momentum that has become apparent through Corbyn’s campaign, the reality is that England still voted Tory. Yes, his election may give us hope that the desire for change exists to an extent in England as well, and the SNP will happily work with Corbyn on many issues to achieve many desired changes, but the point is that Scotland should not have to be reliant on a Jeremy Corbyn character to achieve those changes. Scotland has allowed itself to be totally dependent on whatever England (as the largest country in the UK) chooses to vote. We will only ever get Labour if England chooses Labour. That is not democracy.
I am pleased to see a socialist in a position of influence in England just as I would anywhere else in the world, but one in five of our children still lives in poverty due to the policies of this English-elected Conservative government. For all the good causes Jeremy Corbyn appears to believe in, ultimately Scotland should not have to endure horrendous policies for 20-year interludes while we wait and hope that an English electorate may see fit to elect an occasional Corbyn-type character. More than ever we need to take control of our own affairs. Nicola Sturgeon said David Cameron was “living on borrowed time”. That is time that those one in five do not have.