Nicola Sturgeon is right.
This marks the debut of that phrase in this column but, then, the First Minister hasn’t given me much to work with. Until now, that is. While stumping for votes over the weekend, she predicted that Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn would allow her a second referendum on Scotland exiting the UK, a policy commonly known as ‘Scexit’.
Sturgeon could issue this bold claim because of what happened on Weasel Wednesday, the day last week when Labour sold out the Union for a shot at power.
It began with Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald declaring: ‘We are not going to stand in the way of a second independence referendum.’ This was followed later in the day by a briefing given to journalists by Corbyn’s spokesman. The spin doctor said that, while Labour wouldn’t allow another poll right away, ‘in the longer run if there was a democratic and properly formulated request on the basis of a majority of the Scottish Parliament or the Scottish Government it would be wrong to block it’.
That afternoon, Corbyn himself told reporters that ‘obviously under the terms of devolution, if the Scottish Parliament demands it, then there could be, at a much later stage, a referendum’.
Sturgeon did not twist Corbyn’s words — she advanced the fairest possible reading of them. (More often than not, taking Corbyn out of context would make him sound more reasonable.) Her assumption was confirmed yesterday when Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey told Sky News that, although opposed in principle to breaking up the UK, ‘if the Scottish Government determine they want to pursue another referendum… as a government, we wouldn’t stand in their way, we wouldn’t try and stop them’.
The only union Labour stands up for these days is Len McCluskey’s.
Jeremy Corbyn has been flirting with the SNP for several years now. He does this because he considers it both electorally savvy and an opportunity to remind Scottish Labour who the boss is. There is an ideological element too: this is a man with no love for the British state.
The latest flurry of mash notes represents a more earnest wooing: Labour is openly courting a party hellbent on dismantling the United Kingdom. That it is doing so only five years after taking the lead role in keeping the UK together is a testament to how fundamental the party’s transformation has been under Corbyn. Labour has junked not only its commitment to anti-racism and internationalism, it no longer appears to believe in the country itself.
Scottish Labour’s electoral fortunes are dead now but the party remains at the denial stage of the grieving process. Its coping strategy is to punt out endless press releases restating its opposition to another Scexit vote. Scottish Labour activists, such as remain, might pop up on your doorstep in the coming weeks to assure you that party policy remains in favour of the Union and that the Holyrood leadership is autonomous of Corbyn.
In the end, however, it doesn’t matter what Scottish Labour says because Scottish Labour doesn’t decide — Jeremy Corbyn does. There is no elaborate ruse, as some of the party faithful try to reassure themselves, to recruit Nationalist voters then claim them for socialism by showing what wonders a Labour government can work.
Party strategists have simply calculated that we are heading for another hung parliament and that a Scotland that no longer votes Labour is expendable. These people have toiled and plotted and endured ridicule for decades to reach the brink of government. They may not be enthusiastic about a Scottish breakaway but they aren’t about to spurn power for a few sniffles of sentiment. If Parliament is hung, the Union will be too.
When Corbyn and those around him speak loosely of another referendum, signalling themselves open to a post-election pact with the separatists, they put the United Kingdom in peril for the sake of their short-term political interests. This is not an offence against national pride or imperial memory; Union Jack bunting and royal tea towels would still do a rare trade if Scotland walked away.
It is an offence against those people who rely most on the UK: Scotland’s poor and vulnerable; those in precarious employment; those whose jobs rely on free movement of goods, services and people within the UK single market; and those who put in a shift every day to make the mortgage payment and need to know what currency they’ll be paying it in. All of them depend on the prosperity and economic solidarity that being in the UK brings Scotland.
Nicola Sturgeon and her husband are doing fine. The shocks of Scexit would barely be felt in their hip pockets. But for those doing it tough, striving to make a better life for their family, or for people who have fallen on hard times and desperately want to get back up, the consequences would be brutal. The Labour Party is meant to stick up for people like this, not trade them away to their fate for a few miserable years in Downing Street.
Or at least that is what the old Labour Party was about. The party that Hardie founded, that Bevan inspired, that Attlee led into history, and that Wilson and Blair made the instrument of national progress. It was Labour that cleared the slums, built decent houses, made workplaces safe, delivered the NHS, created the minimum wage and brought peace to Northern Ireland. At its heart was a belief in the country and what its people could achieve ‘by the strength of our common endeavour’.
Even the staunchest Tory or most ardent Liberal could admire that grand old war horse, for, however much it erred or enraged, it was a worthy foe ablaze with principle and its banner carried onwards more often than not by honourable and dedicated men and women. It was a great party and a good one too.
That party is gone, wounded by self-indulgence, felled by rancid extremism and drowned in the mire of anti-Semitism. What stands in its place shares its name and its symbols but the soul is corrupted. Scottish Labour thought distance could shield it from this corruption but the rot feasts upon its body too. Every Scottish Labour MP elected on December 12 will take the whip at Westminster and be answerable to the leadership there. When Corbyn puts the Union on the poker table, each of them has underwritten the stake.
Scottish Labour politicians will protest that they still believe in the Union, and many of them do, but their party does not and, as they have shown over the last four years, they always put the party first.
What does that party offer, besides envy and spite and a warm welcome for paranoid Jew-haters? The values it once espoused have been jettisoned, its ethics and traditions trashed by an influx of preening, play-acting revolutionaries. An entire history torn to shreds out of fashion and fanaticism. There is no Labour in the Labour Party anymore, no purpose beyond seizing and retaining power for an ideological project that had its first and last idea when bell-bottoms were still in vogue.
That is the Labour Party that will soon go to the polls. It will be for us to decide if theirs is the sort of country we recognise as our own. Scottish Labour will go to the country too, and for the first time as a non-Unionist party — a party no longer sure whether it believes in solidarity and cooperation across these islands or whether these are just feel-good words to be dropped for a sniff of office.
Nicola Sturgeon is confident that Labour will give her what she wants because that party isn’t sure what it wants anymore, and in the absence of principle it will settle for power.