The Point
Last updated: 30 July 2017.

...red sky thinking for an open and diverse left

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An Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn

                              

 

 

Dear Jeremy,

I write to you because the time has come to repay an old favour. A very old favour indeed. You see, you and I met once. It must have been in the summer of 1982. I went to a demo in London, in support of the Tamils of Sri Lanka, with a bloke called Dave Nellist. When we got there he introduced me to you. You were both first term MPs at the time. I was a 17 year old Labour Party member (I only lasted two years) and intellectual sponge, soaking up information at every opportunity. Now I didn’t know much about the Tamils at the time (hey, most people still don’t) but in 10 or 15 minutes you and Dave explained to me, simply and succinctly. I was always grateful to you for taking the time to do that. For seeing something in me that made it worth taking the time. For that I thank you.

So it is in that same spirit that I want to speak to you now about Scotland. Now you may possibly think that you know pretty much all there is to know about Scotland. That is a commonly-held belief in England. I suspect your understanding to be more sophisticated than most, however that does not mean it is complete. There are a few things you need to know, and they are things your Scottish Labour colleagues will not tell you. The first thing, well, there’s no easy way to put this, so brace yourself for bad news. It’s the Labour Party in Scotland. It’s dead. It passed away last year after a long illness, although like Monty Python’s Black Knight yelling, “It’s only a flesh wound!” it remained in denial till the last. Some parts of it are still refusing to lie down, but it would be a mistake to listen to their ghostly voices. They will be telling you it’s not too late, that under your leadership [insert platitudes here], and they will be renewed, reinvigorated and normal service will be resumed. Their former leader Jim Murphy certainly thinks he can rise again. But is it possible for a soufflé to rise twice?

Now I would be the first to admit that your values accord more with those of Scottish former Labour voters than those of any Labour leader in my lifetime. Perhaps if you had become leader earlier... But it’s too late. The party in Scotland broke faith with their supporters, and with their grassroots membership which has mostly evaporated, by taking us for granted and neglecting us for too long. Far too long. They blew the last remnants of their political capital on winning last year’s referendum, only to find that all they had won was... round one. A battle, not the war. Of course they might be said to be in good company there. The BBC springs to mind. They abandoned all pretence of objectivity and became a grotesque sort of Pravda parody. They apparently saw an independent Scotland as such an existential threat that they sold their reputation and their credibility for a temporary reprieve, and lost the trust of their Scottish audience in the process. It was bizarre, and saddening to me personally. A few years ago I’d have said the Labour Party and the BBC were two of the best arguments proponents of the Union had. Now they have become two of their greatest liabilities. If you have been relying, to any extent at all, on BBC analysis of Scottish politics then you will have been severely misled.

One of the ways they have been very good at misleading people is with their use of terminology. I’m sure you are familiar with the work of Noam Chomsky. Scottish independence was only ever called ‘separation’ (because independence sounds like a good thing, like leaving home when you grow up, whereas separation sounds like a marriage break-up, an unpleasant experience for most people) and supporters of independence were invariably referred to as ‘nationalists.’ They implied the ‘N’ in SNP stands for ‘Nationalist’ (it’s actually ‘National’). The problem with that is that the term has very different connotations in England. It is associated with UKIP, the BNP, and other neo-nazi groups. But that’s not us, not remotely. We are not racists. We are not nationalists. We are patriots. That's a good thing. We don't hate anyone, we just know who we are and we're comfortable with it. We have two flags, and neither one is the Union flag. We'll be flying thousands of them in Freedom Square (we’ve renamed George Square by the way, the Labour council doesn’t know yet, but then they won’t be around for long to worry about it) on the 19th of September. You should come along, it’ll be great. Seriously, you would be inspired. And you would, I think, understand that we are passionate, we are motivated, we are positive and we are strong. We are, in short, winning. It’s only a matter of time, and there’s no time like the present, but we can be patient if need be, because we know we are on the right side of history. We’d love you to join us there too.

But what, I hear you ask, of internationalism. Well, many of your Labour colleagues in Scotland (despite the fact that they have been reduced to a right wing rump, as evinced by their election of a Holyrood front bench almost identical to Jim Murphy’s) will say, “I don’t support nationalism. I’m an internationalist.” Well, I am an internationalist too. There was a time, maybe six months or a year when I was in my teens and just refining my own political ideas, when I was somewhat sympathetic to that argument. This was before I had read Trotsky’s Theory of the Permanent Revolution, and understood his argument that national liberation struggles must be supported as a step on the road to transforming society. I’m from a place called Clydebank, and Clydebank’s own legend of the class struggle, Jimmy Reid, once answered the question of internationalism, when he was challenged on his conversion to support for an independent Scotland, by saying that in order to be an internationalist first you need a nation. We in Scotland are a nation in so many ways, not least in our own minds, our own sense of national identity. However we lack the instruments of policy, of decision making, enjoyed by every other nation worthy of the name on this Earth. We do not control our own finances, neither the revenue side nor, in reality, the spending side. Nor can we speak with our own voice to the world. This situation is simply intolerable for a proud 1200 year old nation, and it has to end.

This brings us to the crux of the matter. We in Scotland are not one people with those in England. We don’t hate you, we’re just not the same as you. After 308 years of the Union, wouldn’t you agree that if we were going to become one people it would have happened by now? And yet it has not. A lot of people in England imagine that it has, but they are simply confusing Britishness with Englishness. Many people use the terms interchangeably. But the UK, as Salman Rushdie once said of Pakistan, is a country insufficiently imagined. It’s not working for us. We’re just not feeling it. We don’t feel British, no more today than we did in 1707. We are a separate and distinct people and nation, and what’s more we are a willed nation, a nation by the ‘due and lawful consent and assent’ of its people, something the UK simply cannot claim. How can we tell? Well, for one thing because we are clearly and demonstrably not one electorate, not one body politic. This has become self-evident since we have been able to express our political views through the medium of a Scottish parliament. We don’t vote for the same parties. Only the Labour Party was a significant player in both electorates, but people in Scotland were not even voting for the same Labour Party anyway. They were voting for the party of Keir Hardie, a party which hasn’t existed for a very long time. Given the political realities of a UK-wide electorate, where Wales and the North of England, amongst other areas, are in reality more similar to Scotland than they are to the prosperous South East, but where due to demographics and the fact that the South East is where all the ‘floating voters’ are, that is where the Labour Party have had to direct their policies in order to have a chance of winning government. And the policies that appeal to those South Eastern floating voters are not the policies that voters in Scotland would wish to support. They’re just not. In Scotland’s version of the two party system the Labour Party became by default the right wing alternative to the modest social democracy of the SNP. It is already clear that the independence debate has seen a wholesale realignment of politics in this country, we have in effect hit the reset button on where the political centre lies and a new politics is beginning to emerge.

We are not one economy either. England is an importing country, Scotland is an exporting country. England has a structural deficit, Scotland has an underlying fiscal surplus. I could go on, but the point is that the two are sufficiently different that they cannot be managed as one without serious detriment to one or the other. And given our relative sizes, guess which one that would be. For years we have been told that wanting to control our own finances is selfish, that we should pool our resources in the interests of solidarity, and that this will make everyone better off. At the same time we have been told that we are subsidised and that we couldn’t survive without it. Two highly contradictory arguments when you think about it. Neither of which, incidentally, stands up to even the most cursory examination. We have tried, we really have. We have shared our resources with another nation ten times our size for a very long time now. What has it got us? De-industrialisation on a massive scale and a quarter of our children growing up in poverty. We are, it has often been remarked, the only country in history to strike oil, and get poorer!

Now Jeremy, I know you are a decent man. I think I even believe you when you say you are still a socialist. But the fact is that any policy you attempt to bring in that has the slightest whiff of socialism about it will be trenchantly opposed by your colleagues at Holyrood, and I use the word ‘colleagues’ advisedly. Your comrades they are not. Most socialists in Scotland have long since left the Labour Party, and most of those who remained have left since the referendum. We have gravitated to other parties or remained independent like myself. Now we have formed an alliance, RISE, to take the place of Labour as a left opposition to the SNP. Because every democracy needs an effective opposition and the Scottish branch office of Labour is no longer fit for purpose.  Jeremy, I wish you all the best, and I hope you win, I really do, but what if you lose? Or, perhaps more pertinently, what if you are not allowed to win? We’ve all heard the rumours of a palace coup if you are victorious in the leadership contest. I’m just not sure the Eton/Harrow/Oxbridge establishment could ever tolerate someone of your politics and values leading a major political party. At the very least you will be vilified as much as we Yes supporters were, and maybe you’ll find there will even be a little war. Somewhere far away, against someone who has neither the capacity to hit us back nor the zealotry to blow themselves up. The Falklands fitted that bill perfectly in 1982. Don’t put it past them, they’d do it in a heartbeat of you looked like actually winning power.

In conclusion I must reiterate, so that there can be no possible misunderstanding, our movement is not against anyone. It is not anti-English, no matter what you may have heard, and let’s face it, we’ve all heard that accusation many, many times. But it is a lie. Our movement is progressive, inclusive, positive and absolutely of the left. As I have written before, I myself am a great admirer of English culture. The name I chose for my blog, The Babel Fish Blog (thebabelfishblog.wordpress.com), is ‘un homage’ to one of my favourite English writers, and a former constituent of yours I believe, Douglas Adams (although even he used the terms ‘English’ and ‘British’ interchangeably on occasion). I am not an admirer of the political system or the ruling elite, but then neither are most English people I know. It is my fervent hope that our example will be a positive inspiration to the ordinary, decent people of England, showing by demonstration that there can be another, better way. I would very much like to see those people act to liberate themselves from the yolk of that parasitic ruling elite which impoverishes them as well as us, and which has turned the UK into a kleptocracy. Perhaps then they might even elect someone like you. It is my firm view that the Union is beyond reform or redemption. England is not, and I wish you and all of our English friends nothing but the best as you strive to achieve the reform you seek.

Fraternally yours,

Derek Stewart Macpherson

External links:

Bella Caledonia

Bright Green

George Monbiot

Green Left

Greenpeace

The Jimmy Reid Foundation

Laurie Penny

New Left Project

Newsnet Scotland

Richard Dawkins

Scottish Left Review

Socialist Unity

UK Uncut

Viridis Lumen

Wings Over Scotland

Word Power Books