Labour for Little England
Labour does not care if Scotland stays or goes
Is Labour a patriotic party? It is easy to see how many traditionally-minded working class voters may have perceived that the only parts of the nation’s story that appealed to Jeremy Corbyn were those that involved the struggles and triumphs of the Labour Movement.
Here was a man seemingly ready to support almost any self-determination struggle worldwide, so long as those involved were not Gibraltarians, Falkland islanders or Northern Irish people choosing to be British.
Since December’s general election, the degree to which Labour’s leadership has recognised that identity politics includes those who are out and proud British may be gauged by the misfiring Rebecca Long Bailey.
No sooner did the Shadow Business Secretary and leadership-hopeful make a passing referencing to championing “progressive patriotism” than the buggle call to retreat was blown. Denis MacShane, Labour’s former Europe minister, was among those speaking up for the easily horrified. “Invoking patriotism with or without an adjective like ‘progressive,’” Dr MacShane rebuked, “is dangerous political territory.” Once bitten, twice shy, Mrs Long Bailey has waved her little flag no more.
But which flag is, or was, Labour half-thinking about waving? Is it still the one with the crosses of St Andrew and St Patrick in it, or just the cross of St George?
Until 2010, the Party of Nye Bevan, Neil Kinnock, Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald and Gordon Brown, was resolutely British in its heritage as well as constituency representation. In that year’s general election, Scotland provided Labour with 41 of its MPs and Wales a further 26. Combined, Wales and Scotland provide a quarter of Labour’s total number of MPs. This was only ten years ago. Today, the proportion is just over one in ten. In the case of Scotland, it is manifested in one, solitary, MP – who Jeremy Corbyn refuses to make Labour’s Shadow Scottish Secretary.
The reality of becoming dependent on English constituencies afflicted the Conservative Party of William Hague and Michael Howard, damaging its claims to being a truly nationwide party, even although it never jettisoned its unionist beliefs. Now it is Labour that is Anglo-centric. Is it still unionist?
Labour leadership hopeful, Clive Lewis takes his support for “radical federalism” to the extent that he seems not greatly bothered whether the UK ceases to retain any clear personality of its own, distinct or greater than the sum of its part.
Talking to The National, a pro-independence Scottish daily newspaper, Lewis states, “there should be no question of Labour opposing a second independence referendum if there is a mandate to hold one.”
Lewis applies the separatist thinking within his own land and party. He continued, “nor should any English party dictate to the Scottish. Scottish Labour, like Welsh Labour, should have full autonomy from the English – free to decide their views on fundamental questions like support for independence, acting as a Labour Party for Scotland, not only a Labour Party in Scotland.”
Clive Lewis stands little chance of winning his Party’s leadership. But his relaxed attitude to whether Scotland stays or goes is not much different to the indifference to the survival of the UK displayed by the outgoing Leader.
Jeremy Corbyn signalled he was ready to concede a second Scottish referendum if not immediately then certainly within the life of this parliament as the price of a deal with Nicola Sturgeon to put him in Downing Street. Corbyn’s acolyte, Rebecca Long Bailey seems equally blasé. She says Labour “wouldn’t try and stop” a second independence referendum if the SNP wins a majority in the 2021 Holyrood parliament elections.
In its increasing introversion, Labour risks becoming a Little Englander party by default, if not by design.
In her analysis of what went wrong for Labour in Scotland, Long Bailey wrote earlier this week of the mistake of “joining forces with David Cameron in the Better Together campaign in 2014.” Clearly, if there is a IndyRef2 on her watch as leader, Labour will not be the party of Remain if it involves having allies.
Better to break up the UK than break bread with Tories.
Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print
Try three issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £5Subscribe