15 March 2017

Divorcing the Scottish Labour Party

The Labour Party in Scotland should become a wholly independent organisation.

Jeremy Corbyn’s position on the question of a second Scottish independence referendum is utterly muddled, though it is unclear whether he is at fault or the mainstream media. But cutting through the confusion, his opinion seems to be this: Scotland should be allowed to have a referendum if it wants one, but it should not want one. In short, Corbyn has hitched himself to Unionism, and believes that, despite the Scottish rejection of Brexit in the April 2016 referendum, Scotland, as part of the UK, should be taken out of the EU against its will.

In taking that line Corbyn has fallen into step with the fiercely Unionist Scottish Labour Party leadership, the body which has sunk Labour in the last decade from Scotland’s dominant force into a measly third-placed party. Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, is strongly anti-Corbyn, as is Ian Murray, Scotland’s sole Labour MP. They won't help Corbyn to achieve anything.

Of course, it’s not up to Corbyn to tell Scotland that the country should be independent, any more than it is up to him to say that it should not be. That issue is for Scotland alone to decide. But Corbyn could, and should, disassociate himself from the Scottish Labour Party, and declare that Scottish Labour ought to be a wholly independent organisation. But sadly I don’t think Corbyn will take that step.

12 March 2017

Brexit: Corbyn Screwed Up

Jeremy Corbyn steered Labour into unconditionally supporting Brexit. In so doing he stained progressive politics and sunk the Left.

When Jeremy Corbyn was elected to the Labour leadership in 2015, my hopes were rekindled that for the first time in decades a progressive force had emerged in British politics. But Corbyn’s decision to whip the PLP into voting unconditionally for the May Government’s hard Brexit finally dashed any such optimism. There are some mistakes in politics which are survivable, and some which are not. Corbyn’s Brexit stance, I believe, falls into the latter category.

Let us add up the damage.

1. Corbyn aligned Labour alongside the xenophobia which is the cause and effect of Brexit. Many right-wing Labour MPs are seemingly happy to accommodate themselves to the wave of anti-liberal, foreigner-hating nationalism now sweeping England, but the tragedy for the progressive left is that Corbyn joined them. His commitment to Freedom of Movement is dead, even if he continues to plead the case of the three million or so non-British EU nationals resident in the UK.

2. Seventy percent of Labour voters, and an even larger majority of Labour members, voted for Remain. The vast bulk of the young left that joined to support Corbyn’s leadership campaigns saw Britain’s future in the EU. Many will now be seeking new political homes, or abandoning politics altogether. The future for the left in the party without them is bleak.

3. Corbyn threw away the chance of building any kind of progressive alliance with other centre and left-leaning parties: the Liberal Democrats, SNP and the Greens. A key element of any working arrangement would have been opposing Brexit and the consequences of Brexit. The official Labour position, namely, that it will win the 2020 General Election single handed is highly improbable.

4. Brexit will impede trade and drive away investment. And, as the economic negatives become apparent, Labour will lack any credibility in blaming Theresa May’s hard Brexit on the Tories. Corbyn led Labour through the Tory lobbies and thus willed the consequences.

Following the House of Commons vote to endorse a hard Brexit backed by Corbyn, the Labour leader tweeted,"Real fight starts now. Over next two years Labour will use every opportunity to ensure Brexit protects jobs, living standards & the economy." This must rank among the most pathetic utterances in modern political history, as he vouched to fight the consequences of his own actions. Corbyn hopelessly mis-analysed the situation, lost friends without finding new ones, damaged the left, and stained Labour as a progressive movement.

It is hard not to agree with Martin Kettle writing in The Guardian (02-March-2017), "There is nothing socialist about this, nothing social democratic, nothing liberal, nothing progressive, nothing moral, nothing with any optimism or imagination.”

7 March 2017

Socialism and nationalism are not compatible

You can be a nationalist or a socialist, but you can’t be both.

A nationalist is someone who prioritises allegiance to a national group ahead of other political considerations. Thus those Labour politicians who talk about 'the will of the British people' as a trump card in politics are nationalists – just like the fascists who shout out "Britain First." Of course, there are many different varieties of nationalists. Politicians and parties combine their nationalism with other political objectives; and some varieties are far less odorous than others. Yet whatever the type, there are two reasons why socialists do not embrace nationalism.

First, the nationalist, by virtue of making the national group the most important factor of identification, creates a dichotomy between those who are members of the defined national group and those who are not. People are divided, favoured and discriminated against by characteristics that they cannot, or at least cannot easily, change. Socialists, in contrast, are universalists, whose politics embrace people irrespective of nationality or ethnicity. Nationalism and socialism cannot be combined because one negates the other.

Second, the nationalists’ construction of the concept of a nation is a historical undertaking, which involves looking backwards to find historical customs, myths, language usage, etc. which supposedly bind the people of the nation. By looking backwards, nationalism tends to be conservative and finds its ideals in the past. Socialists, in contrast, believe in freeing people from historical oppressions and see the ideal world as something to be created by human beings in the future. And that future is based on what is progressive from a combination of all human history, not that of one nation.

Internationalism is not the opposite of nationalism. Internationalism involves the recognition of different nationalisms and works for them to coexist on a friendly and cooperative basis. The opposite of nationalism is anationalism (or cosmopolitanism), which seeks the unity of people irrespective of nationality or ethnicity.

One thing should be made clear. Someone who calls for autonomy or independence for a territory, is not for that reason alone, a nationalist. For instance, the demand for an independent Scotland can be less nationalistic than those wielding the unionist rhetoric of the 'integrity of the British nation.'

In England Brexit has fuelled nationalism, and socialists need to confront it.

1 March 2017

Saturday by Ian McEwan

Musings by a well-off 'Blairite' on the eve of the invasion of Iraq in 2003

The book, all set on one Saturday in the lead up to the Iraq war, is an internal portrait on one man. Henry is a typical Blair bourgeois middle-Englander in every sense, who is married with children in their early twenties. McEwan carefully constructs through Henry's internal musings the background and influences of one man and by extension the whole era of Blair's Britain.

This excellent book has a side plot of a psychopath who breaks into Henry's family life and humiliates him and his family. Though extremely well described and written I felt that this typical McEwan theme could have been dispensed with.

McEWAN Ian, Saturday, Vintage 2005