Scotland feels the Corbyn effect

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Kezia Dugdale

The gears are shifting in Scottish Labour, in a direction that Kezia Dugdale didn’t like, as evidenced by her resignation as leader.

She stood down immediately after Jeremy Corbyn’s tour of Scotland in late August, which saw him speak to thousands of supporters — including in Glasgow at the Govanhill Against Racism Carnival and the Central Mosque.

Corbyn has set his focus on developing his support in Scotland through the Campaign for Socialism (CfS) group.

The analysis of the 2017 general election by CfS highlighted the discrepancies within Scottish Labour’s campaign, which led to only a 1 percent increase in vote share.

Driven by an anti-SNP message of “sending Nicola [Sturgeon] a message”, the campaign was counterposed to Corbyn’s “For the many” mantra, and suffered as a result.

It reinforced the distaste for Dugdale et al, who supported the union and austerity policies which Labour councils have pushed through for the past nine years.

Nonetheless, a 1 percent increase was far better than predicted by pollsters, and this was undoubtedly down to the Corbyn effect.

Corbyn’s election manifesto was far to the left of the SNP, with renationalisation of the rail and workers’ rights, areas where the SNP have failed.

Currently the SNP is polling 29 percent, with the Tories on 28 percent, but Labour has soared to 33 percent, which would have seemed implausible six months ago.

If we analyse Corbyn through the prism of independence the possibilities are limited due to his continued support of the union.

This is a problem within the independence campaign — dividing the movement into party lines rather class lines opens to door to a nationalist perspective.

Support for independence does not mean support for the SNP — the recent 20,000 All Under One Banner (AUOB) march for independence wasn’t supported by the SNP, for example. In 2014 the SWP was right to say that the independence campaign had to be built with the focus on anti-austerity and anti-racism — if an independence campaign is to succeed it must be independent from the SNP.

While the AUOB march was successful in reminding people that the issue of independence will not go away, we have to be mindful that in any broad movement the lines between left and right can be blurred.

The independence movement has been lacking in debate around the centrality of class. The “Corbyn effect” counters this and gives the left an opportunity to move the struggle against cuts, austerity and racism forward. The SNP has curtailed working class movements and industrial disputes; Corbyn is actively supporting them — this resonates with people who want change.

Support for Corbyn and CfS will help Scottish Labour regain its left politics but they must challenge for the leadership of the party. While the right remain in control any hopes of taking the SNP to task over its failures in fighting austerity are dim.

There is a message being put by some in Labour that “dead end indy/union politics”, as Paul Sweeney put it, are over since Corbyn has emerged. This is an over-simplification. Labour figurehead Anas Sarwar also chimed in that Corbyn is a “faster, better, safer, bolder form of change”.

The issue is not that Indy2 is over, but rather what form this movement will take. The “Corbyn effect” is growing in Scotland. We have to work with the left of Labour to build a movement and at the same time win No voters to the position of an independent Scotland.

The SWP will continue to support independence, which aims to break the British state and develop a fairer society, but we can’t wait for the SNP or Corbyn to grant us the opportunity.

Nor can we let them dictate the politics — we have to build Stand Up to Racism, Unite Against Fascism and Stop the War to influence the independence campaign.

That’s how we build a working class independence movement based on socialist politics.

The Marxism in Scotland event this autumn provides a key forum to debate how we tie these campaigns into the independence movement, and also how to rebuild the left.