Why Scottish Labour must shout Corbyn’s praises from the rooftops

20 April 2016

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Lukewarm: Dugdale welcomes Corbyn, but does her party?

AS A RECENT joiner of the Labour Party, I want us to do well in the May elections for the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, London mayor and English local government among others. But witnessing the lukewarm support for the party leader at the recent Scottish Labour conference, I was concerned. The lack of explicit support and unity behind our recently elected leader Jeremy Corbyn was a big let down. I thought that members of the Scottish Labour leadership might have said something rousing and inspiring about Jeremy’s fresh approach to social democratic politics. About how Labour is chalking up success after success across the UK in by-elections, trouncing UKIP’s so-called surge, and cementing Jeremy’s leadership in places like Oldham West, where Labour increased its share of the vote over the General election result.

Instead, all we got was a ripple of polite applause after a video clip of the Labour leader which appeared to have been tacked onto a promotional film as a crumb for the left. One old hand of the left remarked to me that the party seemed to have started to devolve itself, as though preparing for the supposedly inevitable ‘Yes’ referendum result. The thinking was, he felt, that the only way to fight the SNP march was by trying to act as though we were an entirely autonomous party, just like them, with no interfering Westminster Labour hand on the tiller. This would, the thesis went, allow us to claim that we were as grassroots Scottish as any nationalist party, with equally appealing anti-austerity policies.

We both knew that this approach was nonsense. Perhaps Scottish Labour might like a bit of autonomy, but they’d still like the £3m funding that flows north from UK party coffers every year. And as for anti-SNP austerity policies: they don’t exist. Instead, the SNP is pushing through £500m of cuts in essential social services.

What’s working down south, in drawing voters back from protest votes for the likes of UKIP, are Jeremy Corbyn’s sensible socialist policies, like opposing TTIP; opposing bombing Syria without any long term strategy; stopping George Osborne’s attempts to cut tax credits for working families; supporting the junior doctors; stopping export of prison services to the brutal Saudi regime. These are the policies which Scottish Labour’s Spring conference should have been praising from the rooftops – along with its own excellent penny tax on the better off to restore educational attainment and protect children’s services, its pledge to ban fracking, and its support for integrated sustainable public transport.

Instead, speaker after speaker lined up to praise only Kezia Dugdale – certainly a worthy leader in socialist Labour’s British-wide struggle. A former UK minister was allowed to speak un-interrupted for over 30 minutes on staying in Europe without making one single mention of loyalty or support for the party’s landslide-elected leader. Another MSP in the hall had just invited the toxic personality of Alastair Campbell to launch his Holyrood campaign – effectively holding up two fingers to his Labour constituents who were appalled by the duplicity and illegality of Campbell’s propaganda triumph, the Iraq war. Those supporters will not forget a snub like that on May 5. It almost seemed as if some in the party are hoping to lose as badly as possible, in order to blame Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist policies for the result, and force a new leadership contest.

I hope they will be rudely surprised by Scottish voters, and those voting in Wales’s national assembly, London’s mayor and council, and English local councils. In last month’s Blackpool Bloomfield by-election for example, Labour increased its share by nearly 13% – and it’s been a similar story of recovery under Corbyn’s socialist Labour in Higher Blackley, Bolton and Chorley. I’ve been out on the doorsteps in Lothians and Fife, and something is in the air. It’s not massive, but something’s changing; many people said they were undecided; others said although they’d left Labour over the policies of the Blair years, they might now return.

Now, polls can be treacherous. And gut instincts can be wrong. But let’s throw ourselves into the last fortnight of campaigning with a positive message from a united and loyal party, and let’s appeal to the honesty and conscience of voters. They’ll know what’s right: #BOTHVOTESLABOUR

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