Most of us probably don’t really want to go back over the whole Twitter debate on Yes supporters lending their vote to the Labour party. However a piece in today’s Sunday Herald makes a few points that I think merit response. But let’s get a few things out of the way first.
We just had a general election where virtually the whole of the media and every political party outside of the SNP, characterised the SNP vote as a direct and complete measure of support for a second independence referendum. As such, we all knew that any loss in support would be cited as clear evidence that Scots don’t want a referendum at the end of the Brexit process.
This is a referendum that our parliament has already voted by majority to hold, but were refused the necessary cooperation from the UK government, on the grounds that there isn’t enough evidence that Scots want it.
Parliamentary majorities are always how democracies express the will of the people, but the Tories have clearly decided that in Scotland, as long as that majority will is to their displeasure and they have the power to do so, they will overrule the expressed will of the people. And of course they’re aided in this undemocratic contempt by the other unionist parties and indeed by a compliant (virtually useless) Scottish media, that largely trips over itself to cheer Theresa May on.
Indeed we are in undemocratic and unprecedented times in Scotland, but we’re also in a very clear position politically to anyone paying attention. Unionists will use whatever they can to fight against Scots having a choice on our future in the face of being pulled out the EU against our will (or indeed against a referendum on any grounds). And all three unionist parties stood on a ticket of using their general election votes to validate *subverting the demonstrated will of the Scottish people via the Scottish parliament* regarding Scotref.
So however someone voted in the general election, if they are Yes supporters and voted for one of the unionist parties, they knew that their vote could contribute to delaying, or possibly even preventing, our referendum. This was 100% clear before the election and has held up since; as a result of the SNP losing seats to unionist parties, legislation to move forward with Scotref has been delayed, thus undoubtedly delaying the eventual vote, perhaps by some time.
This is of course also down to the SNP vote not turning out as it had in 2015, but 2015 was a miraculous result that was always going to be next to impossible to duplicate, not least in the face of an election on the back of a Brexit vote where a pro-EU SNP found a third of its voters voting to leave the EU. But whatever the reasons for the lower turnout of the SNP vote, the point remains that anyone who wants a referendum at the end of the Brexit process and voted for a unionist party, knew that their vote would threaten the referendum itself and indeed that at the very least has resulted in delaying it.
With that said, it is also clear that for many Yes supporters independence won’t have been the only consideration in how to vote in the general election. There are members and supporters of all three of Scotland’s unionist parties who are Yes supporters. This is a great thing for our movement, in that the best way for us to win is of course to not only have as much support as possible, but also to have support across as many parties as possible. Many of these voters wanted to support the party they are part of/support politically, and as much as they want independence they didn’t want to lend their vote to a different party at the general election.
This is entirely understandable and I certainly don’t criticise it; yes it is a position that makes independence harder to achieve in the current political reality, but for those whose political home has been elsewhere I don’t think it’s fair to expect they put all of that aside to lend their vote to a party whose policies they don’t support, and further I think any kind of pressure to get people to do so is just counter-productive. Of course we can try to convince people to vote differently, that’s just campaigning, but I don’t think there is any basis for criticism personally.
It’s a different scenario though for those Yes supporters who decided to *lend their vote* to a unionist party in the general election. The basis is entirely different; when there’s no party affiliation and when the issue isn’t opposition to SNP policy, and perhaps most importantly when a case is made for such a position, it’s then certainly open to criticism.
Taking on board that a unionist vote in this election was very clearly a vote that would work against Scotref, and as I say it demonstrably has, there is no way that any honest person can assert that the general election had nothing to do with Scotland’s independence referendum. It really is utterly disingenuous to argue this. Indeed any honest appraisal would accept that the UK general election result has predictably and directly led to a delay in our independence vote and thus, likely, our eventual independence. An honest position would simply endeavour to argue why lending ones vote to a unionist party in these circumstances was still worth it.
This is where the argument that voting for Corbyn was some kind of powerful, anti-tribal, radical, superior nat move comes in. And it’s a position that totally falls apart under any real scrutiny.
Firstly we have the idea that Corbyn somehow better encapsulates the radical vision of the indy left than the SNP does, so for those who were lending their vote to another party (like for eg, those in Rise) Corbyn was a natural go-to. It’s hard to know where to begin with this one.
Firstly, the SNP’s manifesto for the general election was to the left of Corbyn’s. While the SNP cannot stand for UK government, their seats can count towards a Labour majority and they therefore have a chance to influence the policy of any Labour government they prop up. The SNP put forward an anti-austerity manifesto every bit as progressive as Labour’s on every issue/area (and indeed much of Labour’s manifesto committed to policies the SNP has already implemented in Scotland) except for several areas where the SNP are far more progressive than Labour. And this isn’t just the areas we’re all well aware of, such as Trident, electoral reform and immigration. The area the SNP are most to Corbyn’s left on is in fact one of the most important areas for addressing poverty in the UK, and that is of course welfare.
The SNP pledged in their manifesto that the two child cap should be scrapped, that Universal Credit roll-out should be halted to prevent further cuts, and that the benefits freeze should be lifted. Conversely the Labour manifesto only commits to ending the rape clause and long wait times for receipt of Universal Credit. Indeed the Resolution Foundation confirms that Labour’s manifesto would only reverse a quarter of the cuts from/still to come from these policies. Conversely the SNP’s manifesto pledges would reverse/prevent 100% of those billions worth of cuts. Incidentally the SNP manifesto also argues for reinstatement of the Work Allowance, and while Labour mention it, they make no commitment to its reinstatement, such is their weakness in this whole area.
And when we look at Labour’s performance at Westminster under Corbyn, it isn’t any better. While the SNP voted against the IP Bill, Labour voted for it; while the SNP voted for the Greens’ PR and Electoral Reform Bill, Labour abstained; while the SNP refuse to take part in the House of Lords, Labour are still adding peers; while the SNP have a principled opposition to Trident, Labour supports it; and while the SNP vote against welfare cuts at every opportunity, Corbyn’s Labour abstain on PiP cuts.
Labour in government is worse still. While the SNP have mitigated the bedroom tax, housing benefit cuts for 18-21 year olds, and lifted the public sector pay cap, the Welsh government have mitigated/reversed none of these austerity policies. All while Corbyn accuses the SNP of being a ‘conveyor belt for austerity’ no less (just another example of how Labour rhetoric tends to depart from reality). The SNP have also managed to implement universal policies such as free prescriptions and free tuition fees, while Labour still essentially tax the sick and despite saying they would look into scrapping tuition fees have instead decided to raise them (!). While the SNP move forward with policies on everything from land reform to rent controls and baby boxes, Labour again offers nothing. Our public services do better too. The SNP have also invested in Our Power, a non-shareholder energy company run by social housing providers who invest profits into local communities. I could go on…
Therefore, on every measure, Labour fails to even match the SNP, let alone surpass the party. Thus those who voted for Cobryn in an effort to give Labour a majority would only have ensured that Corbyn, if he had won, was positioned to be less radical than he would have had to be if he needed SNP support. There is just no argument here, the SNP would have been pulling Labour to the left on several major issues. A Labour majority would also have ensured that Corbyn wouldn’t have had to compromise with the SNP on Scotref or indeed on any other matter important to Scotland’s left, as the SNP would have had no leverage at all. Furthermore, if voting Corbyn was meant as any kind of attempt to influence the SNP, it could only rationally be an attempt to pull the SNP to the right on many important policy areas and to make sure they remain where they are on everything else. Thank goodness the SNP won’t become less progressive (or indeed support a hard Brexit).
So any contention that Corbyn is the radical option for Yes supporters who live in Scotland and have the choice of voting for the SNP just isn’t rooted in the political reality. Such a vote is neither the most radical vote and nor is it some kind of superior nat position by virtue of the fact it isn’t a vote for the SNP. It is, however, an option for those who are happy to delay independence and to vote for a less progressive party because they want a hard Brexit. Indeed the polls in the days before the election were largely within the margin of error, and for those who thought Labour could win and who wanted a kind of socialist-isolationist hard Brexit (a hard Brexit the SNP are fervently against) there would have been an appeal.
Certainly the only big picture not being sacrificed in voting for Corbyn in these conditions, and indeed the only clear motivation, is that of wanting and ensuring Scotland is pulled out of the EU. And as for Corbyn changing the dynamic, all he has done is offer Scots who value an isolationist, socialist vision for Scotland, a party to vote for that will endeavour to offer them that, albeit within the UK. It’s not difficult to see that a substantial portion of the Risey left view a hard Brexit as the first step in the right direction, and would rather independence is delayed so we leave and stay out of the EU.
It should be clear if it wasn’t already that there is absolutely nothing wrong in criticising the contentions we’ve seen around this whole issue. Each one of us votes as we choose of course, but when we choose to make a case for lending our vote to a particular party in the kinds of circumstances outlined, we should surely realise that the case we make is not only open to criticism, but insofar as we have the power to influence the votes and thinking of others, we should expect and embrace the predictable and utterly valid ensuing debate. However what we largely see in place of this kind of common sense, tolerance and humility, is many of those on the radical left with platforms in the movement demanding that everyone else shut up, with those who aren’t prominent names (or heaven forbid, anonymous) invariably accused of being trolls who haven’t, and couldn’t, contribute as much as them.
However the reality is that those with platforms have just as much opportunity to turn people off our cause as they do to turn people to Yes. I have other working class friends who remained engaged after indyref only to find themselves facing a barrage of hostility in the lead up to the 2016 Holyrood elections from the Risey left online, and as a result were turned off politics for good. Indeed the vitriol of this group has been the worst part of the Yes movement for many of us. Criticism of the SNP is important, indeed there are plenty who do this rather well, like Robin Mc Alpine, Pat Kane and Lesley Riddoch – all three largely embraced by all parts of the movement. But it hasn’t been about criticism, it has rather been a combination of efforts to misrepresent the SNP while attacking SNP supporters and activists for not being true lefties, claiming a kind of ideological purity that was then used as a stick to beat other Yes supporters. There was only one way to be progressive and theirs was it. And it wasn’t just SNP supporters who felt it. A blog not long after the Holyrood election, written by someone in the SSP, complained about the vitriol and tactics of Rise as a collective. The point being, the assumption of ideological superiority is not only deeply delusional among those who genuinely want a fair society, but tends to lead to alienating intolerance and thus is deeply damaging and off-putting to many.
It’s the same kind of notions of superiority that’s behind claims that voting for Corbyn is about rising above most other Yessers. It’s also the same kind of superiority that’s behind the intolerance to criticism that we’re seeing more and more, tied in of course with the belief that those who have managed to gain elevation within the Yes movement (and all the personal gain that comes with it) work harder than the rest of us and are worth much more to our cause. The truth is that those who plough on without benefit or recognition, who have zero personal gain but put in what they can whenever they can, are worth so much to our movement and probably do a lot less damage. I’ve certainly found those with platforms to generally be much more alienating than those without them. And I’m not alone in that.
Independence is a means to an end for all of us. And that end is so much more necessary for many of us whose lives have been so very damaged by UK government. Anyone who can’t understand why those who want to challenge that which they feel damages our chances, knows a luxury those they try to belittle and silence most likely don’t. I suggest to those demanding that people stop engaging critically with what’s most important to them and that therein they devalue their own voice and contribution, instead engage with the arguments people make. Or not. What is offensive to me is the idea that certain people’s politics should be unquestionable. None of us are surely so bereft in our understanding to really think so.