The Corbyn Effect

Liam Burns – Maryhill and Springburn Youth Officer and Scottish Labour Young Socialists

Enthusiasm, forward momentum and success are not things the Labour Party in Scotland has been familiar with for a long time, and given the depressing situation the Party finds itself in, they are desperately needed. It should be good news to all in Scottish Labour then that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign has all these things; in addition to the necessary politics required to give the party a fighting chance of dealing with the big problems it faces: reconnecting with its traditional working class caucus and engaging a new generation of people seeking to help build fairer society.

In every metric that has so far been made available, Jeremy is leading the contest. Already Corbyn’s campaign has the support of the largest number of Scottish CLPs and among many of those where another candidate was nominated, Corbyn has been the runner up. Campaign phone canvassing has found support for Jeremy is consistently strong amongst members, and there’s very little indication that the large numbers of new members and supporters signing up will be voting for a candidate other than Jeremy.  Rallies, social media and polls have all shown Jeremy’s support. The appetite for Jeremy’s candidacy in Scotland is just as big as has been seen elsewhere: within half an hour of being publicised, tickets for Jeremy’s campaign visit to Glasgow “sold out”, and a bigger venue had to be found, which of course, “sold out” too. Similar events have followed the same pattern in Dundee and Edinburgh.

Despite the hysterical reaction in the media and amongst some Labour commentators, what Jeremy’s candidacy represents isn’t seen dangerously radical or a retreat to a comfort zone: it’s desperately needed, nowhere more than in Scotland. Jeremy’s stance against austerity and his commitment to bring vital industries back into public hands would not only help to make our society more equal but also reconcile the Labour party in Scotland with constituency and its purpose.

Labour has been struggling for more than a decade and this can make the issues faced complex, but they can be largely understood as a reaction against Labour’s concessions to neoliberal doctrines in the 90s. Though there were some distributive successes of the 97-10 Labour administrations, the failure to reverse the Tory deindustrialisation and workplace disorganisation was the start of a process that ended with Labour timidly accepting the argument for austerity and misguidedly campaigning with the Tories during the referendum. The warning signs were there as throughout this period turnouts declined and Labour slumped.

This sorry scenario is exacerbated by the idiosyncrasies of the Scottish political environment and made apparent by an ostensibly safe alternative in the eyes of the working class and some on the left: the SNP. The SNP have deployed leftist arguments and an anti austerity position in their battles with Labour, as well as their traditional nationalist narratives. Their successes continued in the recent council by-elections triggered by SNP overachievement in May, with more than 20% swings from Labour to the SNP the pattern.

Yet for all the success and grandstanding, there’s little to be seen in practice from the SNP. Their top priority remains Scottish independence, not an equal society. Instead of increasing tax on those who can bear it, the SNP has frozen council tax, to the benefit of middle and high incomes families but to the detriment of the poor who rely on the council services that must be cut to uphold this freeze. In putting Scottish public services out to tender they have continued with the PFI agenda that helped to put the Labour Party in the muddy political terrain it is in just now. Their commitment to Full Fiscal Austerity and corporation tax cuts once they are available not only indicates a fiscal policy at odds with socialist principles but also with economic reality. Even their position on austerity was similar to Labour’s at the 2015 election: cut little less over a little longer.

Labour in Scotland needs to challenge this situation by realigning itself with its core purpose, giving it legitimacy in the eyes of the working class once more and the ability to frame the debate in Scotland that revolves around the same key issue as elsewhere in Europe: the approach to austerity. Austerity inhibits the future; the decline of the state and transfer of wealth toward the rich increases inequality and reduces the ability of people to look forward to some kind of stable and desirable future. Zero hours and short-term contracts, unorganised unskilled workplaces and a market that favours employers have caused wages to depreciate continuously since the 70s. Debt hangs over the head not only of those who want to go to university, but those who want to start a family, learn to drive or have a roof over their head. It’s a deeply alienating reality and Labour should be at the forefront of challenging it but to do this it needs to reassert the core values that made it the political force it once was. This is what Jeremy’s campaign is all about, why it is popular and why it must succeed.

This article originally appeared in September's issue of Labour Briefing.