Today on my first full day back in Scotland (and only my fourth day in the UK in the past 8 weeks) I went to Jeremy Corbyn’s rally in Edinburgh. I have shared platforms with Jeremy, particularly for Stop the War, fairly frequently and had a number of conversations and email exchanges, but I would not claim to be a friend. I have the impression he is quite a private man.
I was impressed by Jeremy’s talk and by the energy in the room. Jeremy was at his strongest when referring to the need for basic human decency and respect in our treatment of those in need for aid from the state, including the homeless and refugees. His basic human empathy and compassion really shone through. He was contemptuous of austerity, marketisation and the neoliberal consensus. His denunciation of Iraq and of Trident galvanised the room. He can talk with a genuine moral authority. He is certainly not a great orator, but sincere and fluent.
All that you already know. But what to me was really interesting was the lack of focus on Scotland. Many (including I think Iain MacWhirter from a brief conversation afterwards) interpreted this as lack of interest in Scotland. I read it very differently.
Despite being surrounded by the most tribal of Labour cliques (including Katie Clark and Neil Findlay on the platform) Jeremy Corbyn said not one word – not one word – in favour of the union. His only mention of the SNP (not by name) was complimentary, in reference to their opposition to Osborne’s welfare cuts. He contrasted this with strong condemnation of the Labour establishment’s failure to oppose the welfare cuts. He then went on to call for united opposition across parties at Westminster, and suggested it would be great if working with other parties and a few Tory rebels, the first act of a reinvigorated opposition would be to halt the benefit cuts which would so damage the vulnerable. In short, Corbyn was plainly taking the hand proffered by Mhairi Black.
In looking for votes from Scottish Labour, I am not surprised nor concerned that Corbyn did not refer by name to cooperation with the SNP, but he could have meant nothing else.
Jeremy has for his political life been a strong advocate of a united Ireland and a doughty campaigner against the injustices heaped upon Republicans by the state. He is in no sense a unionist. He is certainly not a British nationalist. Doubtless he would prefer a left wing Scotland to help forge a socialist state within the United Kingdom, but I have no doubt whatsoever that he respects those of us who see Scottish independence as the same anti-Imperial struggle that motivates Irish republicanism.
In short, I am hopeful that a Corbyn leadership will moderate the tribal hatred between Labour and SNP which poisons Scottish politics. Whatever else you may think of Jeremy, he certainly is not a Red Tory. Whether he will be able to clear out the Red Tories who control Scottish Labour is a fascinating question. But I must say, that I am deeply saddened by some of the partisan attacks on Jeremy by fellow SNP members which I see online. Jeremy Corbyn is a good man. In the fight to end the obscenity of the extreme and burgeoning gap between rich and poor, to counter the dwindling of public provision and public ownership, Corbyn is on the side of the angels. As we would put it when I was young, we are on the same side of the barricade.
I still believe Scottish independence remains the key to social regeneration, and indeed had not the SNP shown you can defeat the neo-liberal consensus electorally, then the Corbyn phenomenon would never have happened. But I still claim Jeremy as my comrade, and am proud to do so.