The entrance of Boris Johnson into 10 Downing Street, and the new PM’s threat to push through a no-deal Brexit, have put the question of Scottish independence firmly back on the agenda.
A recent poll by Tory Lord Ashcroft (from 5th August), for example, found that a majority of voters north of the border now support the call for a second independence referendum. And 52% of those polled indicated they would say ‘YES’ to independence in such a plebiscite.
Following these findings, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell ruffled the feathers of others in party by announcing that a future Labour government would not stand in the way of allowing an ‘IndyRef2’ to take place.
“It’s not up to parliament to block it,” remarked the Labour leader when questioned by the BBC last week.
Corbyn’s assertion came on the back of earlier comments made by McDonnell. Speaking to an audience at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the shadow chancellor stated that Labour should not be “into blocking democratic exercises by any means”.
"We would not block something like that,” McDonnell assured the crowd. “We would let the Scottish people decide. That's democracy.”
These statements quickly provoked an irate response from leading figures in the Scottish Labour Party, however.
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, who won his position on a Corbynista ticket, reacted by claiming that “the 2014 referendum was a once-in-a-generation vote”. Apparently the same is not true of the 2016 EU referendum, however, given that Leonard has committed Scottish Labour to support a ‘People’s Vote’ and a Remain option in relation to Brexit.
Elsewhere, Ian Murray, the right-wing Labour MP for Edinburgh South and outspoken Corbyn critic, blurted out that: “As the Tories threaten our place in Europe, we do not believe the answer to nationalism is more nationalism.”
Of course, wannabee-Machiavelli Tom Watson also took the opportunity to stick his oar in as well, stating categorically (in a specially-produced video for social media) that “another independence referendum isn't the answer”.
Leaving the UK would turbo-charge austerity in Scotland with the inevitable threat to 1000s of jobs. More nationalism, uncertainty, and division isn’t the answer. We need to reassert shared values of fairness and respect, and remember we can achieve far more together than apart. pic.twitter.com/2vmkQsLo3e— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) August 11, 2019
“More nationalism, more uncertainty, and more division isn't the answer," added the Blairite deputy leader of the Labour Party - conveniently failing to mention that he is leading the charge to divide the country along Leave-Remain lines with the campaign for a second EU referendum.
And similar charges were levelled by former prime minister Gordon Brown, who accused the current Labour leadership of falling into the “nationalist trap”.
History repeats itself
Those in the Labour Party who continue to threaten to stand in the way of an IndyRef2 are like the Bourbon monarchs of old: they have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.
It was precisely by getting into bed with the Tories and Lib-Dems during the ‘NO’ campaign in 2014 that Scottish Labour ended up digging their own graves. For many workers and youth in Scotland, this class collaboration was seen as the final straw, following on from years of complacency, arrogancy, and neglect from the Blairite grandees in Holyrood and Westminster.
Labour has effectively been reduced to a rump in Scotland ever since the first independence vote, sidelined by an SNP that has largely outflanked Scottish Labour on the left. Sideling up to the Conservatives and Liberals, denying a second independence referendum, and banging the drum once again in defence of the Union, would surely be the final nail in the coffin.
What Brown, Murray and the rest repeatedly fail to understand is that support for Scottish independence is not based on some sort of crude Saltire-waving nationalism. Rather, it is based on an anger towards the Tories, the Westminster establishment, and the failed status quo of capitalist austerity and inequality.
By denying the right of self-determination for Scotland, individuals like Murray and Leonard are inadvertently giving tacit support to a much more reactionary force: that of St-George’s-Cross-waving English nationalism.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon showed that she has a far more astute assessment of the situation than Watson, Brown and co. when she tweeted that:
“John McDonnell’s position on IndyRef2 is a statement of basic democracy - but given poll showing 40% of Labour voters support independence it also makes political sense. Scottish Labour’s reaction goes some way to explaining the existential crisis they face.”
John McDonnell’s position on #indyre2 is a statement of basic democracy - but given poll showing 40% of Labour voters support independence it also makes political sense. @scottishlabour reaction goes some way to explaining the existential crisis they face.— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) August 6, 2019
In the coming weeks, as the Brexit deadline approaches and the possibility of a general election rises, Sturgeon will no doubt find herself under pressure to support a Labour government in Westminster, in order to keep out Boris and the Tories. The demand for a second Scottish referendum may well be the price asked of the Labour leadership for such an arrangement.
Corbyn and McDonnell are 100% correct to stand their ground in the face of the protestations from the Labour right wing, and to reaffirm that a Corbyn Labour government would support any request from Holyrood for a second independence referendum.
The Labour leadership’s recent statements are a welcome break from the past, and a step in the right direction. The right for the Scottish nation to decide its future is a basic democratic right - one which must be supported by all socialists.