Jeremy Corbyn should realise that forcing a general election could backfire on Labour – he just needs to look at the landslide SNP victory in 2015 after defeat in the independence referendum the year before, writes Paris Gourtsoyannis.
Opening the debate on his motion of no confidence in the UK Government, Jeremy Corbyn offered his sympathies to Bernie from Bute.
The fictional islander had it even worse than Brenda from Bristol, who famously spoke for the nation by greeting the 2017 general election with the cry of: “Not another one!”
She had nothing to complain about compared with her Scottish cousin: Bernie has seen two referendums, three national elections and one council vote in the space of five years. Pipe down, Brenda.
Corbyn’s conclusion is that both of them should get over it. Labour’s preferred solution to the Brexit deadlock is a general election. Push Theresa May from power and the UK’s political paralysis will be solved, like freeing a trapped nerve.
But if Corbyn had asked Bernie what he thought, rather than telling him what was good for him, the Labour leader might have picked up some west coast wisdom. Because Bernie knows what happens when you hold a first-past-the-post election about a binary issue amid maximum national division.
The 2015 general election didn’t so much happen in Scotland as Scotland happened to the election. It became the postscript to the independence referendum campaign, with the SNP energised by a huge membership and a new leader, and fuelled by the outrage at David Cameron’s response to the result.
Scotland spilled over into the UK-wide campaign with Conservative billboards that put Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket. Despite the defeat in the independence referendum, nationalists took full advantage of Scotland still being at the centre of attention. The question for voters ceased to be which party they supported, but who would speak up for Scotland the loudest.
Despite the fact that it came less than a year after the Brexit referendum result, the 2017 general election was tame by comparison. Voters will make elections about what they want to make them about. In 2017, before words like ‘backstop’ and ‘customs union’ were part of the daily vocabulary on the six o’clock news, voters wanted to hear about anything but Brexit.
Theresa May launched an election campaign to restore national honour after Brussels bureaucrats were nasty to her in a German newspaper about a dinner she had with EU chiefs. Alongside a cursed manifesto, her promise to be strong and stable in talks with the EU tanked.
Brexit was already the biggest thing on people’s minds in 2017, and voters still took away Theresa May’s majority. According to the latest YouGov tracker of the most important issues facing the country, the economy, immigration, health and housing have all fallen back as causes of concern since then. Brexit looms even larger, while voters overwhelmingly believe the country is in crisis and its politicians are failures. Pour that toxic mixture over the UK’s constituency map, which broke two-thirds in favour of Leave, and the result could be the opposite of the one Corbyn is hoping for.
Labour, which has yet to decide how it would pitch its Brexit policy to a divided supporter base, would have its contradictions ruthlessly exploited. May remains more popular than Corbyn for the job of Prime Minister – even though both trail behind the option of ‘someone else’.
The damage would be worst in Scotland – polling suggests the party would be squeezed between the SNP and the Tories and nearly wiped out, again. Once in the same decade is misfortune, twice is carelessness.
What would the campaign look like on the ground? The shouting men in yellow vests that currently surround my workplace on a regular basis would soon appear around yours, on your high street.
That’s not even a new phenomenon in Scotland – but in 2015, it tended only to follow Jim Murphy and his Irn Bru crates. Now the whole of the UK could enjoy civic and joyous nationalism.
Some have made the dangerous suggestion that parliament be suspended so Brexit can be imposed. A general election would do the same thing, eating up six weeks of precious time. The lesson from 2015 should be to leave Bernie alone. He can’t fix it for you anyway.