Labour party’s mixed signals about a second Scottish independence referendum adds to its confused message on Brexit.
“Oh Jeremy Corbyn” is a chant used mainly by his younger, more enthusiastic supporters. However, it is possible to use it in a different sense, as in “oh dear, Jeremy Corbyn”.
Labour’s Brexit fudge – promising a second referendum but, for the moment, backing neither remain or leave – is a problem when trying to persuade people on one side or the other of this great debate to vote for them, but this is made worse in Scotland by another fudge flavour. Labour party’s mixed signals about a second Scottish independence referendum adds to its confused message on Brexit.
On a visit to Scotland, the Labour leader told reporters that, if elected to power, his government would not back a referendum on Scottish independence in its “first term” in office because “I think we need to concentrate completely” on investment.
That would have ruled out indyref2 until 2025 at the earliest, but Corbyn later backtracked, saying only that a new vote would not be a priority in a Labour government’s “early years”. Party advisers added that an SNP victory in the 2021 Holyrood election could be key to their decision.
So, in the space of a few hours, Labour went from Boris Johnson-esque outright opposition to a reluctant-sounding maybe. Was there a call from an angry Nicola Sturgeon aide warning Labour could forget about a “confidence and supply” agreement in the Commons to prop up a minority Corbyn-led administration?
Whatever happened to produce this near U-turn, it suggests Labour does not have a strong opinion on the subject and that’s an absolutely terrible look.
If there’s one thing that we know about politics in Scotland, it’s that Brexit and independence are subjects that arouse strong opinions on all sides.
It is extraordinary to think that Labour won 41 out of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats just nine years ago. It now has seven seats but just nine per cent of voters backed the party at the European elections in May.
Politics should be about more than just constitutional issues and Labour has been trying hard to attack its rivals on other issues, but polls suggest this has been making little impact on the electorate.
A YouGov survey at the end of last month put the party on 12 per cent in Scotland, which would be its worst general election result for a century.
Labour supporters no doubt hope to weather these constitutional storms, but when the winds die down, they may find there’s little left of what has been a most powerful political force in Scotland for decades. “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” indeed.