Kenny MacAskill: Lexit is as damaging as Brexit, and its proponents are equally deluded
Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to Scotland this week raises as many questions as it answers. For sure, he had a good general election confounding critics, and rumours of Labour’s death north of the Border were scotched by him. However, they’re the alternative government, yet knowing what the Labour Party in Scotland stands for is difficult to fathom; and on Brexit, the most important issue of our time, their position remains obscure.
Carwyn James, Welsh Labour First Minister has just departed from meeting Nicola Sturgeon. Both opposed Brexit and are now working to mitigate hardship that’s going to be caused by it. Labour’s position on Brexit varies from day to day, depending on which spokesperson is responding.
Yet Corbyn arrives as a supporter of Lexit – the abbreviation given for those on the political left seeking to the leave the EU, akin almost to the hard Brexit sought by the Conservative right, and even Ukip. As in other areas of policy, it appears that the far left and the far right can converge.
Labour campaigned to remain, and in Scotland both Kezia Dugdale and Ian Murray have been outspoken on aspects such as the single market or the customs union. Yet Corbyn led Labour during the EU referendum and whilst ostensibly campaigning to Remain, he was lacklustre and far from dynamic.
In many ways, he was akin to Prime Minister Theresa May who pledged loyalty to David Cameron and stated she was for remain but sat on her hands and allowed him to hang. Corbyn was likewise, publicly for staying but it would appear privately for going. His energy in the referendum contrasted with the momentum he generated during the general election. He was as invisible then, as he’s been high profile since.
It appears that Lexit is the position of the Labour leadership in the UK, with both Corbyn and his sidekick John McDonnell in favour of it. Both have a background in the left of the Labour Party where suspicion, if not outright hostility to the EU, has been as marked, as on the right in the Conservatives. As with their opponents across the Westminster benches, they nursed their wrath and waited. When opportunity arose their commitment to their long-held political beliefs proved greater than their loyalty to their party’s policy position.
Now, I consider myself of the left and indeed have both defended Corbyn on some issues and supported him on others. It’s ironic that many of the positions that have proven most popular for him south of the Border have already been implemented by the SNP Government that he’s sallying north to attack.
However, I have never understood the antipathy of some on the British left to the European Union. Yet it’s been as marked as that on the right, and now appears emboldened under Corbyn. It doesn’t appear reflective of the wider Scottish Labour Party nor of the electorate in either Scotland or his native London, both of which voted overwhelmingly to remain.
It’s not that the EU doesn’t have issues that need addressed. I was never persuaded by the unalloyed acceptance of it by the SNP and found it hard to rustle up enthusiasm for it during the referendum campaign. I found myself voting for it, for what it might be, as well as against the social and economic consequences of leaving it.
That was reflective not just of David Cameron’s folly in calling the referendum but in the actions of the institution over recent years. That’s not just the historical issues over fishing where most of the blame can be laid at the door of appalling British representation – the dreadful treatment of the Greek people by the Troika appalled me. The need for a social union seemed to have been forgotten, within the economic zone.
But still I voted remain. Not just because of what it has done in breaking down historical barriers and bringing peace to the continent. The EU and the soft sell, not Nato and its military muscle, have gelled the continent. Significant progress has been made on workers’ rights and environmental protection. More importantly in a global world it offers an alternative to the free market capitalism of America or the state repression of China.
However Lexiteers, like Brexiteers, have another view of the world. The latter see Britain trading globally as some South Asian entrepot sited in the northern hemisphere and the former view it as some socialist bastion fending off globalisation. Both are deluded. Power blocs exist and trading zones and like-minded political allies are required. Moreover, tackling the major issues whether migration or terrorism, the economy or the environment all require co-operation especially with our neighbours and more importantly with like-minded people. The EU is not perfect but it can be made better. For sure, the once-large parties of the left in Europe have, in the main, collapsed but they can come again. It’s noticeable that almost all main left figures in Europe, including in Greece, oppose Lexit, Corbyn’s policy to them being more British nationalist than European socialist. In the interim, I’d rather take my chances with those who support liberal democracy than with what’s happening in the other major power blocs.
So when Corbyn departs, the question “what is the Labour Party in Scotland?’ remains unanswered. Are they for staying in the single market as Kezia Dugdale wishes, or for leaving as Corbyn seems set? Moreover, what is their policy on nuclear weapons when Dugdale supports their retention but Scottish Labour demands their removal, and yet Corbyn opposes them himself, but the British Labour Party is for maintaining them.
What will become clear is that Lexit is as damaging as Brexit, and their proponents are equally deluded.