HISTORY tells us that there’s nothing those of the political left enjoy more than telling us that they are of the political left. Wearing the badge so often seems more important than participating.
To proclaim oneself as a left-winger is to tell the world that one is compassionate, selfless and wise, unlike everyone else, who is some kind of Tory or fascist.
In many ways, the nationalist party is the thing that it professes to despise
These days, in Scotland, it’s easier than ever before to declare a commitment to socialism; one can do so without even supporting a socialist party.
A great many of those, for example, who vote SNP would have us believe that theirs is a socialist choice, even though the party they favour is as centrist as Tony Blair’s New Labour ever was.
The SNP is the socialist choice because its supporters say it is, not because it is at all socialist in its politics.
This delusion has paid spectacular electoral dividends for the SNP as the party picks up support from those who believe – without the slightest shred of evidence – that it somehow encapsulates the values of a Labour Party that lost its way once it started winning elections in the 1990s.
In reality, the Scottish Nationalists transformed their fortunes by following the New Labour blueprint, as designed by Blair, Gordon Brown, and Peter Mandelson. In many ways, the party is the thing that it professes to despise.
Yet many supporters of the SNP – encouraged by the leadership – continue to play along with the nonsensical notion that it is a left-wing organisation. The facts that the SNP would slash corporation tax in an independent Scotland, that its flagship policies, such as the council tax freeze and free university tuition, are tailored to appeal to the affluent middle-classes, and that, after eight years in government, the party still shows no sign of wishing to use Holyrood’s tax-varying powers seem not to matter: the SNP continues to be regarded as the choice of the discerning leftie.
In order for it to cement its entirely bogus reputation as a party of the left, rather than of the centre, the SNP has devoted a great deal of time and rhetoric to the tragic story of how Labour lost its way.
The nationalist narrative – that Labour turned its back on the working classes – has an eager audience, pushing and shoving for a seat around Nicola Sturgeon’s campfire. Highlights of Sturgeon’s story include Labour goes to Iraq, and the curious case of cash for peerages. There is not, however, a single chapter about the redistribution of wealth.
In recent years, the nationalists have appealed to disaffected Labour voters that, if they wish to join a party that encapsulates the traditional values they believe their party has foregone in the pursuit of power, they should sign up with the SNP.
So successful has this approach been that the SNP has managed to persuade swathes of us that the traditions of nationalism and socialism, hitherto considered incompatible, are entirely simpatico.
But perhaps the nationalists’ claim to be a party of socialist ideals is about to take a hammering.
In one of the most entertaining and genuinely surprising developments of recent political history, Jeremy Corbyn has shifted from being a rank outsider to becoming the favourite to win the UK Labour leadership election. Like Sturgeon and her team, Corbyn talks a solid leftie game. Unlike them, he is a solid leftie, of the old and unreconstructed variety.
Whereas the SNP – despite their stated hatred of the man and all he stood for – learned from Blair, Corbyn genuinely despises his politics. His Labour Party would be traditionally socialist in word and deed.
Should Corbyn become leader of the opposition, Labour would have every right to describe itself as the natural home for those who believe the party lost its way during the Blair years. It would invite those who’d drifted away to “come home”.
Of course, this would not help Labour win power. Results in the most recent UK and Scottish elections show that the electorate prefers a stable, centre-ground government. But it would present the SNP with some difficulties in presentation.
Faced with a Labour Party promoting genuinely left-wing policies, such as the renationalisation of the railways and energy companies, how would the SNP maintain the pretence that it was truly a socialist organisation? How long could its supporters continue to persuade themselves that they were part of a left-wing movement rather than members of a nationalist one wearing a donkey jacket for show?
Surely the SNP couldn’t dismiss Labour under Corbyn as “Red Tories” could they?
And there is another factor in all of this which would put even more pressure on the SNP to be the left-wing party it claims to be (and to reap the consequences). The Scotland Act is soon to transfer greater powers over taxes to Holyrood. The SNP will have more power than any previous administration at the Scottish Parliament to raise the money spent on public services.
A Corbyn-led Labour Party would, it’s surely safe to assume, have no problem pushing for higher taxes for the better-off.
Of course, as Corbyn would be leader of the opposition, he’d have no power to do anything about this. The SNP, however, would have the power to deliver a more progressive, socialist tax regime that actually achieved some good, old-fashioned left-wing redistribution.
Would Sturgeon, clearly outflanked on the left by Corbyn, suddenly do something about the disconnect between reality and SNP rhetoric?
It’s highly unlikely, because the nationalists, for all their passionate language about fairness and fighting for the ordinary person, know full well that they are in power now not because Scotland demanded a more left-wing government but because it wanted a competent one.
If Corbyn becomes the next Labour leader, the chances of him winning a general election seem less than slender. But his victory would expose the truth that the SNP is not of the left, regardless of what it might claim. «