Richard Leonard: Don’t fall for nationalism of Boris or SNP

It is possible to create a truly democratic society with publicly owned services and a real distribution of wealth and power, so don’t be drawn towards the competing nationalisms of the SNP and Boris Johnson, writes Richard Leonard.

It has always been my firm belief that politics is not a game. That, at its best, it resolves the great economic, social, sometimes moral, questions we face.

That is why the installation of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister last week is ringing alarm bells. It is not just that the predominant character trait of Johnson is to present himself as a bumbling old Etonian fool. Ignore the bluster and the arm waving, the power he now wields must not be underestimated. Just consider his Cabinet appointments. Nor is it simply that his mandate is the product of little over 92,000 votes: some single Westminster parliamentary constituencies are bigger.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

What is most alarming is that the mandate from his party, which the new Prime Minister believes that he has now got from the country, is founded on a plan to withdraw from the European Union, in 93 days’ time, without any deal.

Boris Johnsons dangerous form of English nationalism is backed by some Scottish Tories, says Richard Leonard (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnsons dangerous form of English nationalism is backed by some Scottish Tories, says Richard Leonard (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnsons dangerous form of English nationalism is backed by some Scottish Tories, says Richard Leonard (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

For the avoidance of doubt, a no-deal Brexit means a hard border between the North and South of Ireland, and so seriously setting back the peace process which Labour in government advanced and which the people have delivered.

Read More
Scottish independence: Alister Jack vows to fight calls for IndyRef2 ‘with all o...

It means a return to a world in which your passport and the place where you were born becomes important again, with an immediate end to the freedom of movement of people.

It means no right of access to the Single European Market for goods and services and the certain imposition of tariff barriers. In fact, so concerned is the Confederation of British Industry by this prospect that it has been driven to warn us that “those who claim crashing out of the EU on World Trade Organisation rules is acceptable live in a world of fantasy where the facts are not allowed to challenge ideology”.

It is evident as well that by threatening a no-deal Brexit, Boris Johnson is staking all of our futures on a sweetheart trade deal with Donald Trump that would run the risk of the takeover of our NHS by US corporations. The 45th President of the United States has recently said on the record that talks about a “very substantial” trade deal with the UK are under way. People rightly fear that far from wanting to “take back control”, the new Prime Minister would effectively make us beholden to Trump’s America. We would become the 51st state. The beginning of a new golden age this may be for a few people at the top, but for many it looks like a future clouded by insecurity, hardship and less independence not more. Which is why I am convinced that we need an affirmatory vote by the people on the Brexit deal – and a Remain option on the ballot paper. And it is why, under all circumstances, I will campaign to remain and reform.

Famously while Johnson was the editor of The Spectator, he published a poem that described Scots as “tartan dwarves” who were “polluting our stock” and “undermining our economy” and suggested that the country faces “extermination”.

And he has claimed that after the creation of the Scottish Parliament, “government by a Scot is not conceivable”. He represents a dangerous form of English nationalism and his backing from the Tory Party’s grassroots and from parliamentarians alike – many from Scotland – is a clear signal of a widespread endorsement of this worldview.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

As a result, Scotland’s place in the UK and the very future of the shared state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has been plunged into a new uncertainty with the arrival of this new Prime Minister who, make no mistake, is backed by the Tory Party in Scotland.

Whilst it is true that Boris Johnson’s values do not reflect the values of the people of Scotland, neither do they reflect the values of the people of England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Which is why it is all the more important in these difficult times that communities do not turn inward but look outward, and work together to recognise our shared values and stand united in opposition to all manifestations of right-wing populism.

But it is not just Brexit, nationalism and servitude to Trump. Consider that Johnson spent his leadership campaign promising tax giveaways to the richest, and tax cuts to the biggest corporations. A classic promise of a redistribution of wealth which, at a time of growing poverty and rising inequality, is set in precisely the wrong direction.

It serves as an important reminder that the most important division in society is not one between Scotland and England, between the young and the old, between those people in work and those without it. The decisive dividing line is between those people who create the wealth and those who own it.

Labour vigorously opposes injustice, inequality and privilege. Aspiration shouldn’t be confused with materialism. Citizens should not be pigeon-holed as consumers. Of course, people have aspirations, but many of them are social and collective. The people I speak to day in and day out, understand that growing poverty and widening inequality diminishes us all. They want decent affordable housing, they are concerned about everything from the impact of climate change to the proliferation of zero-hours contracts — not for themselves, but for the next generation. They want public services like free education and healthcare accessible in their own communities. They know that we all lose in a poorer society.

There is an alternative to Boris Johnson’s nationalism, but it is not found in a retreat into Scottish nationalism. If we want to build a society based on an economy where there is real democracy, where public services are publicly owned and delivered, a society where there is a real redistribution, not just of wealth and income but of power too, it will be down to the election of Labour Governments in Holyrood and Westminster.

Which is why, now more than ever, we need a General Election. Because it bears the real prospect of the return of an alternative government: not just an alternative management team but a radical Labour government: one which will act with vision and use its powers and work with the people to resolve those big questions before us.

Richard Leonard is leader of the Scottish Labour Party.