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July 7, 2019

A Corbyn-Sturgeon alliance?


July 7, 2019

At the start of June, when he was still in the running to replace Theresa May as prime minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Conservative Party, Tory politician Michael Gove raised a nightmarish spectre for the British right.

At all costs, Britain must avoid falling into the grip of a “Jeremy Corbyn government propped up by Nicola Sturgeon and the [Scottish nationalists],” he warned. “That would mean Brexit was lost, the future of our Union at risk, and the levers of power handed to a Marxist.”

The Tories have used this imagery before, in an effort to animate the fears of revanchist Middle England. During the 2015 general election, David Cameron told voters that any governing pact agreed between Labour and the Scottish National Party (SNP), however conditional or short-lived, would produce a “coalition of chaos” at Westminster; a sharp jolt to the left resulting in “more taxes” and “unlimited borrowing.”

Ironically, as the fallout from the Brexit crisis rumbles on, Britain may be about to get exactly that.

In the event of another snap election, the rise of Nigel Farage’s hard line Brexit Party threatens to split the Tory base – a development that could leave Labour with the largest number of seats in the House of Commons, if somewhat shy of a majority. The SNP, meanwhile, looks set to return up to 50 MPs of its own, recovering much of the ground it lost at the last UK poll in 2017.

Faced with this parliamentary arithmetic, Jeremy Corbyn - as head of a minority administration in London - would have little choice but to cut a deal with the SNP, along with a handful of smaller parties, in order to implement key planks of his campaign platform.

Conservatives, of course, would find this scenario unbearable. The rest of the country might feel differently. With the exception of the green movement, Corbynism and Scottish nationalism represent the two most radical currents in the mainstream of British politics.

Corbynites want to transform the UK economy by shifting power away from corporate elites and redistributing it into the hands of working-class communities. Supporters of Scottish independence want to overhaul the British constitutional system by removing power from Westminster and, ultimately, ending the Anglo-Scottish union. Between them, Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon agree on a wide range of progressive policies.

Both oppose the unelected House of Lords and want to lower the UK-wide voting age from 18 to 16; both support increasing the minimum wage, repealing the Tories’ draconian anti-trade union legislation, and raising taxes on the ultra-rich; both are sympathetic to the Green New Deal and believe Britain is in the midst of a “climate emergency”; and both have campaigned against the renewal of Britain’s nuclear deterrent programme, Trident.

The major sticking point in negotiations between Corbyn and Sturgeon would be the SNP’s desire to stage a second referendum on Scottish independence. But Corbyn could circumvent this by offering to transfer the legislative authority necessary to hold such a vote to the devolved Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, with an agreement from Sturgeon that she wouldn’t use it immediately. In exchange, Sturgeon would instruct her MPs to back Corbyn’s far-reaching social and economic reforms when they were brought before parliament.

The results would be dramatic: for as long the agreement stood, the UK would experience one of the most ambitious periods of centre-left government in its history.

In line with proposals set out by Corbyn’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, Britain would see higher public investment and a new national infrastructure fund aimed at boosting the country’s most industrially-depressed regions; it would see the nationalisation of its dysfunctional rail network and energy grid; and it would see fresh taxes on asset wealth and a vastly empowered labour force.

In short, there would be a wholesale reordering of the UK’s economic landscape and an end to the free-market orthodoxy that has dominated Britain since the 1980s. There may even be scope for cooperation on Brexit. The SNP is staunchly opposed to the UK’s departure from the EU and favours a so-called “People’s Vote” in the hope of halting the process entirely; Corbyn is being dragged in that direction by Labour’s increasingly Remain-oriented grassroots membership.

Moreover, in 2017, Labour said it would develop plans to “federalise” the UK with the goal of reducing London’s economic and cultural dominance - an idea not at all incompatible with the SNP’s demands for a stronger and more expansive devolutionary settlement.

There are two obvious criticisms of this synopsis.

The first is that, by agreeing to work with Sturgeon, Corbyn would be undermining the chances of a Labour revival in Scotland. The second is that the success of the Corbyn project would make Scottish independence redundant: after all, why would Scots want to leave a revitalized leftwing UK?

Neither is very persuasive. Scottish Labour is struggling because it has no real answer to the constitutional question.Equally, although a Corbyn premiership would be infinitely better than Britain’s current, populist Tory leadership, it wouldn’t insulate Scotland from subsequent, English-majority Conservative governments.

But the most vociferous opposition to any prospective Labour-SNP partnership won’t come from the left, it will come from the right.

Excerpted from: ‘Can a Corbyn-Sturgeon alliance save Brexit Britain from itself?’.


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