Jeremy Corbyn’s conference speech fails to reach out to Scottish voters disillusioned with Westminster-centric politics

Jeremy Corbyn at the Scottish Labour conference
Brian Finlay

I was fortunate and privileged to watch Jeremy Corbyn address the Scottish Labour conference on 8 March. As he walked out onto the stage, the audience of around 500 at the Caird Hall in Dundee rose to their feet cheering and clapping to welcome their leader to Scotland. As I watched from the press gallery, I thought it might just be a turning point in Scottish politics. But I must say, I very much doubt that will be the case.

I feel Corbyn failed to reach out to those Scottish voters that have legitimate and ingrained doubts about Westminster-centric politics.

Don’t get me wrong…

But please don’t get me wrong. Corbyn spoke about the issues that face the whole United Kingdom. After all, he is the leader of the UK Labour Party. He spoke about addressing the burning injustices with the need for fair work in our economy, tackling climate change, and reversing the harm brought to millions because of austerity. I agree with him on all of these social and environmental issues without question. But the Scottish electorate has expressed their disdain towards UK-wide parties in Westminster elections in 2015 and 2017. They have also elected an SNP Scottish government since 2007.

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Although Scotland rejected its independence in 2014, the polls now sit at 47% in favour – with the don’t knows removed – which is a 2% increase. The most recent poll was taken in December 2018. But I suspect any new poll would show even higher support for independence given the Brexit shit show.

Westminster will invest…

In his speech, Corbyn said:

That all sounds great. But at the same time, it all sounds very Westminster-centric Jezza.

Corbyn could have used his speech to also address how Scotland has been treated. In particular, during the Brexit debacle. After all, Scotland voted to Remain in the EU in 2016. He could have even acknowledged the need for a differential deal for Scotland. Corbyn could have spoken about the Scottish government’s compromise. A sensible and reasoned plan to stay in the single market and custom union, which was set out in December 2016. But he didn’t. Even though Scottish Labour supported this compromise.

That Brexit shit show

The Tories approach to Brexit has caused friction with devolved administrations. Scotland has been dragged kicking and screaming, refusing to give consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill in May 2018. The Scottish parliament has also recently rejected no deal, May’s deal and has backed an extension to Article 50. Most noteworthy, the Scottish government has even been taken to the supreme court by the UK government over the legislative competence of its own alternative to the EU Withdrawal Bill. A piece of legislation can only become law when passed in the Scottish parliament if it falls within its devolved responsibilities. If passed legislation does not infringe on the reserved powers of the UK parliament, it is deemed to have legislative competence.

The Scottish continuity bill was designed to prevent a “grab” over powers that should go back to Holyrood from Brussels after Brexit. The supreme court ruled that the continuity bill was outside the legislative competence of the Scottish parliament. But as reported by Holyrood Magazine in December 2018, when the bill was passed in March 2018, it was within its legislative competence. When the UK parliament passed the EU Withdrawal Act in June 2018, it set out the fate of the legal challenge to go in the UK government’s favour. The Scottish Brexit secretary Mike Russell said the changing of the rules “midway through the match” was an “act of constitutional vandalism”.

So no Jeremy Corbyn, it’s not obsession

In relation to Brexit, Scotland has had very little or indeed no influence. Corbyn could and should have at least acknowledged that. Instead, he chose to have a dig at other ‘political parties’ about ‘obsessing’ over constitutional issues. If he is referring to the SNP and independence, the Scottish government has a mandate to hold Indyref 2 because of Brexit. The Scottish parliament has also voted in favour of requesting the necessary powers from the UK government. But it has tried to compromise throughout the EU withdrawal process.

But Corbyn did rightly harangue the SNP for not using their full tax powers to fully combat austerity. And I fully support a more radical approach to taxation to mitigate the two-child welfare cap. Yes, the Scottish Budget should have been more progressive.

However, the potential future prime minister of the UK used his speech in Scotland to focus on becoming just that. He chose to focus on becoming the next leader of this (dis)United Kingdom. As I stated earlier, I share his passion and his determination to address the social injustices we have in common with our UK neighbours. I just feel he should have spoken about why Scottish voters harbour doubts about Westminster-centric UK politics. And the potential future leader of the UK should set out how and why these situations will never happen again.

Scottish Labour is currently polling at 22% across Scotland. If he wants support in Scotland, Corbyn needs to pledge to change the unfair Westminster system. And he needs to start telling the Scottish voters how he is going to do it.

Featured image via ScottishLabourParty/YouTube

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  • Show Comments
    1. Very on the ground reporting here and refreshing to see.
      It appears posing to be a leader means you forget to speak about what has happened in the Scottish parliament about the Brexit nonsense.
      Real things.
      Centirc without a common sense?
      Its hard to imagine Scotland agreeing to live through more nonsense after the 2 1/2 years already spent on resolving nothing about a relationship with the EU.

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