August has not been the traditional silly summer season of politics this year. Jeremy Corbyn really has transformed the landscape of the political debate. He must know he is doing the right thing when not only do thousands attend his rallies but also Blair and his cronies berate him for all sorts of so-called fantasy politics. That Corbyn only just managed to get on the ballot paper shows how tightly Labour is controlled by its MPs – but once past this hurdle he has spoken to and for a huge constituency of existing members, new members and registered supporters. It’s a great shame of the left affiliated unions that they did not make sure that John McDonnell – who campaigned for the very policies these unions themselves espoused – got on the ballot paper in 2007 and 2010 as he could have done the same sort of job – certainly of shifting the debate leftwards if not actually winning. But it’s also a shame on the Labour left in Scotland that no one stood against Dugdale and Macintosh because having Neil Findlay as leader in Scotland would have been a good compliment to Corbyn as leader in Britain. Not having a left leader in Scotland will make Labour’s job of competing with the SNP in the run up to next year’s elections all that bit harder (especially now with fuller autonomy for Scottish Labour) while it will also be true that if Corbyn wins the SNP’s argument that it needs complete dominance in Holyrood to protect Scotland from the Tories will not be quite the attraction it once was. The SNP will no longer be able to so easily claim that it is the ‘real’ Labour alternative to ‘new’ Labour. Indeed, if Corbyn wins he might wish to work with some of those in the SNP against some in his own party as he may become a prisoner of the Parliamentary Labour Party. He intends to democratise Labour if he wins but those that have a vested interest inside Labour in preventing this are also in very powerful positions and will fight tooth and nail to stop the processes and structures being put in place which allow members to decide policy and action.
Corbynmania, of course, also presents a challenge to the radical left. Is the argument that Labour cannot be changed or reclaimed still as forceful as it once was? Not only will the result on 12 September give us the first bit of the answer but so will subsequent developments. And even if Corbyn loses, to have come so close must mean that the ‘reclaim Labour’ project will be given a new lease of life for some considerable time to come. So next May, the likes of Solidarity, the Scottish Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, and the new left alliance, RISE, standing for Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism (and being the combination of the Scottish Left Project and Scottish Socialist Party) and the Greens will not only compete against each other in each list region but they may also have do so in the context of a left party of labour if Corbyn wins. Here, if the SNP does as well as expected in the first-past-the-post constituency seats, Labour is likely to squeeze out the radical left in the list seats due to the top-up mechanism.
What all this could come to mean is that a divided opposition is not in a good position to successfully prosecute resistance to the ramped up austerity of the Tory Westminster government. Opposition to it –over welfare cuts to the Trade Union Bill – will not be helped by the demise of Syrzia as the left model. We wait to see what Podemos can offer as a model of inspiration later in the year in Spain when a general election is held there (at the very latest by 20 December 2015). At around the same time, we look forward to welcoming Nicola Sturgeon to give the third annual Jimmy Reid Foundation lecture (on 24 November at Glasgow University) on workers’ rights at human rights. The SNP has been good at saying what it is against but critics on the left rightly note that it is less good at saying what it is for and doing something about this. Workers’ rights are a case in point – being against the Trade Union Bill is one thing but ending the deregulation of the labour market and repealing the anti-union laws is another. And, we and others would argue that the Scottish Government could use existing EU directives and the Human Rights Act to mitigate some of the Tory Governments attacks on worker’s rights and health and safety. No doubt Nicola will be pressed on this issue.
Special thanks are due to Matthew Crighton and Eurig Scandrett for organising the articles for the theme of this edition on the transition to a socially and environmentally just economy. They provide an editorial to set the context for those articles. We would welcome suggestions from readers for other such guest editorships and its themes.