By Campaign Agent Alasdair Fraser
Earlier this month Neal Lawson, writing for the New Statesman’s blog The Staggers, called on Labour to “stop indulging its Scottish party and broker a progressive alliance with the SNP.” Compass, the political pressure group Lawson chairs, had planned to launch its call for a progressive alliance this June but has since begun “ramping up” following Theresa May’s call for a snap General Election on 8 June.
Rather unsurprisingly, Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, was apoplectic at Lawson’s blog, describing it as a “desperate attempt to appease nationalism” and saying “There’s already a progressive alliance in the UK – it is called the Labour party.”
Even the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn said there “will be no coalition deal with the SNP and a Labour government”; his point of opposition being that the “SNP may talk left at Westminster, but in government in Scotland, it acts right.” He also took the time to decry the SNP’s calls for another independence referendum, saying separation would lead to “turbo-charged austerity” in Scotland.
This, all in spite of the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon’s holding the door open for a “progressive alliance” to oust the Tories from Number 10. Sturgeon correctly identified that the SNP are the last defence against May’s government in Scotland, where the Conservative party holds second place, not Labour. Sturgeon also added that, unlike at the last election, when a similar alliance came up, Labour is no longer in a position to form and kind of government on their own.
However, despite Labour’s resistance, a “progressive alliance” isn’t all that foreign in UK politics. The Lib Dems themselves formed through a series of collaborations. First, the “gang of four” formed the centrist Social Democratic Party. Later the SDP formed an alliance with the Liberal party during the 1980s, eventually leading to a merger and the formation of the Social and Liberal Democrats, the Lib Dem’s predecessor, in 1988.
Furthermore, before the 2010 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, the idea was put forward for a left-wing alliance to combat the imminent threat of a Tory government. What we got instead was a stagnant centrist coalition that had to struggle with the fallout of the 2008 recession.
Except, the story is different today: the Tories are in power, two of the four nations in the UK voted to leave the EU, and the SNP hold 56 of 59 seats in Scotland. Furthermore, the concept of an alliance of the left has gained some unlikely supporters. Last year, Clive Lewis, at the time Corbyn’s shadow defence spokesperson, suggested his party move towards a type of “progressive alliance.” Since then, a number of opposition politicians have called for a cross-party coalition.
Chris Mullin, a former Labour minister, said he believed an alliance was “the only way forward” and that it would be incredibly difficult for any party other than the Tories to form a government with Scotland so firmly under the SNP. He suggested there was little hope unless Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens stopped fighting over marginal seats.
Mullin has a point; there is little hope. There is no sign of a resurgent Lib Dem party, far from it. They remain a deeply disarrayed party under poor leadership. Similarly, Labour is far from fighting fit, embroiled in a cold war between leftist Corbyn-backing Momentum and centrist-establishment, Blairite New Labour revivalists. Lastly, there is little hope for Liberal Democrat or Labour surge in Scotland, despite what Dugdale and Willie Rennie may hope.
The Orkney and Shetland seat saw a 3% lead over the SNP for Alistair Carmichael (Lib Dem). Similarly, Edinburgh South’s Ian Murray (Labour) holds a majority of only 5% of votes. Lastly, the Tories’ David Mundell in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale commands less than a thousand vote lead over the SNP, a 2% gap. Additionally, should the SNP choose to shed Natalie McGarry and Michelle Thomson, both fighting legal battles over fraud, there is little evidence that Labour could mount an effective resistance in their seats.
Like it or love it, the fractured opposition in the UK are up for a hard fight against May’s Tory goliath. Maybe taking a page out of our continental cousins and getting cosy with one or more of your opponents is the way to go. We will see what happens come June.
Image rights: Global Justice Now @ Flickr