Brexit is/will be a catastrophe for Scotland and the UK as a whole.
Europe has been an existential question for the 200-year-old Conservative Party for at least half a century and could still tear the world’s oldest political party irrevocably apart. But it is increasingly likely that if Brexit goes ahead on March 29 it is the century-old Labour Party that will suffer an historic schism – worse than that of the 1980s when a pro-EU faction split off to form the (short-lived) SDP.
This eventuality will be almost entirely down to the “stance” (aka strategic ambivalence) adopted by the lifelong anti-EU activist Jeremy Corbyn and the ex-CPGB cadres in the leadership team around him. Already, that leadership’s approach, effectively providing left cover for Theresa May’s exit strategy (her deal or no deal), is seriously damaging Labour. It is an act of extraordinary self-harm.
YouGov gives the party running the most divided and incompetent government in living memory a six-point lead (40-34 per cent). Polls of polls put the two parties neck-and-neck but the Tories ahead in terms of seats, albeit short of a working majority. But the YouGov poll suggests that, if Labour faciliated Brexit, its support would slump to 26 per cent (below 1983 levels even with 28 per cent/209 seats) with the Tories 17 points ahead on 43 per cent.
This poll of 25,000, a large sample, suggests a huge swing to Remain amongst the electorate (63-27 on leaving on the withdrawal agreement, 58-42 on no deal). Critically for Labour, its members and voters support Remain and/or a second EU referendum to deliver that option. Ahead of the party’s national policy forum, meeting on January 9, thousands are said to be either leaving or threatening to leave on the issue.
Another poll conducted for the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) party members project showed 89 per cent of Labour members and 73 per cent of Labour voters saying it is wrong to leave the EU. Similarly, 72 per cent of members and 71 per cent of voters would vote Remain in any second referendum. (Two-thirds of the party membership somehow think Corbyn is performing “strongly”…).
The Labour leadership’s position is to try and force May to “renegotiate” the current withdrawal agreement (WA) to include a permanent customs union with the EU and a ‘close relationship’ with the single market. Not on offer. And to get ‘guarantees’ over state aid (see Laurie Macfarlane’s essay here). Not on offer nor necessary.
If MPs vote down the WA on January 15 or 16 he’d try and force a general election. If that failed he’d then, and only then, back the People’s Vote option of a second referendum.
The deliberate ambivalence behind this position is to keep Labour “leave” voters on board, apparently, as they are “worried” about immigration – though polling evidence suggests this is not the case.
Even commentators prepared to accept this warily – such as Oxford economic professor Simon Wren-Lewis – are increasingly sceptical it can be maintained for much longer. And, as the Twitter thread from Eleanor Sharpston, advocate-general at the European Court of Justice, indicates, the options are very narrow indeed…
There are others sceptical of the polling results. In the People’s-Vote-campaigning Independent, James Smith writes:
There is nothing to suggest that the vanishing Remainers we are currently hearing so much about will prove any more real than the vanishing Leavers turned out to be in 2017.
What is far from clear is what Corbyn really thinks and wants other than some form of “socialism in one country” outside the current EU or inside a “reformed” EU. Meanwhile, it’s clear that Labour’s supporters, including in Scotland, where Scottish Labour is polling 23-26 per cent and, at best, on equal footing with the Tories, are increasingly voting with their feet and considering other options…
Featured image: Boat at Sea by Ewan Morrison from his Utopia series for Sceptical Scot in May 2018
Some further reading:
Jim Pickard FT Brexit drives wedge between Labour members and Corbyn
John Rentoul Independent Divided Brexiteers on brink of throwing away chance to leave…
Michael Savage Observer Labour faces ‘mass challenge’ over Brexit
Andrew Rawnsley Observer To Stop Brexit Labour supporters will have to revolt…
James A Smith Independent Don’t Listen to the People’s Vote Polling
ESRC Party Members Project Love Corbyn. HATE Brexit
Tim Hughes at the UCL Constitution Unit on the potential role(s) of a Citizens Assembly