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by Andrew Whitaker
02 August 2016
Why Labour and the SNP may have to revisit the 'progressive alliance' idea

Why Labour and the SNP may have to revisit the 'progressive alliance' idea

credit - Labour screengrab

THE suggestion from Labour shadow cabinet minister Clive Lewis that his party should move towards a type of “progressive alliance” with the SNP and Greens raised a few eyebrows largely because the MP is such a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn.       

Lewis, Corbyn’s defence spokesman at Westminster, drew some favourable reaction for the call, with the left wing singer-songwiter Billy Bragg, a sometime leading celebrity backer of Labour and of Scottish independence, describing it as “good stuff”. 

But a few days on and with Labour gripped by a long hot summer of leadership election battles between Corbyn and Owen Smith, it’s possible that Lewis’s claim that such an arrangement is “essential” for beating the Tories, will fall by the wayside.


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What was striking about Lewis’s call, made in a newspaper article last week, was that it’s one of the few times since the 2015 General election that the prospect of Labour-SNP cooperation has been mooted by a senior figure from either party.

Nicola Sturgeon never deviated from the stance that the SNP would act to help “lock David Cameron out of Downing Street” had last year’s election led to a parliament where the Tories had failed to win an overall majority or if Labour had emerged as the biggest party. 

Of course, such scenarios turned out to be academic, with the Tories winning an overall majority that’s probably big enough to govern with for a full parliament should David Cameron’s successor Theresa May wish that.     

But Lewis probably did those with leftish and anti-Tory leanings a service by putting the issue out there once again, as it’s not ruled out that come the 2020 General Election there will be some prospect of parties fighting on an anti-austerity ticket being able to keep out the Tories. 

If Corbyn is re-elected as Labour leader, it would for that reason be a mistake to kick into the long grass suggestions from Lewis such as the claim that “Progressive alliances are now essential not just because that is the only way we can beat the Tories but because that is the way we will make better decisions and take more of the country with us”.

Likewise his remarks about the Green Party's sole MP that “I want to be in government with Caroline Lucas, not against her – and certainly not in permanent opposition", should also not be discounted by Corbyn if he is re-elected next month.

The notion of Labour and SNP cooperation is always likely to prove more controversial than that of a ‘Red-Green’ alliance due to the blindingly obvious fact the party led by Kezia Dugdale in Scotland -  and the Scottish Nationalists are such bitter enemies and are at each other’s throats week-in week-out at Holyrood.

There’s no good reason why either party should soften its opposition to each other or agree a fake and insincere love-in. 

But when it comes to opposing the Tories and the party's austerity and privatisation agenda that is almost certain to continue under Theresa May, the same issues that were aired during the 2015 General Election campaign still apply.

Broadly speaking many of those who voted SNP in 2015 just like lots of those who backed Labour largely did so on the basis of an anti-austerity platform or at least an implied anti-cuts agenda, even if that was not the official stance of the leadership.

Labour and SNP MPs, as well as the Green MP Lucas, have and will continue to find themselves in the same House of Commons lobbies in opposing cuts and various clampdowns on welfare entitlement.

Lucas has already expressed an interest in some sort of loose pact with Corbyn’s party.

Corbyn, John McDonnell and Lewis were also at one with SNP MPs over the recent Commons vote on Trident renewal and the Nationalist leadership to its credit did not seek to make political capital against the Labour leader over the fact that a large number of his own side voted to keep the Clyde-based nuclear weapons system.   

It’s also a racing certainty that the Tories will similarly employ the same tactic from the 2015 election of aggressively and ruthlessly targeting voters in English constituencies of seeking to warn them that a good Labour showing south of the Border could mean a ‘disproportionate’ SNP influence over UK government, given the likelihood of another Nationalist landslide in 2020.

It’s partly for that reason that any formal pact would be somewhat of an own goal for both Labour and the SNP, without any obvious gain in the here and now. 

But should Corbyn remain as Labour leader, informal cooperation at Westminster on anti-cuts issues and over matters such as opposing moves to restrict trade union activity could set the scene for posing an anti-austerity alternative to the Tories come 2020.

It’s impossible to know how things will play out in that year’s General Election, given the turbulent events of the last few weeks alone, but if there’s any chance at all of keeping the Tories out of power, Labour and SNP MPs should only think of what their supporters want, particularly those hit by cuts to welfare provision and people stuck in low paid, insecure and non-unionised jobs.​

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