Professor A C Grayling told his audience at the recent Putney Debates in St Mary’s church that he had been opposed to Scottish independence in 2014 but had now changed his mind. He was now in favour of it. What had changed his mind was Brexit. He says “a mere 37% of the gerrymandered electorate voted Leave”. He blamed this on Cameron who “lazily and thoughtlessly allowed the referendum to be poorly organised” by excluding young people and EU citizens living and paying taxes in the UK. He concluded “had they voted in the EU referendum the result would have been markedly the other way. Their exclusion was gerrymandering.” (1)
This week the issue is the triggering of Article 50 to start negotiations. Corbyn is in a no win situation – damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. This is generally how Corbo gets a bad press whatever he does, every day of the week. On article 50 he really is between a rock and a hard place. What should he do?
Hard Brexit is the hardest anti-working class policy not only for UK workers but for workers in the EU. Hard Brexit must be fought tooth and nail, the only question is how? First the working class is seriously divided and that must be recognised and taken into account. Second hard anti-working class Brexit will not be defeated in parliament. Nobody should have any illusions in the House of Commons or Lords.
The Commons is out of touch and will prove once again to be a pliant tool of the Crown. Nobody should have any faith or belief that the Commons can or will defeat anti-working class Brexit. If there is endorsement or rejection of the dodgy and corrupt deal Her Majesty’s government will come up with, it is far better to put it to the people. Who should vote on the Tory deal? Trust the people or trust MPs? It is no contest. There should be a referendum on the final deal. Let the case be made, tested and contested in the workplaces, on the streets and in our communities.
The real battle over Brexit will have to take place outside Parliament. This phoney struggle between MPs and parties inside parliament is only useful in so far as it educates working class people about the true state of affairs and what is to be done by the working class movement to unite and mobilise working class direct action.
Corbyn has done one thing correctly. He has put the parliamentary Labour Party behind the idea of a democratic mandate on Article 50. The question is what is a democratic mandate? Is it a British Unionist or UK mandate? Is it a mandate from local constituents? Is it a mandate from the people of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales? The latter is the only democratic mandate that Corbyn should accept. It is the only option if you are prepared to do battle outside parliament.
The people of Scotland and Northern Ireland (and the rest of Ireland) have voted to remain in the EU. The people in England and Wales voted to leave. These votes are a nail in the coffin of the UK. All people around the world who have been victims of British imperialism will rightly be happy about that. Brexit is about a revamp of British imperialism, more firmly dependant on and subservient to the United States and the newly elected King Donald the First.
The parliamentary Labour Party has split between British Unionists who will be voting under their three line whip to trigger Article Fifty and localists who take their mandate from their constituencies. It would be political suicide if every Labour MP voted along the lines of their constituency. It would split the Labour Party even more deeply than the Tories have been divided over Europe.
If we were standing in Corbyn’s shoes what should we do? Or to put it another way what would a revolutionary democrat do in the face of this dilemma? In the first case Corbyn should instruct his Scottish MP to vote against Article 50 taking the mandate from the Scottish people. This is what the SNP has done. He should instruct his English and Welsh MP’s to vote for triggering EU negotiations. If he did this he would send out a signal to people outside parliament how the battle is going to go.
On the other hand a revolutionary democrat would recognise the right of nations to self determination and the sovereignty of the people. Conservative Tories, liberal unionists and conservative communists have one overriding principle in the preservation of the British Crown and British Union. Defending the Great British nation instead of ending it as quickly as possible is nothing other than reactionary stupidity. In the post Brexit world the British Union is heading backwards towards the British Union of Fascists.
Corbyn’s socialism is rooted in liberal democracy not revolutionary democracy. He is right to attend to the ‘will of the people’ and a democratic mandate not least because of the divisions in the working class. But he has no more recognised the democratic rights of the Scottish or Irish people than Theresa May. May, a hard line Unionist and anti-working class Brexiteer has already declared she will drive her tanks all over Scotland and Northern Ireland. Corbyn is now tying himself into that with fatal consequences.
(1) Professor AC Grayling The New European 27 January 2017