Labour, The SNP and The Single Market

By John Webber, Glasgow Marxists


In the last two weeks we’ve seen Holyrood coming into conflict with Westminster over the devolution of powers and Corbyn declaring his support for remaining in the customs union after Brexit. At the weekend we also saw Sturgeon and the National liken Corbyn to Farage after a speech on immigration at the Scottish Labour conference. In light of such events, we publish here, a Marxist analysis by John Webber on the Labour, the SNP and The Single Market.


The SNP and Labour often find themselves at loggerheads over things which they say they should agree on. Recently, disagreement has emerged over the question of whether to remain in the Single Market and Customs Union after leaving the EU.


The SNP have made their position clear: they want to stay in the Single Market, ensuring a “soft” Brexit rather than a “hard” one. This position has solidified since the leak of the Tory Government’s impact assessment, which showed that all possible permutations of Brexit would drive the economy into recession.


This leak came in the wake of the Scottish Government’s own report, which Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Tories derided as “scaremongering”. Their hypocrisy was completely exposed when the British Government’s report showed the exact same findings.


This emboldened the SNP to lead the parliamentary attempts to keep the UK in the Single Market and Customs Union. Their “summit” for pro-Single Market MPs was widely reported, most noting the fact that Jeremy Corbyn refused to attend or endorse the idea.


While the SNP may cobble together Lib Dems and stray Labour backbenchers, they know that forcing the Tories to change their Brexit plans requires the support of Labour. To that end, they’ve called on Corbyn to support remaining in the Single Market.


This week Corbyn outlined that Labour wished to remain in the customs union which would allow free-flowing trade between member nations without making companies pay export taxes, or tariffs, at the border without going as far as Britain remaining merged in a single market. This was welcomed by the CBI (Confederation for British Industry) and reflected pressure on Labour from the liberal wing of the capitalist class who are preparing for the possibility of a Corbyn lead Labour government. However Corbyn’s speech left many unanswered questions. As the SNP and others have pointed out, it is difficult to pin down where Corbyn really stands on Brexit.


Polls have shown that Labour supporters are confused about the party’s position on Brexit, and almost half say they want Labour to back remaining in the Single Market. Scottish Labour have been left unable to answer to SNP attacks or give a more detailed position, with their Brexit spokesperson Neil Findlay defending Corbyn’s non-committal attitude towards the Single Market as a ‘negotiating tactic”


The main reaction to this by Scottish Nationalists is unfortunately to opportunistically attack Labour and Jeremy Corbyn. The National newspaper prominently featured attacks on Corbyn, effectively colluding with the Blairites who were trying to oust him and publicly undermine the Labour party. Some writers even called for Corbyn to resign during the “Chicken Coup”. They also turned their fire on Corbyn more recently, accusing him of being a liar when he said that staying in EU institutions and treaties would be unlikely given the UK is leaving the EU.


It is worthy of note that the SNP’s own Europhilia has not been entirely consistent. After the EU vote, Nicola Sturgeon called on the UK Government to allow Scotland to remain in the EU. This has now changed to a position of “soft Brexit” for all of the UK, or just Scotland if that isn’t possible.


Even the SNP’s position that an independent Scotland should be in the EU has shifted somewhat, with Sturgeon saying joining the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) may be the best arrangement. Moreover, while the SNP say they oppose Brexit “on principle”, they have not joined the Liberal Democrats’ demand for a second referendum on the Brexit deal. Their belief that the EU has progressive, social elements worthy of keeping has been watered-down to pure economic interest in remaining in the fundamental capitalist core of the EU: the Single Market.


Despite all this the SNP are still riding high. Their confidence in their position that Scotland can get a different deal than the rest of the UK has been immeasurably boosted by the announcement from the European Commission that its draft of the Brexit deal will include keeping Northern Ireland in the Single Market and Customs Union. This is a massive blow to the Tories, but will also affect Labour if they offer no alternative.


Overall, both the SNP and Labour say they want to protect jobs, living standards, workers’ rights etc., throughout the Brexit process. However, the two parties spend as much time attacking each other as the real enemy of the working class: the capitalist class and their main party, the Tories. In reality they both have the wrong position.


The EU showed its true colours in defending the Spanish state’s repression in Catalonia last year in events which were closely followed by the YES movement and the SNP rank and file. The SNP leaders expose the economic difficulties Scotland would face after Brexit but ignore the brutal EU imposed austerity measures that are being imposed throughout Europe.


Whilst Corbyn and the Labour left correctly expose the EU’s restrictions on nationalisation and state aid, their opposition unfortunately also bends to the British chauvinism of the right wing and trade union bureaucracy by supporting immigration controls, something which would only make the lives of migrants even more difficult and fuel resentment and divisions between migrant and British born workers. They also struggle to explain how a Labour led Brexit would be any different to a Tory led Brexit. This is because without breaking from capitalism, it wouldn’t be.


All reports and forecasts of the impact of Brexit say it will be an economic disaster. Marxists warned that this would be the inevitable result of leaving the EU on a capitalist basis. But within the EU, workers’ have endured nothing but austerity and attacks on workers’ rights for years, so the status quo is not fundamentally different. One thing they do apparently agree on is that that re-patriated powers in Brexit should be handed to devolved governments as opposed to going straight to Westminster. This is a basic democratic demand that Marxists also support. However the lefts within the SNP and Labour should unite and go further  by taking a serious lead along with the trade union leadersaround a socialist programme. This way they can offer a real alternative to the reactionary illusions in liberalism, protectionism and chauvinism that dominate the EU/Brexit discussion and prepare the working classes for the European revolution.

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