Where does Scottish Labour stand on Trident?

Johann Lamont’s silence on the crucial issue of the UK’s Clyde based nuclear deterrent is deafening.

One of the most effective criticisms supporters of the Union make of the SNP is that it offers only a vague or incomplete picture of what an independent Scotland would actually look like. Take as an example the party's defence policy. It is still far from clear exactly how many troops a Scottish Defence Force would have, how it would be structured and what kind of budget it would be run on. By refusing to provide absolute clarity on this issue, the nationalists are helping to fuel a widespread sense of unease at the prospect of radical constitutional change and, consequently, diminishing the likelihood of the independence referendum returning a majority Yes vote in 2014.

Unionist politicians know how serious a problem this is for the SNP. As Alistair Darling has done recently, they will try to use it as a way of promoting the idea that secession amounts to a dangerous and reckless leap into the unknown. It is odd, then, that on one of the defining issues of modern Scottish politics, Scotland's main unionist party - Labour - seems incapable of providing any clarity of its own.

The question of whether or not Scotland should continue to allow Trident, Britain's Clyde based nuclear-armed submarine fleet, to be stationed in its waters is of enormous significance. In addition to the massive cost associated with its replacement and maintenance (estimated at £100bn over the course of the next three decades), it represents a serious risk to Scotland's population and environment, as a 2009 report into the myriad safety failings at the Faslane installation revealed. Further, in 2010 YouGov published a poll which showed that nearly 70 per cent of Scots were opposed to the renewal of Trident. This gives the SNP, which has always favoured unilateral disarmament, a real political advantage as the referendum approaches.

Yet in their speeches at the Scottish Labour conference in Dundee earlier this month, neither shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy nor shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander made any reference to Trident whatsoever. Instead, both chose to defend the proposition that Britain plays a positive role in global politics, with Murphy even boasting about the UK's bloated military budget. What's more, the new Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont also omitted to mention it, as she has done consistently since being elected in December. In fact, during last year's leadership contest she was the only one of six candidates (including those standing for the post of deputy leader) who declined to respond to a letter from Scottish CND on the subject.

Two things account for Lamont's vow of silence. The first, as her voting record in the Scottish Parliament suggests, is that the Trident question seems to throw her into a state of abject confusion. In 2003 she supported a motion put before the chamber by Tommy Sheridan which described nuclear weapons as "a very real threat to humanity" that should "be opposed on moral, political and economic grounds". Yet in the same parliamentary session she also voted against another motion asserting that "there is no justification for the renewal or replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system". In 2007 she again voted against a motion - this time put forward by Nicola Sturgeon - in opposition to the replacement. But then, quite bizarrely, she abstained from a vote on Patrick Harvie's motion congratulating his fellow MSPs for having condemned Trident.

The second is the stance of Labour's UK leadership, whose support for Trident (Ed Miliband and Ed Balls both voted for renewal in the House of Commons in 2007) leaves no room for dissent at the top of the Scottish party. That is, even if Lamont personally favours abolition (as some suspect she does), she is unable to say so because it would cause a hugely damaging rift with her Westminster superiors - and given Scottish Labour's traditional relationship with its London HQ, that is not something she is likely to provoke.

But Lamont cannot stay mute indefinitely. At some point, presumably before the referendum debate really heats up, she is going to have to voice her opinion: for or against. If she doesn't, not only will she sacrifice a sizeable chunk of political credibility, but the Labour-unionist charge that all the risk and uncertainty lies with the SNP and independence will begin to look desperately hypocritical.

James Maxwell is a Scottish political journalist. He is based between Scotland and London.

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Jeremy Corbyn supporters should stop excusing Labour’s anti-immigration drift

The Labour leader is a passionate defender of migrants’ rights – Brexit shouldn’t distract the new left movement from that.

Something strange is happening on the British left – a kind of deliberate collective amnesia. During the EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of the left backed Remain.

Contrary to a common myth, both Jeremy Corbyn and the movement behind him put their weight into a campaign that argued forcefully for internationalism, migrants’ rights and regulatory protections.

And yet now, as Labour’s policy on Brexit hardens, swathes of the left appear to be embracing Lexit, and a set of arguments which they would have laughed off stage barely a year ago.

The example of free movement is glaring and obvious, but worth rehashing. When Labour went into the 2017 general election promising to end free movement with the EU, it did so with a wider election campaign whose tone was more pro-migrant than any before it.

Nonetheless, the policy itself, along with restricting migrants’ access to public funds, stood in a long tradition of Labour triangulating to the right on immigration for electorally calculated reasons. When Ed Miliband promised “tough controls on immigration”, the left rightly attacked him.  

The result of this contradiction is that those on the left who want to agree unequivocally with the leadership must find left-wing reasons for doing so. And so, activists who have spent years declaring their solidarity with migrants and calling for a borderless world can now be found contemplating ways for the biggest expansion of border controls in recent British history – which is what the end of free movement would mean – to seem progressive, or like an opportunity.

The idea that giving ground to migrant-bashing narratives or being harsher on Poles might make life easier for non-EU migrants was rightly dismissed by most left-wing activists during the referendum.

Now, some are going quiet or altering course.

On the Single Market, too, neo-Lexit is making a comeback. Having argued passionately in favour of membership, both the Labour leadership and a wider layer of its supporters now argue – to some extent or another – that only by leaving the Single Market could Labour implement a manifesto.

This is simply wrong: there is very little in Labour’s manifesto that does not have an already-existing precedent in continental Europe. In fact, the levers of the EU are a key tool for clamping down on the power of big capital.

In recent speeches, Corbyn has spoken about the Posted Workers’ Directive – but this accounts for about 0.17 per cent of the workforce, and is about to be radically reformed by the European Parliament.

The dangers of this position are serious. If Labour’s leadership takes the path of least resistance on immigration policy and international integration, and its support base rationalises these compromises uncritically, then the logic of the Brexit vote – its borders, its affirmation of anti-migrant narratives, its rising nationalist sentiment – will be mainlined into Labour Party policy.

Socialism in One Country and a return to the nation state cannot work for the left, but they are being championed by the neo-Lexiteers. In one widely shared blogpost on Novara Media, one commentator even goes as far as alluding to Britain’s Road to Socialism – the official programme of the orthodox Communist Party.

The muted and supportive reaction of Labour’s left to the leadership’s compromises on migration and Brexit owes much to the inept positioning of the Labour right. Centrists may gain personal profile and factional capital when the weaponising the issue, but the consequences have been dire.

Around 80 per cent of Labour members still want a second referendum, and making himself the “stop Brexit” candidate could in a parallel universe have been Owen Smith’s path to victory in the second leadership election.

But it meant that in the summer of 2016, when the mass base of Corbynism hardened its factional resolve, it did so under siege not just from rebelling MPs, but from the “Remoaners” as well.

At every juncture, the strategy of the centrist Labour and media establishment has made Brexit more likely. Every time a veteran of the New Labour era – many of whom have appalling records on, for instance, migrants’ rights – tells Labour members to fight Brexit, party members run a mile.

If Tony Blair’s messiah complex was accurate, he would have saved us all a long time ago – by shutting up and going away. The atmosphere of subterfuge and siege from MPs and the liberal press has, by necessity, created a culture of loyalty and intellectual conformity on the left.

But with its position in the party unassailable, and a radical Labour government within touching distance of Downing Street, the last thing the Labour leadership now needs is a wave of Corbynite loyalty-hipsters hailing its every word.

As the history of every attempt to form a radical government shows, what we desperately need is a movement with its own internal democratic life, and an activist army that can push its leaders as well as deliver leaflets for them.

Lexit is no more possible now than it was during the EU referendum, and the support base of the Labour left and the wider party is overwhelmingly in favour of free movement and EU membership.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are passionate, principled advocates for migrants’ rights and internationalism. By showing leadership, Labour can once again change what is electorally possible.