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The Scottish independence surge has forced a complacent and smug elite to take notice

Alex Salmond, whose political mission from the outset was to destroy Great Britain, might end up creating the conditions in which it can be remade and thus saved.

The recriminations have already started inside the cross-party Better Together campaign, with senior figures briefing against one another and the toxicity of the Tories being blamed for the existential crisis engulfing the British state. The British government’s reluctance to allow for a multi-option ballot could well prove to be a fatal error, with devastating consequences for David Cameron’s premiership.  So deep is the crisis that the Prime Minister of the state that could be shattered in 10 days’ time is unwelcome in Scotland and is thus unable to make a substantive contribution to saving the Union in which he so passionately believes. He has been rendered virtually mute by the decisive defeat of conservatism in Scotland. To paraphrase Charles Kennedy: Margaret Thatcher did more for independence than any Scottish nationalist. Her party’s legacy could yet be the break up of Britain.  

But it is not the failure of the Tories alone that is powering the nationalist surge. There has been a catastrophic loss of trust in Labour and, according to the YouGov poll for the Sunday Times that has so unnerved the British establishment, a majority of Scots of working age now support independence. As our pro-independence blogger Jamie Maxwell has long predicted would happen, low income Scots are abandoning Labour and falling in behind the Yes campaign. The anti-politics mood in the country at large – the mood that the likes of Nigel Farage and Russell Brand have channeled so effectively – is also contributing to the collapsing authority of the old established parties.

When I visited Alex Salmond in June last year at Bute House, his official residence in Edinburgh’s magnificent New Town, he explained to me how he intended to approach the referendum. He said we were then merely passing through the "phony war" stage of the campaign. He was relaxed that Yes was a long way behind in the polls – and he remained so when he came at our invitation to Westminster in March, with the polls largely unchanged, to deliver the New Statesman lecture, "Scotland’s Future in Scotland’s Hands", which was when he popularised the metaphor of London as the "dark star" sucking the life out of the rest of the country. He repeatedly referred to the 2011 Scottish election, when the SNP came from behind in the final two weeks to win an astounding landslide victory. 

"Part of [being positive] is getting your party into the attitude in a campaign that, if it applies itself properly, it can win," he told me. "Since 2007, that’s what I’ve done and since 2007 I haven’t lost a national election.

"We’ll approach the referendum in the same way we approached these two Scottish elections. And that is, we will set a vision for the people. I’ll certainly hypothesise on the future and I shall do so on the basis of success, not failure."

The First Minister has been true to his word and his "optimism strategy" could carry him all the way to the ultimate triumph.

Yet all is not lost. If the Westminster establishment is serious about far-reaching constitutional reform (something we have long advocated even as supporters of the Union) as has been suggested in something approaching blind panic in recent days, then Alex Salmond, whose political mission from the outset was to destroy Great Britain, might end up creating the conditions in which it could be remade and thus saved. Perhaps. What is obvious is that the British establishment is becoming desperate and things might turn nasty – no more talk of border posts and military guards, please - in the final days before 18 September.  

What we have been witnessing over the last year or so in Scotland is a nation’s democracy renewing itself – the flourishing of the forces that the writer Gerry Hassan calls "third Scotland", whether it is the excellence of the Bella Caledonia website or the anti-neoliberal Common Weal project, which published its own plan for economic reconstruction. 

All of us who live in these islands should be grateful because the complacent and smug London elites – political, financial, media, bureaucratic – are finally being forced to take notice: but how late it is, how late! The house is on fire and the flames are close to getting out of control. 

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

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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.