First of all, thank you. Shortly after the Met Police kettled myself and hundreds of other student protesters in November 2010, I heard you speak at a public event in which you explained the actions you personally took to appeal to senior officers in the Met to end the kettle. It struck me back then that you have a clear understanding of the relationship of trust and support between elected politicians and social movements.
So I find myself writing to you in response to your call today at the Labour Party conference for the people of Scotland to “come back home to Labour”, wondering whether or not you really understand what happened in Scotland last year, whilst also wondering if you are fully aware of the danger that a newly-opportunistic Scottish Labour represents to the anti-austerity movement in England.
When I see the livestreams of anti-austerity mass meetings and rallies now being held across England, newly-energised on the back of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory, it is as if the spirit of the independence referendum has drifted south of the border. Of course, you have your own Project Fear to deal with, as the media, the right-wing of the Labour Party and rest of the British establishment conspire and brief against yourself and the rest of Team Corbyn.
To fight Project Fear, John, you have to be strong. Frankly, you’ve got to be as tough as fucking nails, pal. And, in particular, you can’t allow yourself to become deluded about the reach of your own movement. I know that you know that Scottish Labour isn’t going to pick up much more than a few extra activists as a result of Corbyn’s leadership. When you say that Labour are the only anti-austerity party in Scotland, not only are you misrepresenting the facts, you are actually weakening the anti-austerity movement in England by making it more difficult for those who belong to your movement to recognise and identify their ideological cousins in other regions and countries.
When Scottish Labour were an active part of Project Fear during the referendum, telephoning Scottish pensioners with the express intention of frightening them into voting No, in no way could you describe that organisation as “anti-austerity”. This is a lie and, as I said, the people who could be most damaged and confused by it are your own anti-austerity supporters in England.
Of course, organisations can reform and change. But this does not happen without some sort of reckoning, followed by a public apology. You tell us that Scottish Labour is now “anti-austerity”. But, with everything that happened during the referendum so fresh in the memory, to mean anything this has to be more than just a change of policy. The John McDonnell that I saw speak about his relationship with the student protesters in 2010 would understand this point.
During the referendum, those of us on the radical left who campaigned for a Yes vote were constantly warned of the dangers associated with nationalism. John, let me identify and warn you about the fire you are currently playing with: it is the danger of a politics which claims to speak for a mass movement which does not exist on the ground, a politics which pretends a mass movement exists when it does not, a politics which lies to its followers about who its real cousins and fellow travellers abroad are.
I urge you not to pursue that type of politics. The working classes of England deserve so much better.