Campaigning for the 2017 general election has been very different from previous years. This time the Liberal Democrats are on the offensive. I certainly am here in Edinburgh North and Leith. Since 2014, the local party membership has almost tripled and with more volunteers, more donations and more resources, more is being done. Liberal Democrats are growing once more.
This election has been called on Brexit and it is that I will be talking about in this blog. That is not to say that the Liberal Democrats have nothing else to say. Our flagship policy is to raise income tax by a penny in the pound, in order to pay for the publics services that have been eroded since the economic crash of 2008. This would be linked to tightening up on the loopholes used by corporations and the very rich to avoid paying their fair share of taxation. In England we would see the NHS benefit from the income tax rise, while in Scotland we advocate extra revenue going towards education, which has declined drastically under the tenure of the SNP government at Holyrood. The Liberal Democrat manifesto may be read here: http://www.libdems.org.uk/manifesto
On Brexit, I am really proud of the Liberal Democrat insistence that any final deal is put before the people of Britain before being signed off. The post-referendum coup inside the Conservative party and their embracing of UKIP’s hardline policies shows that the extremists have taken over. The Conservative leadership now only stand for one thing: a corporate UK where big businesses can operate free of the restraints of taxation and free of responsibility: either to people or to the environment. While business success is vital for Britain, in a decent society, it should never be business before all else. It will be though under Theresa May’s vision for a hard Brexit. She knows this will be unpopular and has been doing her very best to avoid public scrutiny. May failed to turn up to the Leaders Debate and has skipped the Women’s Hour interview. Theresa MIA - missing in action. If you don’t turn up for the job interview, you shouldn’t get the job. May has also proved to be far from competent: her handling of the dementia tax and her inconsistency on almost every important topic shows a lack of depth, a lack of self-awareness, that has even surprised her strongest critics. May called the election, put her competence on the line and she has been found wanting. I feel sorry for moderate conservatives for whom all this extremism must be deeply concerning. If they never supported UKIP previously, isn’t that exactly what they are being asked to do now?
With the reconfirmation of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, that party too has fled the middle ground of politics. Corbyn is a socialist of the Bennite tradition. Tony Benn always opposed the UK joining the European Union, seeing it as a vast conspiracy of capital against the working class. Unlike May, at least Corbyn has the credit of sticking to his principles through thick and thin. Unfortunately for the rest of us, that led to the sight of Corbyn leading his party through the voting lobby with the Conservatives to deliver Article 50, triggering the nation’s divorce proceedings with the EU. It is Corbyn’s history of opposition to the European Union that explains his post-Article 50 tweet “Real fight starts now.” What he means is that the struggle for a socialist Britain starts with us leaving the European Union. Again, central-ground Labour supporters must not be in an happy place right now.
While on the topic, one should note the Scottish Greens are a deeply socialist party. I am not saying this: they are. During hustings events here in Edinburgh, candidates in both the 2015 and 2017 espoused their pride in being socialist, with reference to the metaphor of the watermelon (green on the outside, red under the skin) being embraced. Fair play to both and it does give socialist voters a genuine choice of candidate in this election for voting between Green and Labour. Non-socialist voters will want to bear in mind that the modern Greens are not all about the environment. Scottish Greens are also pro-independence, seeing this as the most likely path to achieve their desire of a socialist Scotland.
No one can accuse the SNP of being socialist or even particularly green. They have followed Westminster in the change of emphasis from small-scale and community energy to supporting only the large scale suppliers. They are also very happy to see the Air Duty Tax rate being slashed in half, bowing to pressure from the directors at Edinburgh Airport. When it comes to Brexit, I do believe the sincerely of the SNP leadership to wish to stay in the EU. What they failed to do in Westminster however was to support the Liberal Democrat amendment that would have allowed the people of the United Kingdom a final say. This must be the only occasion in history that the SNP does not want a second referendum. The upshot of this choice is to make Brexit another lever for independence rather that it being about the EU. Like Ireland, Scotland’s largest trading partner will be the one closest to it. Whatever one’s views on independence, it makes no sense to have trade barriers between England and Scotland. It genuinely is in Scotland’s best interest to keep England and Wales in the EU. Yet again, the SNP works to its own narrow remit.
It is too easy for people to be sucked into the symbolic logic that if I am not A, then I must be B. Parties who go down that line must be challenged because instead of policies and issues, everything is reduced to identity politics.
On June the 8th, I am asking for your support to the Liberal Democrats so that you can have a say on the outcome of the EU negotiations. I am asking for your support to deliver a different Great Britain than what is offered by either May or Corbyn. I am asking for your support to help me deliver a better deal for Edinburgh and Leith.