Lessons in Scotland for Jeremy Corbyn: We are not a region.

corbyn Kezia

Siobhan Tolland

Don’t get me wrong. I love the fact Jeremy Corbyn is mixing it up down south. He is trying to initiate progressive change, and we have to support that, especially against an attempt of the right wing (in and outside of the Labour party) to oust him. We should support any progressive against this scheming. Christ even the Unions stabbed him in the back over Trident. ‘Kill millions with weapons of mass destruction. Must save jobs, must save jobs!’

To paraphrase Desmond Tutu, however. As a fellow social progressive I welcome Jeremy Corbyn. Whether he succeeds in transforming his party or not, I support and applaud his attempt to form an opposition to the Conservatives at Westminster. As an English-centric politician trying to win back Scotland with no kowledge or understanding of our issues, however, he is not welcome. Because, for all Corbyn’s progressiveness, he is exerting nothing more than an imperialistic gaze upon Scotland.

On the Andrew Marr show last week, for instance, a discussion about Scottish politics was reduced and degraded to the same old tired ‘SNP bad’ narrative. Did anyone see wee Kezia resting on his shoulder like a glove puppet? “Tell them about how bad the SNP is, Jeremy, go on tell them.” I was embarrassed. For all his inclusiveness he goes ahead and reduces Scottish politics to an SNP rump and then slags us off.

But it wasn’t even the SNP bad mantra that offended me so much. It was his exclusion and denigration of Scotland from the political process that I found distasteful. Corbyn’s knowledge of Scotland has never been good. But in not looking beyond the Labour Party – Scotland branch his gaze upon Scotland is a one dimensional stereotyped characateur that only services to demean us in this ‘family of nations’.

For it seems Corbyn cannot imagine a society, a culture, or a politics beyond England. At his cnference speech, he relayed a rather amusing story about the media panic and how Corbyn would ensure the collapse of the Premier League, for instance. “All our brilliant twenty top teams in the premiership”, he laughed. So I rewound it back: our brilliant top twenty teams. He knows Scotland has a different football league, right? It isn’t OUR top twenty teams, it is England’s. I know it’s a minor point but it revealed a lot to me. ‘Our’ league was an English league. ‘Our’ is England. Clear as day.

Now forgive me if that seems somewhat picky but the small things in language show a lot. His off the cuff, funny remark excluded me, excluded us. We did not belong to that cosy collective of ‘our’ that he was trying so hard to foster in his speech. We were not included in his inclusive approach. All he did was re-establish an English-centric gaze on Labour politics.

Now Corbyn knows he has to try and win back Scotland, so he tried to bring Scotland (and Wales) into the fold. “Mention Scotland and Wales, include them, include them, mind and include them in your speech!” And so when he talked about Great Ole Britain, he said that ‘we want to reach out across the country. Starting in Wales, Scotland, in London, in Bristol.’

But in that attempt at inclusion there reeked a distinct exclusion. Reeked a distinct denigration: of me as a Scot and of Scotland generally. So I am gonna do a ‘Scotland for Dummies’ for Jeremy Corbyn. Page 1: WE ARE NOT A REGION!! Had he saw us as an equal nation working in cooperation with England, he would have said Scotland, Wales and England. But he didn’t. He put us and Wales in a list of regions. And so, in that moment, his attempts to include Scotland did little more than denigrate us as a region of English politics. And not as a country with a rich, vibrant, proud tradition and history.

It’s these subconscious slips in language that tells us where we stand in Corbyn’s vision and it isn’t any different from any other recent Labour leader. I felt excluded, degraded and downright pissed off. It was the equivalent of a man standing up talking about including women more in politics and then discussing how our cake baking can be so productive to the Party’s coffee mornings. Trying to be inclusive but so ingrained with the stereotypes that he can’t even begin to see the ‘other’ as anything more than one dimensional.

It didn’t get any better as his visit to Scotland ensued. As fast and thin as his knowledge of Scotland, Scottish Labour was billowing around talking about how they shouldn’t mention Scotland, but just cities. And this is where my patience finally cracks. How fuckin dare they. I mean seriously. It’s one thing subconsciously seeing Scotland as a region, it is an entirely different matter to deliberately and strategically refuse to recognise us as a country.

When a country is refused to be considered as an actual country, then that country is being oppressed. The Labour Party’s refusal to see us as a rich vibrant nation in our own right is insulting and fundamentally imperialistic. And for a man who functions on an anti-imperialistic discourse, his refusal to understand Scotland within that very context is shocking.

So here is my message to Jeremy Corbyn. I wish you luck in your attempt to radicalise your party and your country. I can totally appreciate the right wing forces you are up against and empathize with the struggle you are now facing. But you are so fighting the wrong battle if you think you can just lay down a leftist Westminster template on Scotland to bring us back to the fold.

For someone with a vast and intricate knowledge of international politics, the ignorance that you display regarding your neighbouring country is appalling. And if you think, for one second, you can touch Scotland whilst still denigrating us as no more than a region then you are making the biggest political mistake of your life. Because without recognising our rich history, heritage, culture, language and politics as a country then you will never be part of our solution. You will always be just another imperialist who thought he knew better.


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