Who cares if Richard Leonard is English, it’s his unionism that’s the problem

I have read a lot of articles recently about the nationality of the new Scottish Labour Leader, Richard Leonard.

Strangely, they are mostly written by unionist commentators, who are probably scratching their heads as to why there hasn’t been much of an uproar about his appointment in Scottish Nationalist circles. They never did buy into the civic nationalism line. So when ethnic nationalism fails to appear then they have to invent some.

Here is Kenny Farquarson in the Times doing just that.

There are things that should not matter in politics but which do. The Yorkshire-born Mr Leonard, who was declared leader of the Scottish Labour Party on Saturday, was asked in an interview this week what team he supports when Scotland play England at football or rugby. “If it’s England v Scotland, I do support England,” he replied. “Every other game I will support either Scotland or England. I’m not going to make up something which would be inaccurate.”

With this short quote, Mr Leonard just made a hard job even harder. There is no comfortable way of saying it, but Mr Leonard’s Englishness will be a dog-whistle issue for his entire leadership. Everyone will claim not to be able to hear it, because one’s nationality is not meant to matter in civilised society. And yet his professed Englishness will be detrimental to his prospects as a candidate for first minister.

Thing is, it won’t be his Englishness that will keep him from the doors of Bute House.

Like all of the most recent Scottish Labour Leaders, it is his stance on the constitution that will be the killer issue. Simply put, you can’t become the biggest party at Holyrood by alienating half of the electorate. Especially, when there are three parties chasing the other half of the vote. It is simple arithmetic.

That said, it is clear there are some independence supporters who have fallen for him.

Mostly young idealists who seem to be under the flawed impression that a socialist UK is possible. I have some sympathy for them for I was susceptible to such delusions myself not so long ago. Yet they are making a big mistake in my opinion.

While it is obvious, from a left-wing perspective, that Corbyn and Leonard are much more preferable to Davidson and May, those seeking to live in a more egalitarian country would be foolish to weaken the threat of independence. This is simply because, in the unlikely chance Corbyn’s Labour come to power, whatever good they do will be undone by the inevitable Tory government that replaces it. Corbyn’s Labour at best will only be able to temporally improve things.

If you want to live in a fairer country, whether that be the UK or an independent Scotland, you need systemic change. You won’t achieve this by voting for Labour, as they are one of the two parties who have a vested interest in the current system.

The threat of independence delivers sustained results precisely because it endangers the system.

It is clear to me that Scotland has more left-wing policies than the rest of the UK. The reason for this is that Scotland has a proportionally elected parliament that more closely represents the will of the people. The reason we have that parliament was that the UK government was forced to act in order to release pressure from the threat of independence. The reason that this parliament has been given more powers to become even more progressive is that that threat has continued.

Similarly, it is the exact same reason that there are powerful people seriously talking about a constitutional convention and a federal UK. A truly federal model, with proportionally elected regional parliaments, is the only way to make the UK more progressive in the long term.

Simply put, only by being a direct threat to the survival of the current system can you force that system to change.

Leonard doesn’t see that and neither do the young Scottish independence supporters who have fallen under his spell. Thankfully, the vast majority of us have been duped before and will not ever vote for a Labour party with such a closed mind on the constitution. Regardless of how radical its policies are, to be truly radical you need to threaten the established order, not bolster it.

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Bobby Hainey

Joint founder of Autonomyscotland. In my spare time I enjoy Road Cycling, Munro bagging and beer.

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