Next Friday morning, British voters will wake up faced with one of two stark political realities.
Either the Conservatives will have a majority in the House of Commons and Boris Johnson will return to No.10 Downing Street, primed for a full term in office and ready to trigger Brexit at the earliest possible opportunity.
Edinburgh, Scotland—Five years ago, when Scotland voted in a landmark referendum to remain part of the United Kingdom, the issue of North Sea oil—who owns it and how it should be administered—was a key feature of the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) independence platform. If—as seems increasingly likely in the context of Britain’s ongoing scramble over Brexit—Scots vote again on the future of their union with England, the heavy winds and tides that buffet Scotland’s coastline will play an equally critical role in the next campaign.
By some estimates, Scotland has 25 percent of Europe’s total offshore wind and tidal resources and around 60 percent of the U.K.’s onshore wind capacity. Renewable energy is worth nearly 6 billion pounds (about $7.5 billion) annually to the Scottish economy—and green electricity exports are rising every year. But in the face of an accelerating global ecological crisis, both advocates and opponents of Scottish independence think the country can go further in embracing alternative energy sources—they simply disagree on whether Scottish independence would help or hurt that goal.
On a cold February morning two years ago, Gordon Brown held a press conference on the top floor of the Doubletree Hotel in Edinburgh. Framed by a bright, clear view of the capital’s skyline, with the castle fixed immutably in the distance, the former prime minister launched – once more – into the constitutional debate. Independence, he said, would mean breaking all ties to Britain. Scotland should lead the United Kingdom, not leave it. Only the Labour Party understands this country’s unique commitment to social justice.
And yet, as Brown paced the stage, wagging his finger at reporters and thunderously regurgitating another stock defence of the devolutionary project, somewhere, on some primitive, subliminal level, he must have known that Scotland was no longer listening, and that in the very near future, regardless of what he said today or how vigorously he said it, Labour would slip screaming into a broad, black Caledonian abyss.
Until June or July of last year, Jeremy Corbyn had never expected to lead the Labour party and probably never wanted to. A veteran backbencher and diligent constituency MP, the 66-year-old socialist would probably have been content to go on championing the various causes – from trade union rights to Palestinian solidarity – that had defined his modest career up to that point. In his spare time, he might have tended to the vegetable patch in his north London allotment or cultivated the olive tree in his back garden.
But history had other ideas. As Richard Seymour shows in this laser-sharp analysis of British Labourism and its contradictions, Corbyn found himself, almost by accident, in the right place at the right time. (Or in the wrong place at the wrong time, depending on your perspective.)
When veteran socialist politician Jeremy Corbyn joined the race to become the next leader of Britain’s Labour Party on June 3, his candidacy was widely dismissed as a token gesture, a sop to Labour’s restless left flank after a bruising defeat to the Conservatives at the UK general election on May 7.
Even Corbyn himself seemed to acknowledge that his role in the contest was largely symbolic. “This decision to stand is in response to an overwhelming call by Labour Party members who want to see a broader range of candidates,” he said. “I am standing to give members a voice.”
No party is more adept at exploiting the gap between practice and rhetoric in Scottish society than Labour, and no Scottish politician is more authentically Labour than Gordon Brown.
After a series of relatively underwhelming, policy-focused speeches, the former prime minister has landed back in the independence debate with a thud.