Thank you for your letter to us on a ‘progressive alliance’ and, as always, it is great to hear from you. As expected you typically make a compelling case in your usual courteous manner. The idea of a ‘progressive alliance’ is a concept that I know you have invested a great deal of time and thought in and it is a cause that has been discussed on many occasions in the past couple of years.
In fact, you will recall when you, I, Jonathon Edwards and Caroline Lucas got round the table in Caroline’s office to see what could be secured in advance of last year’s general election. Then, we were expecting a hung parliament and I think we were all excited about the possibilities that this may have brought. We discussed all manners of possible arrangements and we held out great hopes that parties of the left could work constructively together.
You of course know only too well what happened next. Instead of embracing any sort of possible working arrangement with the SNP, the Labour party did all they could to distance themselves from us.
In trying to achieve this, Labour managed to tie themselves into all sorts of almost contradictory contorted knots. They inconceivably allowed any possible working Lab/SNP ‘arrangement’ to be defined by the Tories, who took full advantage of Labour’s shambolic predicament. Instead of owning this debate, Labour allowed the Tories to successfully produce a narrative around scaring English voters about the possibility of Labour working with the SNP. Where this did not affect us, it was disastrous for Labour.
We observed all of this with a mixture of bemusement and disappointment, almost screaming at Labour to take control of this debate. We continued to try and say that we were available to participate in some sort of ‘anti-Tory alliance’ just to be rebuffed from a Labour party who weren’t even prepared to lift the phone for a preliminary discussion. You can see then, Neal, because of this experience, our reticence in this regard.
However, let bygones be bygones and it is right to focus on the future. Jeremy Corbyn now leads the Labour party and again opportunity presents itself. I have probably voted more with Jeremy in divisions in the House of Commons than his deputy leader and I was so looking forward to some sort of new, improved relationship.
You can probably then understand my disappointment when the new leadership, as one of its first tasks, went out of its way to attack the SNP and try to present us as some sort of ideological right wingers.
I know we are in a contest with Scottish Labour up here but Jeremy and John McDonnell seemed to accept without question the script that was supplied to them from desperate Scottish Labour colleagues. Labour are now absolutely humbled in Scotland and where we do not expect Scottish Labour to disappear, surely Labour’s best efforts must be directed into beating the Tories in England if the prospect of working together was to be on any agenda?
There’s another thing about the Labour party, Neal, and that is our good friends the Blairites. They seem to be just sullenly sitting there, waiting their time to strangle the new leadership and resume control.
I’m not entirely convinced that Jeremy and his colleagues will still be leading the party in a few months never mind at the next election, leaving us back at an unworkable square one.
Observing the sometimes chaotic Commons performances from Jeremy and his colleagues, I also detect that they have a great deal of work to do just to be taken seriously as an opposition.
You’re right, though, it is still about independence for us, and you are one of the few voices on the English left who properly recognise what we are about as a positive force of social change.
You suggest looking at participating in Labour’s constitutional convention, but that convention has specifically excluded looking at independence as an option. You would be asking us to give up on our core belief for an ill defined ‘convention’ that doesn’t really know what it wants and has all the appearance of some sort of political expedient.
Sorry to be so pessimistic, Neal, I seriously didn’t mean to be. Let’s try and end this on a positive. Why don’t we stay in touch about this and see if we can have conversations on a possible shared agenda?
You mention PR and Trident. How about maybe seeing what we could do in way of joint work round those issues, perhaps adding ridding our nation of the circus that’s the House of Lords, too?
Maybe issue by issue we can build up confidence in a relationship and get what we all want – rid of this Tory Government.
All the best. Pete
Pete Wishart is the SNP MP for Perth
This article is reproduced here with his permission
It was initially published by Common Space