Politics is changing – and those of us who live in the Borders are not immune from that change.
In May this year we saw a huge political shift that resulted in 56 SNP MPs being elected to Westminster – and only one Labour MP who, by Ian Murray’s own admission, is “the last man standing”. But this will change for the better.
Let’s be honest, the Labour party suffered a massive defeat in Scotland which has seen the rise of the nationalists who have largely portrayed themselves as the saviours of Scottish socialism and advocates of social justice. However, actions speak louder than words and their actions would suggest that this is a party which talks left, but acts right.
Jeremy Corbyn was elected two weeks ago as leader of the Labour party with an overwhelming mandate from members both new and old.
For many people Jeremy represents fresh hope that has enthused thousands of people who want to live in a better Britain and not under a pro-austerity government that is ideologically driven by cuts to the state which is affecting millions of people in Scotland, and thousands of people in the Borders. In my constituency we have seen our membership double with people coming back to the party who had previously voted for the SNP, but are now becoming disillusioned and have found a new home with Labour.
On the doorstep I was told by many Borderers that Labour had lost its way, people didn’t know what we stood for and no one could understand why we agreed with the Tories on the welfare cap – and if I’m honest, I was one of them. I didn’t join the Labour party to endorse Conservative policies – I joined to be part of a movement that wants to change things for the better and look after the vulnerable, and under Jeremy that will happen.
There has been much speculation about Jeremy and what his leadership style will mean for the party. But one thing we can be sure of is that he is a conviction-style politician who has already said he will repeal the Trade Union Bill and other socially-regressive policies in 2020. After all, this is a man who has dedicated his life to politics. This is a man who says what he means and is shaking up not just the internal workings of the Labour party, but also the establishment as well, and this surely has to be welcomed.
Some people believe that Jeremy will take the party back to the 1980s of protest and opposition, and perhaps it’s too early to say. But what Jeremy is giving people is a sense of identity and belonging in the Labour party that has kick-started a new movement of Labour supporters, resulting in an unprecedented increase in party membership.
It really is an exciting time to be involved in politics, whether it be at national or local level. People are now more politically aware than they have been for a long time, and again this has to be welcomed. But the real question is what impact will Jeremy’s leadership have on Scotland and will it help limit our losses at the Scottish Parliament elections next May? The simple answer is “yes”.
On Monday night at the Labour party conference, Jeremy made a firm commitment to be in Scotland at least once a month, and I believe this will resonate well with the people of Scotland, as well as the people of the Borders.
What you see is what you get with Jeremy Corbyn, and during his first leadership speech to conference he spoke about “bringing back a different kind of politics to Britain” and not engaging in the “political theatre” that too many of us are used to seeing at Prime Minister’s Question Time on TV and usually turning off after five minutes.
Jeremy Corbyn is a progressive visionary who spoke with passion about international affairs, cited the diplomatic effort that resulted in the US-Iran deal as being “a great success” and would like to see the sale of UK military arms be refined, especially if they are used in “repressive regimes”.
But above all, he believes Labour will be more democratic and inclusive in its policy-making, and that it will be the members who have the final say on policy formulation.
Half-way through the leader’s speech, Jeremy pledged to “unapologetically attack austerity” that has resulted in the most vulnerable in our society being subject to further brutal cuts which have seen too many families dependent on foodbanks – and the Borders is no different.
In short, Jeremy Corbyn is good for Labour, good for the country and good for the people of the Borders.
z Barrie Cunning is
secretary of the Ettrick, Roxburgh and
Constituency Labour Party.