Two big events that will have significant ramifications have taken place this week, both concerning party leaders from the 2019 general election. Sir Keir Starmer has announced that Jeremy Corbyn, who led the Labour Party in the 2019 election, will not stand in the next election as a Labour candidate. And Nicola Sturgeon, who led the SNP in 2019 and continued to do so until this week, has announced her resignation, which will come into effect once a successor has been chosen.
Both events kicked off on Wednesday 15 February. With the Starmer-Corbyn feud, however, events had been in motion for some time, and it would be impossible to understand what is going on without recapping that, from the events of Corbyn’s leadership of the party to the EHRC report into antisemitism and Corbyn’s response to this and subsequent suspension and loss of the whip in late 2020.
Corbyn had disagreed with the findings of the report, saying immediately after its release that antisemitism in the labour party had been “drastically overstated for political purposes”. For this, he was suspended and had the whip removed – though he was reinstated into the party, as of now, the whip has never been restored and Corbyn has never been able to re-join the parliamentary labour party.
There has been much speculation about whether Corbyn would ever be allowed back into the PLP, whether the party would run a candidate against him, whether he would even consider running as an independent against the Labour Party. It is clear now what the Labour Leadership’s decision will mean for Corbyn and Islington North – if he wants to continue to be the MP for the constituency, at the next election he will have to run as an independent, running against a Labour candidate. Starmer’s exact words were: “Jeremy Corbyn will not stand for Labour at the next general election,” and he prefaced this by saying “let me be very clear” – so this does all seem very clear indeed.
Corbyn himself responded in outrage, as one would expect, though he hasn’t made it clear as of yet whether he intends to run as an independent against the Labour Party. “Any attempt to block my candidacy,” he said; “is a denial of due process and should be opposed by anybody who believes in the value of democracy.” He also called the move a “divisive distraction”. He said, and this was a sentiment echoed by campaign group Momentum and many other of Corbyn’s supporters, that it is for Islington North Labour Party members to decide who their labour candidate is.
The Guardian understands that Corbyn plans to seek the Islington North nomination; if Starmer wants to stop that, the National Executive of the party will have to step in and block him. Only then will he run as an independent, it seems to be a last resort, but of course, there’s no confirmation at this stage whether at that point he would actually run as an independent. It’s said that his supporters have been researching potential support for him in Islington North, but his ally and former Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott has said he will not run as an Independent. If he does, he will certainly be a strong competitor for the seat, and that potential race would exacerbate the already significant divisions in the party.
This confirmation of Corbyn never again being a Labour candidate was part of a message by Keir Starmer that the party has changed. Starmer said to those not happy with this new direction: “If you don’t like that, if you don’t like the changes we have made, I say the door is open and you can leave.”
On the same day that Starmer announced Corbyn would never again be a Labour candidate, Nicola Sturgeon announced that she would no longer be the leader of the SNP and Scottish First Minister. She has held both posts since 2014, when she took over from Alex Salmond, under who she had been Deputy First Minister from 2007. During her first ministership there were events such as the Independence Referendum, the Brexit Referendum and the COVID-19 Pandemic. Sturgeon insisted that it was not due to short-term pressures (such as the issues of Gender recognition, self-id and prisons) but general pressures: “the job takes a toll on you,” she said.
The burning question is, of course, who will replace Sturgeon and what effects this will have on independence, gender recognition, and the SNP’s parliamentary majority, to name a few of the present issues in Scotland which may be influence by the SNP leadership.
Front-runners include Kate Forbes, finance secretary (who’s religious beliefs and social conservatism may count against her), former SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson, and Humza Yousaf, the Health Secretary who oversaw Scotland’s COVID-19 response. Several notable candidates have already ruled themselves out – John Swinney, deputy First Minister, called for unity and Stephen Flynn, current SNP Westminster leader, said that Westminster SNP MPs would stand aside to let an MSP succeed Sturgeon.
It remains to be seen what effect a new First Minister could have on independence – many think it will push back the cause – and other policies that Sturgeon championed. It’s also worth considering the effects that Sturgeon’s exit could have on Westminster – namely, a weakening of SNP electoral potential would spell an opportunity for the Labour Party, who’s likelihood of getting a parliamentary majority in Westminster could be greatly boosted by getting a decent number of seats in Scotland. Upon the announcement of Sturgeon’s resignation, Keir Starmer said that Labour stands ready to be the change that Scotland needs.