Jeremy Corbyn has now concluded his first visit to Scotland since becoming Labour Party Leader but what chances does the veteran left-winger have of reviving the Party north of the border?
For the duration of Corbyn’s leadership campaign Blairites like John McTernan and Philip Collins queued up to make a simple yet persuasive argument: Over 50% of the country voted for either the Tories or UKIP at the last election, how can electing an unreconstructed Bennite as Party Leader bring those voters back to Labour? Corbyn and his team talked about bringing back Greens and non-voters but the maths looks irrefutable. Unless Corbyn inspires millions of non-voters to back him in 2020 he’s going have to persuade centrist conservatives to join his cause.
The only place where this argument seems refutable is in Scotland where the SNP won 56 out of 59 Scottish constituencies on a an anti-austerity ticket. Now of course, when you start to scrutinise the SNP’s policies in a little more depth, like the IFS did, you find that SNP proposals weren’t all that different from Labour’s. But never mind that for a moment, what is important here is the possibility that a Corbyn led Labour Party could snatch some left-wing votes from the SNP with his policies on nationalisation and disarmament. As Euan McColm points out, why vote for Sturgeon’s faux socialism when you can have the real thing with Corbyn.
Many within the SNP have been saying for a while that they’re socialists not nationalists, they never left Labour, Labour left them. In Mhairi Black’s brilliant maiden speech to Parliament she invoked the spirit of Tony Benn by stating “The SNP did not triumph on a wave of nationalism; in fact nationalism has nothing to do with what’s happened in Scotland. We triumphed on a wave of hope, hope that there was something different, something better to the Thatcherite neo-liberal policies that are produced from this chamber.”
Now, for Black’s argument to hold, it would surely follow that many supporters of the SNP, including Black herself would, as John Mcdonnell said ‘come home to Labour’ now that Corbyn has been elected. Not so. More recently Black wrote a column for the National which turgidly trots out the SNP line on Corbyn, namely that divided party’s don’t win elections and Corbynism is a distinctly English phenomenon. Moreover all opinion polls conducted during the Corbyn campaign or after his victory suggest very little movement from SNP to a Labour, despite Labour having an unashamedly socialist leader.
What all this suggests is that support for the SNP is primarily nationalist in character. No doubt some of this is nationalism is left-wing but even for these people who are ideologically sympathetic to Corbyn, independence trumps everything. Ultimately Corbyn’s biggest weakness is his Unionism, for in the new Scotland where you stand on the constitution is all that really matters.