Can Corbyn de-toxify the Labour brand in modern Scotland ?

Jeremy Corbyn: Took over as leader despite me voting for the real winner, Yvette Cooper

Commentary by Derek Bateman

I’ve got Corbynitis from the bug that’s been sweeping the country and I’m getting inoculated with a Sturgeon serum. It doesn’t eradicate it but it confuses the genes so they don’t know which parts of the immune system to attack.

Leadership contender Corbyn - can he de-tox Scottish Labour?
Leadership contender Corbyn – can he de-tox Scottish Labour?

I find it gratifying that an old campaigner from the 80’s can still be relevant today – something I like to think he and I share! And how old Jeremy in his Dave Spart jackets is tearing up the self-serving middle class agenda of the Labour careerists who are suddenly reminded of why they were supposed to have joined up in the first place – left-wing politics like diverting funds to the poor, ending the arms race and international solidarity. You imagine them swiping through their ipads looking up Disarmament…

But the ageing Leftie has even moved that monolithic Labour establishment loudhailer the Daily Record to support him which, in its own way, is a genuine triumph. It is another sign of the re-alignment of political culture in which the configuration of the planets is changing. Where once there was certainty, now there is flux and every commitment is a gamble with unknown consequences. If Labour members do elect Corbyn, what then? And will the shockwaves hit the SNP’s previously predictable orbit?

Well, they’re bound to, aren’t they? Like a comet shooting over the night sky (a metaphor Jeremy would surely never have expected) Corbynmania has everyone looking up and gasping. What a sign of hope for those beleaguered Labour folk crying out for a real Left revival and who have stayed loyal as friends defected to the SNP. Even just having a new language to use about ending Trident, truly opposing the Tories and standing up for the unemployed would be a relief. Embarrassment at what their party has become would be over. They could look Nats in the eye again.

And among the 70,000 who signed up after the referendum there must be a measurable proportion who would contrive a tipping point in SNP policy to justify a return to a real people’s party, especially if a believable plan for Holyrood powers was a Labour priority. The suspicion is many of them aren’t Scotland-first Nationalists anyway and have simply despaired, as I have, of any meaningful reform in constitutional or social affairs under Westminster.

Contrary to the story being told in hushed tones of horror down south, I think Jeremy can detoxify the Labour brand here and return some pride to the stalled movement. How much more credibility did he earn just by suffering a Tony Blair attack?

That’s a long way from damaging the SNP of course. I still believe the only way that can happen in the short to medium term is through self-harm. If discipline falters or some senior figures go rogue – unlikely even in a dogfight for seats – fissures could be exposed and public faith lost. Remember just how quickly both the SNP success and now Corbyn have changed events.

Sturgeon: Well ahead in Scotland and intending to stay that way
Sturgeon: Well ahead in Scotland and intending to stay that way

But Corbyn does offer for the first time a credible alternative voice to Sturgeon’s which could recalibrate the level of adoration the FM receives, much to the relief of me and others. It could also produce what the current feeble Labour crop daren’t and that’s a united anti-Tory front at Westminster but only if Jeremy can command the PLP. And this seems unlikely to me given the nature of the beast. Labour long ago gave up oppositionist politics in favour of ameliorating Tory excesses and having scoffed at Islington Trots for decades, they are unlikely to accept him as rightful leader now. Jeremy’s main opponents will be his own party.

Any influence he has over Scottish opinion of course must surmount another obstacle – a Scottish leadership of doubtful talent and questionable allegiance to his radical ethos. I still have no idea what Kezia stands for – ‘except not the past’. I can guess however, since her influences include the NUS and George Foulkes. I do want to give her time to work her way into the job rather than write her off peremptorily but I see no sign that she will be capable of assuming the role of cipher to Corbyn. She will not have the reputation or respect needed to interpret him for a Scottish audience. There will be little patience for speeches declaring: I know what Jeremy said but what he really meant for Scotland is this…

So there may be some fall-out for the SNP from the Corbyn bug but the real victims are more likely among his own party – disaffected MPs and an out-of-kilter Scottish leadership.