Strange things have been happening in Scottish politics of late, and Jeremy Corbyn’s speech in Glasgow on Friday was one of them. I’m a Labour supporter, and can safely say it was the most electrifying and energetic rally I have ever attended. Labour’s problem in England may well be a failure to win in the market towns, but its problem in Scotland was losing 40 of its 41 seats to a party that outflanked it on the left. I suspect that even before Jeremy Corbyn’s visit, he was the Labour candidate who worried Nicola Sturgeon most of all. Had she been in the audience, she’d have been more worried still.
Within two hours of tickets going on sale for Corbyn’s Glasgow event, they sold out. A frantic search for a larger venue began and the rally was moved to the Old Fruitmarket in the centre of Glasgow; capacity 1,500. Again, it sold out within a few hours. Corbyn could have filled a hall four times the size.
It was a rally with many speakers; Owen Jones, Neil Findlay MSP and others had the crowd roaring before Corbyn even took to the microphone.
To most CoffeeHousers, Corbyn’s politics might sound dangerous, bonkers – or both. Yes, we sung the Red Flag and Bandera Roisa that night, and with a sense of optimism and energy that Labour has not had in Scotland – or much in England – for a generation. When that was served up to Scottish voters by the SNP, it went down rather well.
While Labour’s other leadership candidates talk in meaningless lefty waffle – does anyone outside Westminster use the word ‘aspirational?’ – Corbyn actually means business. Even his enemies would give him that. Nationalising the railways by not renewing any contracts. Raising the tax threshold for high earners to establish a National Education Service that provides free university education arose the UK. Setting up a nationalised bank to produce infrastructure. And start building many more council houses – a plan which went down very well with this Glasgow audience.
And it all went down strikingly well with the ‘Yes’ voters who Labour utterly failed to win back at the last general election. Some of them even stood on the stage alongside Corbyn. Arthur Johnston, a folk singer who performed for Socialists for Scottish Independence, took to the stage singing socialist anthems endorsing Jeremy Corbyn.
I’m not claiming that this proves the ‘yes’ voters are now defecting en mass; I’m just saying that Corbyn has that same kind of effect on them that the SNP had. He has the same kind of magic, which turned so many Scots to the nationalists at the last election. It’s hard to imagine anyone composing a song to Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper – or David Cameron.
As a Scot, I see plenty of parallels between Corbyn’s campaign and last year’s referendum. Both are insurgencies, laughed off at first. Both fly in the face of established Westminster wisdom; both seem to defy the laws of political gravity. The Labour Party grandees now attacking Corbyn are the very ones who scorned the ‘Yes’ campaign – and, in so doing, turning working class voters against them. Have these Labour grandees learned absolutely nothing from the referendum? You’ll be sidelined, you know! Laughed at! You’ll end up in the economic abyss.
To the ‘Yes’ voters who have been reluctant to get in involved so far in defending Corbyn, today’s intervention by Gordon Brown may be the provocation they have been waiting for. It is like watching a rerun of the referendum campaign: the more the Labour Party big guns attack, the more momentum Corbyn gains.
I witnessed this paradox when campaigning for Better Together. Most interventions that came from the high and mighty did us no favours – and instead created an immovable and growing mentality of resistance. All we need is oil bosses and banks warning against Corbyn. And if this does happen, all those Tories who have been smirking for the past month may be up against an invigorated grassroots Labour machine that could grow its membership above anything they have faced in modern politics.
CoffeeHousers may laugh at the very suggestion, but it’s an arithmetical fact that the surge in Labour Party membership follows the surge in SNP members. Over 600,000 have registered to vote and an unrivalled figure of 164,000 joined the party in one day. You read that right: in one day.
Nigel Farage has been trying to do to England what Nicola Sturgeon did to Scotland – trying to pose as an insurgent, gather voters, urging them to join his resistance. But he failed. He’s too much of a dictator, and it’s hard to rally around such a relentlessly negative agenda. But Corbyn is giving people what Nicola Sturgeon gave so many in Scotland: a reason to believe in politics again.
So let the Westminster classes laugh and sneer. They laughed at the SNP, before realising the momentum was real and then asking: when will it stop? They may soon be asking the same about Jeremy Corbyn. I suspect that Nicola Sturgeon will have recognised the threat that he poses from the very start. And remember, she has an election to fight next May: Corbyn has arrived at a deeply inconvenient time for her.
Scottish politics dramatically changed in last year. If Corbyn wins, it could do so again.