Jeremy Corbyn is supposed to come to Scotland this week. Thursday’s visit will be his first since he became leader of the erstwhile people’s party. Then again, he’s been due to visit before only to find some better use of his time so who knows whether he can brave life beyond the wall this week?
Yesterday John McDonnell, Jezzah’s vicar, used his speech to the Labour conference to plead with Scottish voters to “come home” to the party. It was past time, he suggested, that voters understood that the SNP are no kind of socialist revolutionaries.
Which will not come as any great surprise to most Scots. That’s part of the point and one of the reasons why the nationalists have been trusted with the keys to power. They’re no-one’s idea of militant Trots. Middle Scotland – a large constituency, by the way – is just about as immune to Spartism as Middle England.
Still, McDonnell’s choice of language was revealing. “Come home” suggests a kind of ownership. Only someone afflicted with a terminal case of false consciousness could fail to appreciate that Labour’s the only acceptable home for your vote. Your chattel vote, sorry.
But Labour are not the people any longer. Indeed, and much though I dislike it, there’s little denying that the SNP have a stronger claim to, ugh, ‘speak for Scotland’ than Labour did even in the days when Labour dominated politics north of the Tweed. Even then, however, it never won anything like 90 percent of Scottish seats. Scotland was never as Labour as Labour nostalgia would have you believe. (Just as, despite the parliamentary arithmetic, it’s not as Nat now as the Nats would like you to think.)
There was something awful about Labour’s guillotining this May but, also and undeniably, something deserved about it too. One by one the Jimmies took their place in the tumbrils; one by one off came their heads. A reckoning of a particularly brutal kind but also one that was, in most cases, thoroughly deserved. To switch metaphors, it was a kind of political Stalingrad; appalling and awesome (in the old sense of the word) in equal measure.
Granted, I write this as a Labour voter. Since May, as the fashionable phrase has it, I’ve not left the Labour party; the Labour party has left me. Then again, I’ve sufficient Jacobite sympathies to come out for the old ways even while acknowledging their inadequacy.
When I was canvassed by my local Labour MP it was apparent that this man was already weakened by the torpor imminent and inevitable death can bring. So be it. The people, the bastards, were speaking.
And they rammed home a message the Labour party in Scotland should have learnt years ago: you can no longer presume to speak for us or swank around the place as though you are the will of the people made flesh. We have the SNP to do that for us now.
And now Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell instruct Scots to ‘come home’. My god, the effrontery of it. Come home to what? A party busy making itself unelectable?
It’s a misery drama, right enough. Jocky Come Home with a sado-masochistic twist.
The SNP’s record in government is hardly as shiny as the party likes to think but does anyone really believe Scottish Labour would have done very much better if it had still been in power in Scotland since 2007? I doubt it.
And why would anyone think so? Scottish Labour hasn’t had a meaningful idea in years. The party, quite rightly, criticises the SNP’s record in office but, awkwardly, it’s not clear what it would have done differently had it enjoyed the opportunity to champion a culture of unearned complacency rather than, as has been the case, give that chance to the SNP. It can criticise the Nats; it still doesn’t have anything to actually say beyond that. After eight years – count ’em – in opposition.
Labour’s demise in Scotland was not a sudden thing. It began in 2007, gathered pace in 2011, and was finally confirmed in 2015. The party still hasn’t come to terms with 2007, far less the greater disasters to come.
Jeremy Corbyn’s answer to this appears to be to say that, well, perhaps Tommy Sheridan was, basically, right all along. Experience has tested that proposition, however and confirmed that, even allowing for Tommy’s eccentricities, the constituency for radical leftism is limited.
Scotland has always been more conservative (though not necessarily Conservative) than many people think. For most of the devolution era Labour has preferred to concentrate on not doing things (chiefly, those things being done in England) than on actually doing things. Here, as elsewhere, the SNP have proved fast learners. Comforting vested interests, particularly in the public sector, is much nicer than challenging them. Ideas might be unpopular and therefore it is safer to avoid having ideas.
Instead we are asked to believe that If it’s Scottish it’s great. As Tacitus said of Rome under the Caesars, “The age was a tainted one, degraded by its sycophancy.” As then, so now.
But Labour still doesn’t get it. The tribunes of the people’s party still seem to think they’re owed some kind of allegiance. Their arrogance, even after all that has happened, is undiminished. It would be shocking if it weren’t so laughable.
And how will Jeremy Corbyn address this? Well, he won’t. How can he when most of the people in Scotland who think like Jeremy Corbyn voted for independence last year? They’ve given up on Britain, to the extent they ever believed in it in the first place. Corbyn can try to claim that the constitutional question is immaterial but that’s a losing battle too since modern Scotland, more than ever, is defined – and divided – by that constitutional question. Wishing it away isn’t going to work, you know.
Corbyn is, in the end, just a patsy for Nicola Sturgeon. A Labour leader who cannot win is the kind of Labour leader the SNP would create in their own laboratory. Ms Sturgeon has already begun the concern trolling: sure Jezbollah has his heart in the right place but if he cannot win what’s the point of having a heart at all? And, look, anything and everything he does to try and win in England will prove he’s no kind of new politician.
He is – you may find this hard to believe but it is, I assure you, happening – already being accused here of being nothing more than yet another Red Tory.
Poppycock, of course, but, yo, the game is the game. The problem, I suspect, is that Corbyn doesn’t even understand he’s in a game, far less that he has any idea how to win it.
So, sure, he’ll come to Scotland but that, in the end, might be worse than not coming at all. Poor Kezia Dugdale.