Enter the janitor – merrily mixing up MSPs and the SNP

He could have been the janitor, or a weary geography teacher begging the lower fifth to set his car the right way up again.

But the shambling figure who made his way to the podium was the leader of the Labour Party.

At least for now. Not because he’s likely to be opposed as Labour leader anytime soon but because there won’t be a Labour Party to lead much longer.

Mr Corbyn is a kindly man whom the world has played a cruel trick on. Some Trots and teenagers got together in summer 2015 and convinced him that what the Labour Party needed, far more than another spell in government, was to be transformed into a Marxist cycling collective.

As he peered out at the delegates gathered in Perth for the Scottish Labour conference, his eyes sprung with childlike wonder. Could all these people really be here for me? Truth be told, the auditorium at the Perth Concert Hall was half-empty but Mr Corbyn always reacts to a crowd like this. When you spend most of your political career in meetings consisting of three people, 12 speeches and a Palestinian flag on the basement wall, the adulation of youthful ideologues must be quite thrilling.

The Islington North MP got into the spirit of things, or as much as you can get into the spirit of things in Perth without a crate of Grey Goose. The nominal leader of the opposition allowed himself to be photographed with a cuddly toy panda at a WWF stall. At the rate Corbyn is going, Labour will be extinct before the panda.

Mr Corbyn — 16 points behind in the polls — got a warm reception in the hall, at least from his loyalists who increasingly dominate Scottish Labour. And they’d applaud anything. If Jeremy had revealed a youthful menage-a-trois with Gerry Adams and Colonel Gaddafi, they’d have given him an ovation.

So it didn’t seem to bother them when he appeared to defect midway through the speech. At one point, he began heaping praise on the SNP, before correcting himself; he had, it seemed, been referring to Labour MSPs. ‘I hope the media were listening to that,’ he quipped, before going on to confuse ‘SNP’ and ‘MSP’ a second time. Apropos of nothing, he then bellowed ‘FOR YOU’ into the crowd. As with much of what Mr Corbyn says, no one was able to work out what this meant.

Crossed wires were a running theme at Scottish Labour Conference 2017. Sadiq Khan got himself into a spot of bother by suggesting there was ‘no difference’ between Scottish nationalism and other forms of prejudice. Miss Sturgeon was affronted and helpfully explained the meaning of racism to the Muslim Mayor of London.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale was on hand with a cunning plan to distract everyone. She delivered a speech on federalism, helpfully giving delegates time to think about what to have for dinner and whether Sadiq Khan was a bit of all right or not. Miss Dugdale loves federalism. Mad for it, she is. The problem is only five other people in Scotland care about it. The Labour Party seems intent on building an electoral coalition around Henry McLeish’s dinner table.

At least Miss Dugdale ruled out supporting independence. In fact, she ruled it out twice, perhaps fearful that one of those SNP generations had passed in the course of her speech. The Lothian MSP wants Nicola Sturgeon to stop banging on about independence, so much so that she’s launched a website where you can sign up to say you want Nicola Sturgeon to stop banging on about independence, too.

Labour is organising a summit — with Gordon Brown! — to draw up another devolution settlement for the UK. This is all so exhausting. In the last decade, Scotland has gone through two general elections, three Holyrood polls, two European votes, two council contests, three referenda, and six by-elections. More often than not, the result has plunged the UK into fresh political crisis. Has Theresa May considered limiting the franchise to south of the Tweed until we start behaving ourselves again?

Here’s the thing about Kezia Dugdale. She has good, sound Labour values. She cares about the important things. If Nicola Sturgeon spent one day governing the way Miss Dugdale talks, Scotland would be a better place to live in 24 hours. She won’t, though, because keeping the independence show on the road is politically profitable.

But the millstone round Miss Dugdale’s neck is not the leader of the SNP.


Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters [insert @ symbol] dailymail.co.uk.

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