Jeremy to the left, Ruth to the right… I (almost) feel sorry for the squeezed SNP

There are fleeting moments when I forget myself and start to feel ever so slightly sorry for the SNP. A mere two years ago, it was untouchable. It might have lost the referendum but it had won the war for hearts and minds.

Scotland had a majority SNP government at Holyrood, 56 Nationalist MPs at Westminster, and a Yes vote in a second referendum was only a matter of time.

In a brutally short space of time, the voters have confiscated its majority, devastated its Commons contingent, and torn its Indyref 2 plans to shreds.

And now Nicola Sturgeon’s party must acclimatise itself, as we all must, to this strange new world in which Jeremy Corbyn is being spoken of as a serious contender for the premiership.

When it was announced that the improbable populist would be coming to Scotland to tour SNP-held seats, I admit to a pang of sympathy for the Nationalists. Surely they had been through enough. The only way things could get worse for them is if Alex Salmond defected or Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh failed to.

The Nationalists have never quite got a handle on Mr Corbyn. Nicola Sturgeon went into the General Election scoffing at his chances, then when the polls shifted began pushing a ludicrous line that the only way to get him into Downing Street was to vote SNP. The dilemma is one of the SNP’s devising.

The party doesn’t believe in anything except independence but the Scottish people believe in lots of things other than independence – so the SNP, the ultimate political chameleon, learned to adapt.

In its current guise the Nationalists are inheritors of the Old Labour flame abandoned by Tony Blair. Iraq was a useful war for the SNP in this regard and once in control at Holyrood in 2007 it was able to put the machinery of government to work conflating the cause of social justice with the politics of nationalism.

Mr Corbyn has ridden his bicycle straight through the SNP house of cards. The Islington Marxist grows ever more flexible in his ideology the closer he edges to power but he is still plainly to the Left of the SNP. His strategists believe they can pick off even more Nat-held constituencies in the next General Election, an analysis which SNP bosses dolefully share even as they struggle to agree a concerted response to Corbynism.

Being the SNP, thus far they have gone with the strengths and attacked the Labour leader. The best reaction came from Glasgow Cathcart MSP James Dornan, who speaks grievance as a first language and English a distant third.

He grunted: ‘Labour have learned nothing because rather than holding the Tories to account, they are still campaigning in Scotland against the SNP, which is odd given the majority of Corbyn’s policies are already being delivered by a progressive SNP Scottish Government. And no one in Scotland should be in any doubt – whether under Kezia Dugdale or Corbyn – Labour are a party that backs an extreme Tory Brexit and policies like Trident renewal, against Scotland’s national interests.’

Mr Dornan’s public statements sometimes read like a shredded dictionary hastily pieced back together so, rest assured, you read that right. There’s no need to vote for Corbyn in Scotland because the SNP is already delivering his policies. Except his policies are extreme and anti-Scottish. But not when the SNP delivers them. Then they’re progressive.

The panic in the Nationalist ranks is palpable. Their case for independence is built on the premise Scotland will never see another authentically Left-wing government while in the Union. With Labour developing a consistent lead in the polls, that line is no longer sustainable. Now the SNP must evolve once more and find fresh umbrage to hitch its separatist bandwagon to. Only it can’t figure out what that is – the SNP knows its aims but its principles are still to be determined. Ruth Davidson is slowly taking over the centre ground and, with Labour reclaiming the Left, there is nowhere obvious for the Nationalists to go.

The good news for the SNP is that Scottish Labour could yet snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Over the weekend, an outfit calling itself the Campaign for Socialism issued a report into the election outcome.

The campaign group is the James Dornan turn in Scottish Labour; they bring resentment but little in the way of revelation. Their contribution to party unity, helpfully entitled ‘Scottish Labour Holding Corbyn Back – Change is Needed’, lamented that ‘the Scottish party led an anti-SNP campaign with the “send Nicola a message” narrative that almost silenced Jeremy’s message of “for the many”.’ Scottish Labour, they complained, were ‘still in the Better Together mindset’.

Only in the Labour Party could a mindset that won 55 per cent of the vote in a bitter and divisive referendum be considered a bad thing. If the Tartan Trots in Kezia Dugdale’s party wonder why the Tories gained twice as many seats north of the Border, they might want to consider their man’s repeated equivocations on the constitutional question.

Far from holding Mr Corbyn back, Miss Dugdale’s firm stance in favour of the Union probably contributed more to Labour’s seven-seat tally than the mostly England-centric UK manifesto.

Anyone who doubts that should advise Jeremy Corbyn to try some of his more independence-sympathetic lines during his autumn tour of Scotland. The voters won’t be long in bringing him up to speed on the importance of backing the Union.

Whatever you think of Mr Corbyn – and I don’t think much – he could cause further difficulty for the SNP and set back the cause of independence a generation – an actual generation. But he won’t do that by being soft on independence.

Labour must unite its social justice message with opposition to nationalism. That’s the Better Together mindset – the winning mindset.


Kemi Badenoch is one to watch. The Tory MP’s maiden speech was the finest debut of the 2017 intake.

Mrs Badenoch, elected to represent Saffron Walden in June, captivated MPs with her story – she grew up in Nigeria, in a home without electricity, and had to walk a mile a day to collect water. And here she was, part of ‘the project of the United Kingdom… a project that, as a young African girl, I dreamed about becoming part of. ‘As a British woman, I now have the great honour of delivering that project’.

Striking a Thatcheresque tone, Mrs Badenoch told the Commons: ‘There is more to conservatism than economic liberalism — there is respect for the rule of law, personal responsibility, freedom of speech and of association, and opportunity through meritocracy. ‘Those freedoms are being subtly eroded in an era when emotion and feeling are prized above reason and logic.’

If the Tories are looking for a philosophical backbone, they could do a lot worse.


Two Australian senators have been forced to resign because they’re not Aussie enough. Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters came a gutser, as the Aussies say, after it emerged they hold dual citizenship, a big no-no Down Under. We are more enlightened about politicians with an identity crisis. Patrick Harvie discovered he was a Nationalist some time in 2014 but we still let him run the Scottish Greens.

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Have your say on the issues raised here by emailing, remembering to reference the column. Contact Stephen at

Feature image © Rwendland by Creative Commons 4.0 and Scottish Government by Creative Commons 2.0.

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