Jeremy Corbyn might be a saviour of the Union. Alternatively, he might help bury it. So tumultuous is our political life these days that it’s impossible to predict which course events will take.
It’s like those childhood favourites, the Choose Your Own Adventure books, that allowed junior readers to change the plot at key moments and arrive at an ending of their preference. The Famous Five have caught Nicola Sturgeon smuggling ginger beer. Turn the page to clype on her to Uncle Quentin or skip to page 84 where Jeremy Corbyn has turned Kirrin Island into a Maoist commune.
What we do know is that the Labour leader will play a significant role not just in UK but specifically Scottish politics for the unforeseeable future. A measure of just how much could be gleaned from the SNP’s response to Mr Corbyn’s Scottish tour last week.
Admittedly visiting workers at steel factories and textile mills isn’t as glamorous as seeing your name up in lights at the Hydro but it still seemed to get up the Nationalists’ noses. The party’s spin operation spent much of the week attacking Mr Corbyn on everything from Trident to Brexit. They even started talking about taking the railways into public ownership. If the Labour leader had come for two weeks John Swinney might have been sent out in a red beret and a Che Guevara T-shirt to announce a gift of a William Wallace statue to the poor, unsuspecting people of Cuba.
How cruel a torment Mr Corbyn has devised in response, offering to work with the Nationalists to scupper the Tories. He turns the other cheek with a gleam in his eye.
Why are the Nationalists so terrified of a man they once mocked? For one, he defied expectations — including mine — by eliminating Theresa May’s majority in June’s election and saw Labour pick up six seats in Scotland. If another election were held tomorrow — please Lord, no — at least a half-dozen more constituencies would likely return to the socialist fold. Until lately, the SNP got away with its Janus-faced politicking, masquerading as pro-business moderates to middle income and rural voters while passing themselves off as radicals in urban settlements and university towns. Now Nicola Sturgeon’s forces are pinned down with nowhere to go as Ruth Davidson advances from the Right and Mr Corbyn from the Left.
We know that Miss Davidson’s appeal is her staunch Unionism and common sense politics but why the sudden lurch back to Labour by voters who angrily abandoned the party only two years ago? The answer lies, as lamentably so much does these days, in the independence referendum. Of all the fantasies and fabulations churned out by the Yes campaign, surely the cruellest deception was of the most desperate people in society. The Nationalists flooded council schemes with earnest young activists, armed with clipboards and clipped tones, to tell residents that independence would solve all their problems overnight. They weren’t poor because of inequality or dependency or family breakdown; they were poor because their rightful wealth had been stolen by Them Down South. They didn’t need a fairer system; they needed a flag.
Senior Nationalists knew this was nonsense. That an independent Scotland would need to tighten its belt and that many of the efficiencies would be found at the expense of the worst off. They knew all this and still they peddled false hope to people eager for a lifeline. Two years on, the Nationalists are beginning to be found out and some are turning to Mr Corbyn as a more authentic voice of their concerns.
My views on the man will be familiar to regular readers and I question whether he is truly more sincere than Miss Sturgeon or just the latest populist on the scene. But even I will admit that when he speaks to and more importantly with the low-paid and life’s strugglers, Mr Corbyn does so without artifice. He is admirably unshowy, a sober man for sober times. There is none of the glitz and grin of Blair, nor the lyrical Kinnock timbre that boomed from the Valleys to the Commons. Unlike Scottish Nationalists, he is not pretending to care about poverty to advance an ulterior cause — poverty is his cause.
Speaking over the weekend, Mr Corbyn said: ‘My patriotism is caring for all of the people in the country, dealing with issues of poverty, dealing with issues of injustice, dealing with all children having a chance of a nursery place, of a good school meal, of college, of university, of apprenticeships and training. I don’t want to lead a country where people in work have to access food banks to survive. Patriotism is about caring for the people that elected you.’
Mr Corbyn is many things — many of them contemptible — but the one thing he is not is a nationalist. Among the majority of Scots sick to the back teeth of nationalism, that trait alone earns him their vote.
There is a keen yearning across Scotland to get out of the constitutional brawl and back to serious politics. Being forever on the brink of history is thrilling at first but after five years, most want to pull back from the brink. They want to hear ideas and see action to create jobs, raise standards in schools, improve hospitals and keep their streets safe. Many, even those who voted for him in June, do not know if Mr Corbyn has the answers to these problems but they believe he thinks solemnly about them.
That is why the SNP is so rattled by Jeremy Corbyn. Before they gloat too much, Unionists should think on. If Mr Corbyn returns Scottish politics to a contest between Left and Right, Unionism will again become divided. That is sustainable in the short term but in the long term it can only benefit the SNP. Of course, the biggest question of all remains unanswered: What if he makes it to No.10? All of sudden, the future of the Union would be in Jeremy Corbyn’s hands. That could be the death knell for nationalism or it could mark a last-minute reprieve. The country will have to choose that particular adventure.
I was somewhat surprised to learn that calling people like me a ‘tarrier’ won’t get you expelled from the Scottish Tory Party.
Stirling councillor Alastair Majury, who used the anti-Catholic slur and said the Church opposed contraception ‘because they’ll run out of children to molest’, was reinstated by Tory bosses last week. As was councillor Robert Davies, who made a racist joke on social media about Africans and spears.
My grandfather, who fought for his country at Dunkirk, returned to find anti-Catholic discrimination still common in the workplace. I never imagined a politician would get away with voicing this prejudice in 2017.
Ruth Davidson says her councillors should be given a second chance. That’s commendably Christian but I don’t recall Miss Davidson being quite so forgiving of Nationalists caught making bigoted or extreme remarks. If the Tory leader wants to give second chances to people like this she shouldn’t be surprised if many right-thinking voters resolve not to give her party a second look.
The SNP’s Gavin Newlands seemed to think Jeremy Corbyn had gaffed in visiting a Motherwell steel plant saved by the Scottish Government. Labour MP Gerard Killen shot back: ‘Just so I’m clear on the rules: Can I still walk on pavements being maintained by the SNP council?’ As we say in Lanarkshire: clamped.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Have your say on the issues raised here by emailing email@example.com, remembering to reference the column. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.