Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What would a Corbyn win mean for the SNP?

I've just noticed an extraordinary New Statesman article from a couple of days ago, in which Stephen Bush reveals that extensive discussions with insiders have left him "more convinced than ever" that the polls are right, and that Jeremy Corbyn will become Labour leader in September.  We should probably take that assessment seriously, as Bush wasn't wise after the event in respect of the general election - he warned before May 7th that the polls might be misleading, in which case the most likely outcome was a Tory-led government (albeit he thought the coalition with the Lib Dems would have to be renewed).  My only quibble in this case is that the current polls aren't actually showing that Corbyn is the nailed-on winner - he has an enormous lead on first preferences, but all that matters is whether he is still ahead in the final run-off, and on that measure his lead is wafer-thin.  Assuming the private poll we saw last night was legitimate, that should actually be regarded as a statistical tie between Corbyn and Yvette Cooper.

However, if Bush is correct that the polls aren't wildly inaccurate, it's clearly the case that Corbyn at least has an excellent chance.  If he wins, it will turn the political world upside down, and the SNP will be affected just like everyone else.  Here are a few potential implications -

1) Left-wingers who turned to the independence movement because the Britain of Attlee, Bevan and Benn seemed to be gone forever may start to have second thoughts.  I know the counter-argument is that it will shortly be demonstrated that Corbyn is unelectable in the south, but in truth I wouldn't be at all surprised if he enjoys a prolonged honeymoon period in the polls.  Even Michael Foot enjoyed a poll lead over Mrs Thatcher at times.   If that happens, it will fuel a (possibly misplaced) sense in the Scottish left that all is not lost at UK level after all.

2) The SNP will, without changing any of their own policies, sometimes find themselves criticising Labour "from the right" for the first time in decades.  Corbyn will probably propose some nationalisations that the SNP think are a step too far, and he may also be more radical on taxation.  Unless Corbyn compromises with the mainstream Labour view on defence and foreign affairs, the SNP may end up defending NATO against a Labour party that wants Britain to withdraw from the alliance.  Speaking personally, I would find that incredibly disorientating, although admittedly it's a less important issue than Trident, on which Labour and the SNP would suddenly be on exactly the same page.

3) We won't have to worry any more about tactical unionist voting (or at least not to any great extent) - the choice between Labour and the Tories will become more polarised than at any time since the 1980s, and supporters of each side won't be lending each other votes to stop the SNP.  In some cases, Tory voters may even revert to seeing the SNP as a legitimate 'moderate' tactical option for thwarting Labour.  Admittedly, though, tactical voting was never really likely to be a major factor in the Holyrood election.

4) The SNP might find it harder to retain their overall majority next year.  The "good" news is that politics is very personality-driven these days, and I suspect voters will still look at the choice between Sturgeon and Dugdale and conclude that it's a no-brainer.  But the Corbyn factor could chip away at the working-class vote that defected to the SNP en masse in May, allowing Labour to lose less badly than they otherwise would have done.  That could make all the difference if the SNP are seeking a mandate for an independence referendum (regardless of whether the proposal is conditional on Brexit or not).

Of course, all of this assumes that the Labour parliamentary party would accept a Corbyn win, which they may well not do.  If there's a major breakaway, the SNP could end up being helped rather than harmed.  It would be fascinating to see which way the Labour group at Holyrood would jump if they had to choose between two rival parties.

30 comments:

  1. I don't think it outside the realms of possibility New Labour wouldn't enact a vote of no confidence or attempt a coup, as you allude. Given their sheer madness in recent years, I would not put that past them at all.

    If Corbyn does win and actually keep control, New Labour in Scotland would have to latch onto Corbyn like a barnacle as the only hope of drawing away former Labour voters - and in the process prove that "Scottish Labour" is not an independent party to the UK party at all.

    Then again, you also have to consider that the likes of Anne Begg, Michael Connarty, Mark Lazarowicz, Fiona O’Donnell, Sandra Osborne, Katy Clarke, and Ian Davidson were much closer to Corbyn than Blair (anti-Trident, anti-austerity, strong trade union links etc), but it certainly didn't save them at the polls. Katy Clarke in particular is an abject lesson: she was one of New Labour's most prominent and liked left/socialists, yet even she got absolutely trounced by Patricia Gibson by 13,573 votes (a 25.5% majority).

    Yet even if New Labour in Scotland try that "we're a separate party" stuff, I think Scots recognize from Nicola's dealings with Ed that Labour in England is fine, but stick with SNP in Scotland, as suggested by the support for "Labour government supported by SNP" preference.

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  2. What would a Corbyn win mean for the SNP?

    Put simply it would mean the end of their monopoly over the Scottish left.

    But, in England, electors would be appalled. 2020 will be a 1983 rerun, if Corbyn wins - I'm sure of it.

    In the long run, this may help the SNP. But, assuming major setbacks in 2016 and 2020, do they have the grit, resolve and - above all else - patience, to remain relevant deep into the 2020s? Or will the passage of time - and the new powers - see them permanently busted down?

    Time will tell. I often joke "the Corbynator is coming". But, the thing is, going by current polling - he is! If he is elected as labour leader, then the SNP need to prepare for a long war rather than a short campaign.

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  3. What I take from all this from a distant outside the box view is that factions in the Labour party now prefer fighting each other than fighting the Tories. All this bad blood and poison won't disappear on September 12.

    Jeremy Corbyn has already done his first u-turn, on the EU. He says he no longer supports withdrawal.

    As you say, it will be interesting to see how the Blairites in Scottish Labour will react to a Corbyn victory and how Corbyn-led Labour will put off many Scottish Tory tactical voters who have voted Labour for the past 15 years to stop the SNP.

    Finally, does Jeremy Corbyn and his entourage (Simon Fletcher, Ken Livingstone, John McDonnell) really have the strategic and tactical nous to win national elections?

    Voters don't just base their decisions on policies and personalities but who they think will "get results" (the so-called valence or competency question).

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  4. If Corbyn does win, I think there will be huge ructions in the Labour Party as the right will fight back, and it will become obvious they are the majority. That will make it evident to Scottish voters that they were quite right to vote SNP.

    In the longer term, it will obviously depend on what Act 2 will be. Assuming that Corbyn has managed to form a shadow cabinet, it remains to be seen how effective a Labour Party under Corbyn will be.

    In short, for a Corbyn win to win back Scottish voters there would have to be root and branch reform of the entire ediface, this will not be achieved overnight, if at all, and Scottish voters will be glad they have voted SNP, seeing what Labour's true colours are.

    If Corbyn succeeds at root and branch reform, gets rid of the current crop of Red Tories and replaces them with some actual real Labour MPs, (we're into the 2020s by this time) it might be possible that some in Scotland would be tempted back.

    Except that by that time people will have forgotten what Labour was and there will have been so much water under the bridge nobody will be interested.

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  5. Labour wont rebel. They'll fall into line. They always have. If a parrot were elected leader of the labour party, the underlings would wait on it hand and foot and, when out of the room, would say "what are we doing - it's a f*****g parrot!", but, still, the rebellion would not come. In my lifetime, Foot, Kinnock, Brown and Miliband have all led the labour party. Useless to a man - but the party did not remove them. Corbyn can therefore be expected to last, if elected, at least until 2020.

    Regarding "root and branch" reform, I don't think it will be entirely necessary. Make a few noises about renationalisation, reversing benefit cuts etc and a good number of Scotland's fickle SNP converts will be eating out of labour's hand.

    Yep - the electorate are stupid and easy to manipulate (first rule of politics).

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    1. "but, still, the rebellion would not come"

      I'm not sure you know your history, Aldo - under Michael Foot, 10% of the entire Labour parliamentary party broke off and formed the SDP.

      By the way, I've just realised that you must have been born between 1980 and 1983 (unless you've got your dates wrong).

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  6. Foot wasn't toppled as leader though - and the SDP soon sank without trace, to be subsumed within the liberal party (whatever happened to them? Lol!)

    Yep - born in early eighties.

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  7. Wish I was that young, enjoy it while it lasts!
    I guess the SNP is made up mainly of two particular types of voter.

    You have the pro-Scotland 'core' SNP voter who is in because of independence. It won't matter to them who leads the Labour party, they don't care if the SNP is right, left or in the centre. Independence is their key policy and the SNP provide it. Unless JC shows a sudden desire for Federalism it probably doesn't affect them one way or the other.

    Then there is the New Left SNP supporter who joined because they feel Britain has moved right and there is no other genuinely left wing alternative party. They may be tempted by a Corbyn win. I guess we can lump the anti-establishment protest types in here as well, the ones who feel Westminster is broken and/or the main parties are identical.

    In the longer term; if Corbyn dies on his arse then the political divide between North and South may start to look even more stark than it does already, which may help reinforce the SNP line that we really do have two different countries here.

    Probably the worst scenario from a partisan SNP viewpoint is Corbyn winning and doing well all over the country. But the compensation would be that the country as a whole would move left, so unless you're 'SNP or bust' it might not be too bitter a pill to swallow.

    Other than that, the only wild card I can see is Corbyn utterly collapsing after winning, via gaffe or internal schism and someone like Chukka Ummuna coming through. He's talked openly in the last week about wanting a Federal UK and separate Labour parties for the countries, which might prove attractive to some voters. Bit of a long shot though, I can't see why he'd want the leadership this side of 2020.

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    1. Absolutely - if Corbyn is elected and then overthrown, it's pretty hard to see him being replaced by any of the candidates he defeated. It'll be Ummuna, or Dan Jarvis, or maybe even David Miliband if a by-election can be arranged.

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  8. It's true the SNP have taken a lot of traditional left voters from Labour as a result of Blair and New Labour. So if Corbyn is elected and pulls the party back left, there is certainly a risk for the SNP that some will be drawn back.

    However, I think it would be daft of Labour to assume that will happen, purely because they become more left wing (if indeed they do, which is still a big if). The referendum woke a lot of people up to how the UK is run, and to the constraints Scotland has in running its affairs. Labour failed in giving all of those who want independence, or even those who want many more powers a voice. In electoral terms, that is a large majority of people in Scotland - probably 70% or more.

    So what would a more left wing Labour offer to those people which would bring them back to Labour? OK there may be some who care most deeply about Trident or welfare and for whom the chance of a genuinely left wing UK government dedicated to a different line on them may be a risk worth taking. But for me - even though welfare is my key issue and Trident an important one - I still think Scotland should be making its own decisions, not anxiously looking down south to see if Labour in England elects Corbyn, then England as a whole votes Labour, then hoping it wasn't all a blatant lie.

    So I think there is one other scenario for the SNP, and that is a new Corbyn leadership which, while it maybe doesn't entirely "get" Scotland, understands it will need to work with the SNP and start listening to real issues here, rather than dismiss them as "grievance" or "tin foil hat" or "abuse" in order to win back trust. That in itself could be a double edged sword for the SNP: it could lead to a far better relationship between Scotland and England, and perhaps to more genuine powers which could in turn weaken the SNP and strengthen Labour. Or it could strengthen the SNP within the UK, and pull us further along the gradualist route towards independence, much as devolution originally did.

    What I don't see, after the referendum, is people who voted yes - and for a FPTP system that's a large percentage - going back to Labour if they are still offering nothing to Scotland beyond Smith and derision.

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    1. You're making an assumption here, that a Corbyn win would mean a more left wing Labour. But with only 48 of them willing to vote against the Welfare Bill, that gives you some idea of what he'd be up against. His MPs would simply not support his policies or his voting directions.

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  9. Unfortunately for Corbyn,he is in the wrong country.
    He appears to be much closer to the politics of Scotland than England and when it comes to forming a government at Westminster,it is English votes which determine the outcome.
    I wish him well as he seems a genuine sort of person but don't hold out much hope for a political party in England which doesn't toe the Thatcher line.

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    1. There's a lot of received wisdom about the idea that Labour can't win from the left. Labour were 6% behind the Tories in May. If you add up the 3.8% who voted Green, the 4.7% who voted SNP, the 7.9% who still backed the Lib Dems and throw in a chunk of the old left UKIP support there's ample room there for a Labour on the left to win. I can't see Labour losing large chunks of their existing vote under Corbyn either as Miliband was perceived as losing most of the centrist vote already - and he could hardly do worse in Scotland. Maybe some voters might go to the Lib Dems as a centrist alternative if they can rebuild to some extent, but I doubt it.

      We forget that the 80s wilderness was also partly about the Tories being able to secure 42% or more of the vote due to there being no real challenge from the right. We don't live in that party system anymore. The Miliband strategy was the worst of all worlds - a party perceived as being too left-wing for the centre, but not left-wing enough for the left. You either go completely centrist, a la Blair, or you go properly to the left, as they would with Corbyn. The Burnham route is just repeating the mistakes of Miliband in my view - the centrists won't vote for him and the left won't see him as one of their own.

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    2. Glasgow Working ClassJuly 31, 2015 at 7:55 PM

      Corbyn is nearer to the politics in Scotland. So are you saying Scottish Nat si politicians will share a hustings with Islamic fascists that call Jews vermin? And want to impose religious sharia law. Answer please!

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  10. Our response should be to broadly back the left-wing policies, but make it clear that we are uninterested in having things nationalised just for them to be run from London by a clutch of Eton graduate civil servants.

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  11. If we subscribe to the theory (for which there's some polling evidence) that a major factor in Labour's defeat in England was the prospect of a Lab-SNP deal, then Corbyn's potential to win seats from the SNP actually makes him arguably the most electable of the candidates. I'm surprised his campaign haven't been making more of that.

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  12. Most of this is predicated on the concept that Corbyn will lean a unified Labour party, which simply isn't going to happen.
    It will be chaos, and I say that as a guy who predicted Corbyn would win a month ago.
    Looking forward to my winnings :)

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    1. Add the right wing press to the equation.....

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    2. The party will be united if they perceive themselves to be winning under Corbyn. That's really the key issue - Cameron has proven that principle as he's deeply unpopular with a great many Tories (particularly over his now almost openly pro-EU stance) yet the mere fact his leadership is allowing the party to win has papered over all the cracks.

      I think if Corbyn did win there'd be a fairly immediate boost in the polls for Labour from people who had abandoned the party and that would silence any critics in the short-term.

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  13. The main difference for me is in terms of the narrative. The momentum behind the SNP hasn't simply been about policy or even about independence, but about mood. There's been a general perception that the SNP are the voice of the outsider against the establishment: a voice of progressive politics that can tackle a corrupt elite at the centre of all our problems. It's that narrative that changes under Corbyn more than anything else. Passionate independence supporters aren't going to suddenly abandon the cause, but the wider anti-establishment feeling would shift and be taken over to some extent by Labour.

    It would also be a complete role reversal. Until now Labour has been hamstrung by its need to speak to the centre in England, which has allowed the SNP to constantly outflank the party on issues on the left, knowing that they have a free hand to call for policies Labour can't possibly agree to without alienating the centre. If Corbyn wins that could shift and the SNP's need to maintain its appeal to the centre in Scotland could open space up for Labour - demanding genuinely radical taxation policies (e.g. raising income tax and using it for increased spending on the poor) that the SNP would be unable or unwilling to implement.

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    1. Raising income tax? The only acceptable raise in income tax will be the 50p rate. The SNP strength on this one will come from the arguement that this is a Tory trick, supported by Labour. I.e. They are trying to force us to raise it as thats the only power they have given us. The best taxes to raise in Scotland would be Alcohol duty and tobacco duty. This would have the effect of raising funds and Aldo bringing down costs in the medium term. Another one would be a fat tax. These products account for roughly £9 BN of expenditure in Scotland; GERS eat your heart out.

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  14. Glasgow Working ClassJuly 30, 2015 at 9:20 PM

    The Nat sis would have a problem with NATO. Corbyn wants out and the Nat sis changed their minds and want to stay in.
    Rather confusing! So the Nat sis and Corbyn did not want to oppose the Warsaw Pact the Gulags the Stasi etc etc and were happy to see an equivalent system to the Nazis imposed in Europe. What is it with you Nat sis? Come clean honesty is free.

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    1. What is this "Nat Sis" comment all about ?

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    2. The troll is referring to either Nazis in the loveable way some unionists do about the SNP, or it is comparing the SNP to ISIS, or perhaps even both. GWC is a complete bampot anyway, so it really is not worth paying any attention to the odious troll.

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  15. The traditional Scottish nationalists account for no more than about 20% of the Scottish population. This suddenly jumped to 50% in the wake of, in my opinion, a highly socialistic referendum campaign. No matter your situation, independence would ensure you have a lovely life. We'd keep the good stuff about the UK and get rid of all the bad stuff, cost free. We would then proceed to live in a sort of vast, hippie commune for ever more.

    I'm not surprised disgruntled Labour and Lib dem voters swooned over it. But Corbyn can win them back. He is a politician the likes of which we haven't seen in this country since 1979. He'll be badly, badly beaten, of course he will - but he will provide a distraction from the SNP in the meantime. And that may be all that is needed to tip the balance back in favour of the pro UK parties in Scotland. During the break in SNP dominance, I expect the new devolved powers will take centre stage. Whatever the SNP does - raise taxes or meekly fall into line with the tory government, they are certain to lose support.

    And this loss of support may permanently damage their hopes of ever again becoming strong enough to dictate the Scottish political agenda as they have done these last few years.

    So, yes, Corbyn is crucial. His timing couldn't be better - provided he wins the leadership.

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    1. Beat it Aldo, you're nothing but a nuisance on this site. Have you not got something begger to do with your time ?

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    2. By the way Aldo, surveys of public opinion gave found that 70% of the population would vote for independence under certain (reasonable) circumstances. I.e. £500 better off, if you remember that one. Your 20% comment is pulled right oot yer backside.

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    3. Couldnt care less about Corbyn. This isnt about right or left or hard left. Its about improving Scotland. Its about prioritising Scotland. Bringing businesses and jobs and hope to Scotland.

      Why would we think Westminster would do a better job of this? Scotland has been let down by Westminster governments of all shades.

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    4. But most people in Scotland think you can only improve Scotland by going further and further left - libertarianism and economic conservatism having been thoroughly rejected.

      The only reason the SNP are doing so well is because they "out-lefted" labour. To be honest, labour should have seen this coming. Had Jack McConnell introduced free prescriptions and scrapped road and bridge tolls, I very much doubt we would be having this conversation. The labour-liberal coalition would be entering its 5th straight term and Salmond would be retired and living in the South of France.

      A mistake was made. Corbyn will correct it.

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    5. I disagree. I dont believe Scotland is fundamentally left wing. Despite what London's politico-media complex tells you, you can have a decent welfare system and a business friendly government. Thing is, we have no history of controlling our own revenue raising so how can anyone tell?

      Voting for free prescription charges is as useful a barometer as a child voting to increase its pocket money.

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