I missed the first half of Question Time because I was at the World Gymnastics Championships in Glasgow (and I can tell you that the management of the Hydro need to urgently acquaint themselves with a new-fangled concept known as "air-conditioning"), but I switched on in time to see a chap in the audience melodramatically claim that Jeremy Corbyn's leadership is consolidating the "one-party states" in both Scotland and England. Now, it's quite true that the evidence so far strongly suggests that Corbyn has failed to turn things around for Labour in Scotland, but is there any evidence that he's actually a drag on the party's support in this part of the world?
The YouGov poll earlier this week suggested that the public's assessment of how well Corbyn is doing as leader is almost identical north and south of the border -
Do you think that Jeremy Corbyn is doing well or badly as leader of the Labour party?
SCOTTISH SUBSAMPLE :
That being the case, you'd think he'd also be having a near-identical effect on Labour's electoral prospects in Scotland and England - but you'd be wrong. Although the percentage of people in Scotland who say that they're more likely to vote Labour under the new leader (17%) is roughly the same as the corresponding Britain-wide figure (16%), the percentage of people who are now less likely to vote Labour is dramatically lower in Scotland, at just 9%. The Britain-wide figure is 23%. So it's certainly hard to conclude on the basis of this poll that Corbyn is personally responsible for Scottish Labour's present predicament. That said, there doesn't seem to be much potential for him to do the party a whole lot of good either, because even if you combine the people who say they are more likely to vote Labour under Corbyn with the 8% who say they would probably have voted Labour anyway, that still leaves you with just 25% of the Scottish subsample - which is roughly the share of the vote that Labour got in their general election drubbing in May. 56% of the Scottish subsample say they probably wouldn't vote Labour regardless of the leader, which is an astounding 19% higher than the equivalent Britain-wide figure.
So, yes, Scottish Labour are in a hole. But I'm still not entirely convinced that it's sensible for Kezia Dugdale to keep banging on about just how deep that hole is. Her "rallying cry" tonight went something like this -
"Things are grim for Scottish Labour. We're in a right old mess. It's really, really bad. But do you know what? That's the reason I put myself forward as leader. I'm enthused by the prospect of overseeing failure. That's what this party is all about. I'll be honest with you - I don't think we can turn things around by May. We'll give it a go, but only up to a point. We can't expect miracles, so there's no point in tiring ourselves out. And I promise you this - even though we're going to lose, we'll make sure we lose by sticking to traditional Labour values. Such as happiness. Love. Children. Sunshine. Chocolate (in moderation). It's our belief in these things that makes us TOTALLY DIFFERENT to every other political party in the known universe. We've just got to keep existing. We're needed."
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If there's any downside at all for the SNP in the fact that their main opponents have been reduced to just one MP, we may have stumbled across it tonight. Keith Brown challenged Kezia to prove Scottish Labour's new "autonomy" is meaningful by ordering their sole representative at Westminster to vote against Trident renewal. Ian Murray quickly moved to get her off the hook by tweeting this -
"I'll not be voting for renewal. That's a long term promise to my constituents and nothing to do with party autonomy."
Even if there had been two or three Scottish Labour MPs, it wouldn't have been anything like that easy. But there again, Murray has got off the hook himself, because if anyone but Corbyn had become leader, he would presumably have had to make a choice between remaining in the Shadow Cabinet, and keeping his promise to his constituents. Mandy Rhodes followed up on his tweet by asking if he would be defying the whip on Trident, and this was his response -
"we are a broad church where ppl sometimes have different views."
That's utterly disingenuous. The Labour party may be a broad church, but the collective position of the Shadow Cabinet is a very different matter. In normal circumstances, a three-line whip would be imposed on a subject as important as Trident, and defying that whip would be inconsistent with remaining a member of the Shadow Cabinet. But fortunately for Murray, there's not much prospect of a three-line whip being imposed when it would make the party leader a "rebel".
Mind you, isn't it interesting that he used the words "I'll not be voting for renewal", rather than "I'll be voting against renewal"? Call me cynical, but that sounds very much like he wants to keep open the option of abstention. Well, he's a Labour MP after all.