Subscribers to iScot magazine might remember that for my December 2017 column, I made a series of non-predictions for the year ahead. That is to say, I made the point that the range of possibilities was much wider than the conventional wisdom would have you believe, and that there were a number of perfectly conceivable events being prematurely ruled out by pundits because of what the mood music happened to be at the end of the year. For example, it seemed silly to me that the possibility of a Blairite/"moderate" breakaway from Labour at some point during 2018 was being completely excluded.
The small minority of you who bother trying to get past the New Stateman's intensely irritating registration-wall may have seen a recent piece by Stephen Bush in which he suggested that the prevailing private view among many Corbynsceptics is that a new party may well be necessary. Now, admittedly there are only five months left in 2018, so if a breakaway does happen it's likely to be in 2019 or later. But nevertheless this gossip (which should be taken seriously given Bush's track record) does go some way towards vindicating my point that the cowing of the Blairite tendency at one particular point in time did not tell you a great deal about what the position would be a few months later. The rebels have cynically used the issue of antisemitism to breathe life back into their cause, and the question has reverted to being how to fight back against Corbyn rather than whether to do so.
If a new centre party emerges, would it be Christmas for the SNP? Answer: probably, but not necessarily. It's just possible that a fresh political force with a charismatic leader could ride the backlash against no deal Brexit and sweep all before it, including even the SNP in Scotland. More likely, though, is that the new party would be strong enough to do severe damage to Labour, but not strong enough to come close to taking power itself. The outcome would be a split and demoralised Labour and ex-Labour vote, which in a first-past-the-post Westminster contest would be a boon for any parties in competition with Labour in marginal seats. That would obviously include the SNP. There might even be limited benefits in a Holyrood election fought under proportional representation, because if either Labour or the new party fell below 5% of the list vote in any region, any votes they did receive in that region would be effectively wasted and would free up list seats for other parties.
It's worth bearing in mind, though, that the last time there was a breakaway from Labour, it was less widespread in Scotland than elsewhere. It's no coincidence that George Robertson was one of only two members of the SDP's predecessor group in parliament who didn't ultimately join the new party. Other Scottish MPs on the Labour right, such as John Smith, who would have been prime candidates to defect if they had represented constituencies south of the border, didn't even entertain the idea for a nanosecond. There was a stronger cultural and emotional attachment to the Labour brand here than there was in parts of England. Of course things have changed in the intervening few decades, and until the advent of Richard Leonard the Scottish party was almost starting to look like the last bastion of Blairism. Many Scottish Labour MSPs will probably be sorely tempted to join a new party, but will sense deep down that by abandoning the Labour brand they would be giving up the one and only thing that makes them vaguely electable.
Even if the history of the SDP breakaway repeats itself and Scottish Labour manages to basically hold together as English Labour falls apart, we can rest assured that the new party will still be beamed into Scottish homes courtesy of our wonderful homogenising broadcast media. A split vote would effectively be imported from down south, and I suspect the SNP would still cash in quite heavily.
Fundraiser: If you find Scot Goes Pop's polling coverage useful and would like to help it continue, donations can be made via the 2017 fundraiser page. The initial £7000 target was reached last summer, but one year on that money has all been used up. I know there are always lots of very worthy pro-independence causes looking for support, so I've held off for as long as I possibly could before actively seeking donations again.