The SNP have nothing to fear if Labour shifts left
There's a remarkable delusion abroad in Scotland. Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, a great many people believe the Scottish National Party to be a left-wing concern.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is seen by a large swathe of her supporters - particularly those voters who have abandoned Labour - as a socialist standard-bearer.
The reality is that the SNP’s current remarkable success is built on a don’t-scare-the-horses approach to policy; a pitch to the middle classes with all the party’s old radical edges smoothed off.
The SNP is a centrist party employing (when it suits) left-wing rhetoric.
Thus, the nationalists condemn Labour as “red Tories” while offering free university places to kids from wealthy families; they berate the Conservatives for being in hock to big business while pledging corporation tax in an independent Scotland would be slashed.
Unless something very queer indeed happens, Jeremy Corbyn will become leader of the Labour Party on Saturday. And that “red Tory” accusation will lose its potency.
Corbyn is, by any standard, definably of the left. That hardly needs restating after weeks of a leadership campaign during which he has signalled his intention to return to the pre-Tony Blair era, when Labour was pure and unsullied by tawdry compromise.
A substantial number of Scottish Labour members have convinced themselves that the election of Corbyn will present Sturgeon with a problem. These activists and MSPs have bought into the myth that the SNP outgunned Labour from the left. They have bought the nationalist spin.
The logic goes that, once Jezza starts espousing radical left-wing policies as leader of Her Majesty’s official opposition, the First Minister will have a proper fight on her hands.
It’s certainly true that the SNP has scooped up votes in areas that were once Labour strongholds, the deprived East End of Glasgow, villages in Fife where, a generation and more ago, the mines provided jobs, but the party began succeeding when it won the support of middle Scotland.
When the SNP stopped talking about ditching the monarchy and dropped its opposition to Nato membership, cautious Scots were reassured. When the party replaced promises of tax rises with promises of free things (prescriptions for all, regardless of earnings, for example) the self-interested majority came running.
In May’s General Election, when the SNP won Jim Murphy’s East Renfrewshire seat, it did not just topple the leader of Scottish Labour, it took a constituency that epitomises middle Scotland.
The affluent folk of East Renfrewshire are not firebrand radicals, they are - by and large - well-heeled professionals, many of whom moved to the area for the well-funded, high-performing schools.
Corbyn won’t win those voters back from the SNP, and nor will he help Labour recover in other suburbs, where voter turn-out is almost as high as antipathy to higher taxes.
In traditional working class areas, the story that Labour betrayed its supporters is now gospel. And, remember, the SNP is a left-wing party, anyway. There’s no need for a re-calibrated Labour Party when the Scottish nationalists have socialism covered (or, more accurately, when the belief that they do endures).
Scotland is not a markedly more “radical” country than England. When Alex Salmond returned for a second stint as SNP leader in 2004, it was his recognition of this truth that helped his party begin building the sort of success that would previously have been unimaginable.
Nicola Sturgeon will be absolutely delighted by a Corbyn victory; not because he is a kindred spirit but because a move left by Labour will allow her to consolidate the SNP’s position on the centre ground of Scottish politics.