I WENT to listen to Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn in Edinburgh on Friday and was very impressed. I have known Jeremy for more than 30 years, firstly as one of my students at the Polytechnic of North London and then as a Labour MP.
He has always supported good causes and retained his belief in socialist values even at the height of Blairism in the Labour party. The fact that he has been returned with ever-increasing majorities in his Islington constituency shows that he has been doing his job as an MP well.
He is not a great orator but he is that rare thing: an honest politician who sets out clearly alternative policies to the austerity of the Tories and the austerity-lite of Labour. That is his appeal to the many thousands of socialists who have joined or rejoined Labour in order to vote for him, much to the distress of the Blairites in the Labour party.
As a former Labour MEP expelled from the party for my opposition to Blair, I welcome Jeremy’s success. And as an SNP member, I hope he can build an alliance with the SNP at Westminster and oppose the Tory welfare cuts and anti-trade union laws.
The implications for Scotland of a Corbyn victory are less clear; if Corbyn has excited Labour in England, the Scottish Labour leadership election has passed with little interest and the winner Kezia Dugdale getting little more than 5,000 votes. Compare this to the 115,000 members of the SNP and it looks thin.
Dugdale also has criticised Corbyn and backed another candidate, although I noticed she slipped into the back of the Corbyn rally in Edinburgh on Friday.
If Labour is going to do better in Scotland it has to ditch its visceral hatred of the SNP and Dugdale needs to lose her unappealing, petulant snarl. They should recognise, as Jeremy Corbyn seems to do, that Labour and the SNP can unite in opposition to the Tory austerity programme.
Of course, there remains a major difference over an independent Scotland and that will be decided in the long run by the people of Scotland. However, for socialists inside and outside the SNP and the Labour party, the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader should be welcomed as a step forward.
Wharton Square, Edinburgh
DURING the Scottish independence referendum campaign the SNP’s Yes Scotland ran a series of informal events in church halls across the country. In these meetings problems in the UK were emphasised and a Yes vote was argued to be the solution.
Jeremy Corbyn’s rally for the Labour leadership in Edinburgh used exactly the same approach, but Mr Corbyn was genuine and was willing to outline his proposals for solving the problems Scotland and the UK face.
As somebody to the left of the party, there were many ideas to get excited about. There are proposals to bring the national grid and the railways back into public ownership. Furthermore, Mr Corbyn also has plans for everything from ending student debt to expanding social housing and investing in hi-tech manufacturing.
Jeremy Corbyn, with his smorgasbord of proposals, is offering people across the UK hope. Hope that the UK, and therefore Scotland, can become a fairer and more sustainable country which plays a positive role in the world. This is his strength.
While this vision is admirable, it is perhaps heavy on idealism and light on realism. The proposals are comforting but, in many ways, are a parody of what one might expect from a socialist. The problem being that what was on offer from Mr Corbyn sounded like a shopping list, rather than a coherent agenda for seeking to change the UK. This is his weakness.
Indeed, at the event there was very little opportunity to ask any questions and those in the Labour party who are questioning Mr Corbyn’s vision were labelled as “the enemy”. This fails to reflect the fact that everyone in the Labour party is fighting for social justice, and the true enemies in that fight are the Tories and the SNP. We can’t deliver social justice with infighting or suppressing legitimate debate.
Despite these concerns, Mr Corbyn has managed to capture people’s appetite for change. The hope that he offers is powerful and Kezia Dugdale’s Scottish Labour must think about how it can capture the same mood without over-promising the electorate.
(Dr) Scott Arthur
Kezia Dugdale may be far too young and inexperienced – at just 34 this month – to be the new leader of the Labour party in Scotland. However, at that age, she might just live long enough to see the next Labour government in Scotland.
John V Lloyd