Matt Zarb-Cousin: Admit it, Corbyn has saved Scottish Labour

Corbyn at the Durham Miners Gala. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA
Corbyn at the Durham Miners Gala. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA
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Practically every political pundit is still recovering from their decision to write off Jeremy Corbyn before the general election.

From the moment he squeezed on to the ballot paper to become a candidate in the 2015 leadership contest, Corbyn has struggled for legitimacy from what now look like astoundingly out of touch political journalists. When he won the second leadership contest, the BBC’s Nick Robinson tweeted: “We must now take Jeremy Corbyn seriously as a potential prime minister”. Questions surely have to be asked about what exactly the BBC were up to the year before that.

When the broadcast general election rules kicked in, people were finally able to see Corbyn for who he actually is, rather than who he was portrayed as by the right-wing press. His approval ratings improved as the campaign progressed, and have been climbing since the election. The leak of the manifesto sparked unusually high levels of intrigue and interest, and Labour’s policies proved to be very popular, polling incredibly well with the public.

Corbyn’s supporters have long argued that returning Labour to its socialist roots would be necessary if the party was to ever regain support in Scotland. As the SNP MP, Mhairi Black, said in her maiden speech in 2015, “I didn’t abandon the Labour Party, the Labour Party abandoned me.” But now Labour has a socialist leader who is offering a positive vision for Scotland, we are unlikely to see any SNP MPs defecting to Labour. That’s because it’s not socialism but nationalism that drives them.

Many believed 2015 marked the end of the Labour Party in Scotland for a generation, but Corbyn offered transformational policies for Scotland that were underpinned by a clear and popular message: the top 5 per cent and big corporations would pay a bit more to fund public services, while the 95 per cent wouldn’t. As a result of an effective campaign, the party gained seven seats, taking votes from the SNP and ultimately proving supporters of Corbyn right about the direction they chose to take the Labour Party in.

This week, YouGov – one of only two pollsters to predict the outcome of the general election correctly – put Labour 8 points ahead of the Conservatives across the UK, and had Labour down as the most popular party in Scotland. But realistically, there are 17 seats in Scotland that Labour can win at the next election, in addition to the seven they won back in June.

There are ten marginal seats where Labour are very much back in the game, requiring a swing of between just 0.1 per cent and 2.6 per cent to win. Other seats, such as Livingston, saw the SNP’s majority reduced by just under 13,000, galvanising a huge amount of confidence in local Labour activists.

The status quo is no longer working for most people. Since the financial crisis, wages have stagnated, job creation and investment have stalled, and austerity has hit the poorest hardest. That’s one of the reasons why people opted to depart from the status quo by voting for Brexit. If Labour is to win more seats in Scotland, it must offer a positive message that speaks to the needs of the Scottish people and inspires hope for a better future.

People are not just fed up with the economic status quo, but with the political status quo. In particular, with politicians who don’t say what they mean, and who don’t do what they say they’ll do. Corbyn has always stuck to his principles, even when they’ve been unpopular at the time. If he says something, he means it. He is a different kind of politician, who was able to really connect with people over the course of the general election campaign.

As people look for an alternative, Corbyn has arrived to provide one, having returned the Labour Party to its socialist roots. By doing so, Labour has avoided being wiped out in Scotland for a generation, as many pundits predicted, and is once more appealing to the Scottish people.

Matt Zarb-Cousin is a former spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn. He is writing in a personal capacity