Kenny MacAskill: Corbyn smears from Tories betray their concern

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Given the basis for this election, the irony is Brexit has hardly been mentioned, writes Kenny MacAskill.

The election is back on track and manifestos launched after the Manchester atrocity. However, it hasn’t been running entirely smoothly for any party leader.

Jeremy Corbyn has said he will not do a deal with the SNP at Westminster - but if there is a hung parliament, circumstances may force him to reconsider. Picture: John Devlin

Jeremy Corbyn has said he will not do a deal with the SNP at Westminster - but if there is a hung parliament, circumstances may force him to reconsider. Picture: John Devlin

The election was called by Theresa May in anticipation of an emphatic victory and putting Jeremy Corbyn to the sword, but numerous u-turns have seen her wobble. But it seems she’s still on course for a comfortable victory. 
In engagements with her, and from reports from others, I found the Prime Minister cold and reserved.

Much more used, as the police in England and Wales experienced, to lecturing rather than listening. That’s borne out in her limited public appearances. Far from delivering the coup de grace, she’s been afflicted by stage fright when facing laughing crowds or penetrating questions.

Corbyn on the other hand has shown himself to be affable and capable, though has suffered excruciating moments under scrutiny.

Whether because expectations were low or extensive campaign experience within his own party, he’s performed far better than anticipated; and certainly, by the Tories.

Scotland's youngest MP, Mhairi Black, reads the SNP's manifesto at its launch in Perth. Picture: SWNS

Scotland's youngest MP, Mhairi Black, reads the SNP's manifesto at its launch in Perth. Picture: SWNS

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That’s shown by attacks upon him over alleged support for the IRA or giving succour to terrorism more widely.

Whilst I am no fan of his, I find those allegations scurrilous. When former senior Provisional IRA members like Danny Morrison state that they met Douglas Hurd and others long before Corbyn, the hypocrisy is self-evident. For even liberal Tories to still be repeating Corbyn smears is shameful; but indicative of their concern.

As for the Lib Dems, Tim Farron has failed to register with the voters.

It’s a hard slog as he’s paying the price for his predecessors’ deal with the devil, in going into coalition with the Tories. However, he’s taking them back to a position they last held under leaders long since passed, such as Jo Grimond. A handful of seats, in a scattering of areas.

In Scotland, it’s a different contest entirely. Here it’s SNP versus Tory.

The Conservatives are up for a fight under the pugnacious Ruth Davidson. They’re doing well but whether they can meet their raised expectations is another matter. She’s opted out of abolishing the winter fuel allowance but has faced a storm over other UK benefit changes.

There’s been a hint of the nasty party under the veneer and a whiff of orangeism among some new council members.

They’re most certainly not going to win. In some ways, it’s simply about getting back to a more normal position.

It was always an anomaly that the right-wing vote should be so low in Scotland. After all, in 1955 they actually polled a majority, albeit by a fraction just over 50 per cent. However, even under Margaret Thatcher and John Major in the 1980s and early 90s, they were polling around 30 per cent. If they get back to that and win a handful more seats it will be a successful election for them.

The SNP manifesto launch will hopefully for them give energy and focus to a campaign that so far has lacked both oomph and an objective. The 2015 election was a political aberration and holding 56 seats almost impossible to envisage. Some hard-working MPs will lose despite their valiant efforts, as a more normal political atmosphere returns.

It’s now clear that the SNP theme is protecting Scotland from Tory austerity.

That may energise the party’s many activists who seem to have been scrambling around looking for the election message. Why it took so long to come around to that is surprising.

UK elections have historically been difficult for the SNP. They tend to focus on whether there will be a Tory or Labour government. However, Labour’s meltdown north of the Border opened space up for them, as the protectors of Scotland, much the same as Labour successfully argued under Thatcher for many years.

However, the SNP have been pinned down, though sometimes of their own making, on a second independence referendum and their Holyrood record.

Announcing your preferred date a few months back and leaflets referring to the SNP’s record in government expose your flank. Moving the ground on to what they can do for Scotland is a stronger message, especially in the face of a Tory government lurching to the right. However, there’s also a slight dilemma for the SNP in Westminster itself.

Sinn Fein abstentionism is never going to be acceptable to Scottish voters. They expect action to be taken on their behalf even if aware of the limits of what can be achieved.

However, seeking to portray yourself as Her Majesty’s real official opposition was a double-edged sword.

Of course, great work has been done on the rape clause and other issues. But the SNP contingent can never be the official opposition by dint of numbers. Campaigning can be done, but they can also harass and harry. As the Irish Parliamentary Party appreciated over years, it wasn’t the oratory of Charles Stewart Parnell that worked. It was using their votes to advance Irish issues; and being willing to disrupt when appropriate and build alliances whenever possible. Less deference for the institution and cramming the green benches on a daily basis and more standing up for Scottish interests is required.

As for Labour in Scotland, they’re on the margins, as the SNP was years ago. Labour are attacking the opposition when it’s the Tories who are still the enemy for the majority of voters. Moreover, Kezia Dugdale is as nice as she comes across as politically insincere.

It’s hard to know just what she stands for given the volte faces Scottish Labour has made. From Corbyn to Trident they’ve flip-flopped. As Corbyn offers hope, the Scottish comrades only echo the Tories on a referendum.

As for the Lib Dems, they’re a marginal force here as they are south of the Border. Holding their seat and gaining another would be a success.

So, it’s into the final week yet Brexit has hardly been discussed – ironic really, given the basis for the election.