Labour Conference: What Corbyn speech means for Scotland

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn might have admitted that his party didn't win the snap general election in June '“ but you wouldn't have guessed that from the rest of his speech.

Jeremy Corbyn delivering his speech. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

The triumphant, 75-minute long polemic was arguably Corbyn’s best speech to the Labour faithful since being elected - it was certainly by far the longest.

Veteran left-winger Corbyn praised his party’s shock over-performance in the June vote, while taking aim at the Tories over their Brexit in-fighting.

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Corbyn ally claims party can ‘wipe out’ SNP
Jeremy Corbyn delivering his speech. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Scottish Labour was well represented, with some of the newest MP’s from North of the border taking centre stage quite literally with their leader.

Memories of leadership challenges and centrist grumbling now seem to be in the distant past for a Labour party which Corbyn proudly declared is on the brink of Government.

But what was in the speech, both spoken and subtext, for Scotland?

Cursory mention?

Jeremy Corbyn delivering his speech. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

One bookmaker declared themselves the victim of a redistribution of wealth to bettors after their ‘buzzword bingo’ special market saw them fleeced.

Some of the outsiders, like “magic money tree” at 20/1 might have attracted some interest, but ‘Scotland’ at even money was the real value.

And so it proved when midway through his speech Mr Corbyn mentioned the country that sent seven Labour MPs to Westminster.

Like in 2016 though, Scotland only merited a single mention, with Mr Corbyn making just one reference to the party’s slight comeback north of Berwick, and a tribute to Kezia Dugdale, recently departed leader of Scottish Labour.

Subtle hint or impartiality?

Mr Corbyn also gave his unequivocal backing to under pressure interim Scottish Labour Alex Rowley, who was exposed today as privately backing Richard Leonard over Anas Sarwar.

All sense of a comradely contest now seems to have gone out of the window, with Mr Sarwar’s backers now furiously accusing Team Leonard of being involved in a bloodless coup to force out Ms Dugdale.

He also pledged to work with whomever won the battle that will end with a winner declared in mid-November, but there was perhaps more to be read between the lines.

Mr Corbyn said, in full: “And whoever next leads Scottish Labour - our unifying socialist message will continue to inspire both south and north of the border.”

Reading more into that could be analytical overreach, but it is reasonable to assume from what the Labour leader says that he believes a campaign message that isn’t unified isn’t successful.

Some in Scottish Labour, including the pro-Corbyn Labour Campaign for Socialism, have publicly claimed that Labour was actually hindered in Scotland by a perceived lack of unity with the broader UK platform.

Broader message

Beyond the message of unity with the candidates in Scotland who are fighting an increasingly bitter campaign,Corbyn’s long speech was effectively a greatest hits tour of his preferred policy areas, designed to appear both principled and pragmatic.

The overarching theme is one of a Government-in-waiting, with Corbyn warning political rivals that the Labour machine is fired up and ready to go, should Tory infighting over Brexit result in another election.

Among those rivals is the SNP, which wouldn’t thank either side for another snap election, given their relatively poor recent polling performance.

The party was keen to appear bullish today, and SNP MP Stewart Hosie said: “This conference has shown that Labour remain inconsistent, incoherent and unfit for government.

“Aside from their confusion on Brexit – the single most important issue facing the UK – they have already U-turned on their pledge on PFI deals and have sent mixed messages on lifting the public sector pay cap.”