British nationalists, especially those of the British Labour variety, relish nothing more than a bitter little fantasy about SNP leaders being “worried”. As political midgets, it pleases them to indulge macho illusions about being regarded as a threat by relative giants the likes of Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon. We need only recall the ludicrous antics of British Labour in Scotland’s most recent ex-office manager, Jim Murphy, by way of illustrating the point. He was the clown who convinced himself that he was going to hold every one of the seats in Scotland that British Labour ultimately lost to the SNP.
Such pathological delusions aside, what would a rational person make of the idea that Sturgeon should be at all concerned about the possibility of Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader of the British Labour Party? Does she actually have any real reason to worry?
First of all. Corbyn isn’t leader yet. There’s the small matter of an election to get through. Even if successful in this election, Corbyn will then have to survive political assassination attempts by his own party. The knives will be out. And the price of survival will be compromise. Expect echoes of those “cheated” moments that became the defining feature of the Tony Blair era. Especially since even the tiniest deviation from the rhetoric of the leadership campaign will be portrayed in the media as an “embarrassing U-turn” and a “complete betrayal”.
Who can doubt that Corbyn will be an ineffectual leader of a party rent asunder by infighting and factionalism. Headlines about Sturgeon being worried about Corbyn will become headlines about Corbyn being threatened by the latest “grouplet” or personality to catch the fleeting attention of the mainstream media. A party so divided and distracted cannot possibly mount a significant challenge to Tory power in England, far less the SNP in Scotland.
In his enthusiasm for imagining a British Labour Party magically returned to full potency and leading a decisive British nationalist rout of those uppity Jocks, Robert McGregor misses another important point. Should Jeremy Corbyn be elected leader of British Labour, he immediately becomes one of those “Labour Party big guns” whose interventions were so unhelpful to the dire and disreputable anti-independence campaign. Not, perhaps, on the scale of that most inexplicably celebrated political nonentity, Gordon Brown, but nonetheless a contributor to that “immovable and growing mentality of resistance” that has become a defining feature of Scotland’s political culture.
Corbyn’s radical credentials are deceivingly flattered by the stultifying conservatism of the British Labour Party. At heart, he is every bit as much a creature of the British establishment as the party to which he owes his first and greatest loyalty. When it comes to the crunch, this imperative of will compel him to put party before principle. When tasked, he will rationalise his abandonment of principle and betrayal of people by contending that both are best served by maintaining the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. Structures which, coincidentally, are also required by the British Labour Party and the rest of the Westminster elite.
Corbyn may have caught the wave of aspirational progressive politics that has risen in Scotland, but he cannot ride that wave. The British state will not permit it. His is the voice of controlled dissent. He offers no vision of breaking free of that control.
Yes, Mr McGregor, people outside the Westminster bubble do use the word “aspirational”. But we use it in a sense that is meaningful. It is meaningful because it is linked to empowerment. It is aspiration as an attainable goal, not aspiration as a shiny bauble with which to tease and tempt the electorate. This is what Corbyn lacks just as much as any of the other contenders for the British Labour leadership. He is no more convincing as a prophet of meaningful reform than any of them. He offers, not transformation of a political and economic system running out of democratic control, but some tinkering with the workings as the behemoth of neo-liberal orthodoxy rolls on.
Corbyn is not the harbinger of the SNP’s doom, nor the saviour of British Labour that Robert McGregor is praying for. Frankly, Nicola Sturgeon has better things to think about.