Ian Swanson: Jeremy Corbyn’s bid to woo Scots needs vote-winners

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn gave his backing to the Save Leith Walk campaign during a visit last month. Picture: Greg Macvean
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn gave his backing to the Save Leith Walk campaign during a visit last month. Picture: Greg Macvean
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THERESA May took another walking holiday a couple of weeks ago – but this time she resisted the temptation to come back and ­announce a snap general election.

Perhaps the air in Switzerland did not go to her head in the same way as it did in Wales last Easter.

But Labour bosses believe the chaos over Brexit means an early election is still possible at almost any moment.

Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival last night, is now on a four-day tour of Scotland, hoping to boost Labour’s vote north of the border.

The party performed better than expected at last June’s election, ­winning an extra six seats across ­Scotland, as well as returning Ian Murray in Edinburgh South.

But a recent poll showed its position going backwards, with support from Scotland in a Westminster election down four points since last year to 23 per cent while the Tories were on 24 per cent – also down – and the SNP was way ahead on 42 per cent.

Scotland is crucial to Mr Corbyn’s battle to get Labour back into ­government. Eighteen of the 64 seats the party must win to gain power are held by the SNP – and some of them have very small majorities.

Labour may or may not be right about the likelihood of a snap election, but it is making sure it is prepared anyway and the process of selecting candidates for target seats is well under way.

Long-serving Leith councillor ­Gordon Munro has already been chosen to stand again in Edinburgh North & Leith, where he closed the gap on the SNP from 5597 to 1625 last year.

Former MP Sheila Gilmore has been chosen to try to win back her old seat of Edinburgh East, where the SNP majority was cut from 9106 to 3425.

Labour’s determinedly left-wing 2017 manifesto, promising higher taxes for the rich, renationalising the railways and banning fracking, proved popular in Scotland as well as across the UK and helped the party claw back some ground from the SNP, who had previously been seen as stealing Labour’s clothes. Now there is said to be concern that Mr Corbyn’s appeal to ex-Labour voters who switched to the SNP before he became leader has begun to fade.

The UK leader has always been a turn-off for some voters across the country. But a campaign visit to Leith in June saw him enthusiastically backing the Save Leith Walk campaign against developers’ plans to bulldoze existing buildings which include popular local businesses like the Leith Depot live music venue. It is a good example of the kind of people-power causes which are close to Mr Corbyn’s heart and which help him to win the respect of ordinary voters.

Labour’s Scottish leader Richard Leonard has similar instincts but he has had a fairly low profile since being elected to the role last November – not helped by Labour’s third place in the Holyrood pecking order.

If Labour is to go into the next election with a real chance of winning it must overcome the current allegations of anti-semitism and resolve the controversy over its stance on Brexit.

Then it needs to focus on a clear set of radical policies, building on last year’s manifesto and offering a realistic alternative which people can see will make a difference to their lives.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com