AFTER Labour’s surprise success in denying Theresa May her expected majority at the general election, Jeremy Corbyn is coming to Scotland next month for a tour of marginal constituencies.
In addition to the seven seats the party won on June 8 – including Ian Murray’s victory in Edinburgh South with a massively increased majority of 15,514 – there were 25 seats where it finished second to the SNP. And in several of these, the swing needed for Labour to win next time is less than one per cent.
When Mr Corbyn was first elected Labour leader in 2015 some suggested his left-wing credo could strike a note with disillusioned Labour supporters in Scotland and help the party recover. But polls at the time found no evidence of such an effect.
However, when it came to the general election, Mr Corbyn’s campaign proved a vote winner across the UK.
Labour left-wingers have argued Labour’s performance in Scotland was not as good as south of the border and could have been better if it had focused more on Mr Corbyn’s message and less on attacking the SNP over Indyref2.
At the Scottish Parliament elections just last year, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale tried to refocus the political debate away from the constitution and onto the issues that affect people’s daily lives, like schools, hospitals and housing.
But it did her no good. Voters’ thinking, it seemed, was still dominated by the independence question and Labour ended up with fewer seats at Holyrood than the Tories, who had campaigned relentlessly on a promise to oppose any bid for Indyref2.
Nevertheless, Ms Dugdale has staked out some important ground with radical policies, like a 50p top rate of income tax and an alternative to the council tax – measures which the SNP has shied away from.
And during last year’s election campaign, she presented a vote for Labour as a vote against both an “unwanted independence referendum” and “Tory austerity”.
She has also given Labour the chance to move onto more positive territory on the constitution with her emphasis on a federal solution. The election result does suggest that at least some voters are now moving on from an exclusive focus on independence and finding many of the Labour manifesto policies – such as rail nationalisation – rather attractive. Former First Minister Alex Salmond says Corbyn-led Labour presents “a substantial challenge” to the SNP.
And one SNP MP accepts it was the Corbyn appeal which saw Nationalist seats fall and majorities cut, despite an earlier analysis that the SNP had effectively replaced Labour in the hearts and minds of Scots voters. “Maybe people do now feel it’s possible to get a left-wing government as part of the UK,” says the MP.
No one knows when the next general election is going to be. Theresa May is only still in No 10 because her party can see no obvious successor and they fear a change of leadership would force them to hold another election, with the chance that Labour could win power.
But Mr Corbyn is hoping polling day will come round sooner rather than later – hence his summer tour of Scotland.
And it’s not just the UK Tories’ grip on power that is threatened. The SNP needs to decide how it will respond to the Labour advance – and quickly.