What Nicola Sturgeon can learn from Jeremy Corbyn | Kevin McKenna

After 10 ineffective years in power, the first minister should heed the success of the Labour party leader

On the eve of an election when you had dared to hope that compassion might prevail over greed, a reality check was provided by the BBC. Jeremy Corbyn had just finished addressing his 90th rally in a seven-week campaign and, for a few hours, we even began to wonder how Britain might be under a Labour government led by him.

Imagining the howls of anguish from those who stood to lose most under a Corbyn government was the best bit. They had lately begun to cast Corbyn as a Robespierre figure, gleefully imposing a reign of Marxist terror on mild Albion, roaming the country seeking out the necks of capitalists. It took just one word from the BBC to snap us out of the fantasy.

A report at the top of the 10pm news described Theresa May as “the incumbent” while portraying Corbyn not as the challenger but as “the insurgent”. The connotations of the word “insurgent” are endless and obvious. Palpably, “challenger” was not deemed sufficiently pejorative to describe a man who was lately beginning to make life uncomfortable for the cabals that between them divide the tasks of keeping the UK docile.

It was in that moment that you realised that Corbyn could not be permitted to win this election, though what he has achieved in the circumstances is a victory of sorts. The vested interests of the political and corporate elite that stand to gain the most by a Conservative victory are almost impossible to overcome at the best of times; when the BBC is joined by most of the Westminster Labour party, the task becomes simply impossible. A few weeks earlier, the BBC had decided that Labour’s manifesto was “red in tooth and claw”. Calling Corbyn an “insurgent” at the conclusion of his campaign formed the accompanying bookend.

Corbyn’s heroic efforts in denying May the majority she arrogantly assumed was hers for the taking may yet have bequeathed a valuable legacy to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. The first minister of Scotland, by her own admission, now has fewer than four years to save her political career. She has already asked the Scottish electorate to judge her premiership on the success or otherwise of her efforts to narrow the educational attainment gap between affluent and disadvantaged pupils in Scotland.

The way that Corbyn fought the UK campaign and in his positioning of the Labour party should be a lesson to Sturgeon on what can be achieved by boldness and conviction. In these early decades of the 21st century, the word “socialist” has been quietly eased out of the lexicon of the UK left. Over the course of the last seven weeks, Corbyn has singlehandedly redeemed it. In so doing, he has also singlehandedly rescued the Labour party in Scotland, whose leadership, ironically, has spent the last two years sticking pins into effigies of its Westminster leader.

Despite losing 21 seats on Thursday, Sturgeon’s strategists will point to this being the SNP’s fourth successive victory on either side of the border in under seven years. Each one has been either overwhelming or merely comfortable. Still, they must now park their desire for a second referendum and subordinate it instead to the task of helping Corbyn force another general election over the inevitable failure of May to deliver a “strong and stable” Brexit.

While doing so, the SNP might also pay heed to what can be achieved when you actually embrace the values of socialism instead of merely saying that you do. If the SNP is to win a majority at the next Holyrood election, an absolute necessity if its dream of independence isn’t to evaporate, the party must abandon its favoured strategy of cautious pragmatism over bold action.

More than a year has elapsed since Sturgeon asked to be judged on her government’s success or otherwise in improving the educational prospects of poor pupils. Yet she and her education secretary, John Swinney, have dithered over the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to adopt a bold new model for education in Scotland. This should replace the one-size-fits-all approach that has stifled innovation and creativity in the sector.

They ought to be kicking themselves for not having had the courage to unveil their education governance review before last month’s council elections. This review is the SNP’s last chance to implement the reforms required to close the educational attainment gap that disfigures Scotland. At least one of its casualties on Thursday night may be counting the cost of the SNP’s hesitancy at implementing real reform.

John Nicolson’s East Dunbartonshire constituency includes the high-achieving St Joseph’s catholic primary school, which inexplicably has been marked for closure by the former ruling Labour group on the local authority. Most of them paid for their foolishness at last month’s council elections. The parents have presented an imaginative and cost-effective proposal to take the school out of local authority control and run it themselves, though still within the public sector. The model is a gift for the SNP government, which stands accused of failing to implement a single meaningful reform of education in Scotland after 10 years in power.

Yet they have sat on the proposal for more than six months, fearful lest they offend the moribund teaching unions or Scotland’s permanently offended secular humanist community. Nicolson, having initially indicated support for the school, has been posted missing on the issue since. The last known sighting of him was on the set of Question Time, where he was believed to have set up permanent residence. On Thursday night, he paid the price for the SNP’s lack of spunk on the issue.

On health, education, taxation and on its attitude to Scotland’s hard-pressed SME sector, the SNP had 10 years underpinned by large majorities to reverse generations of decline. They opted instead for an easy life when they could have been bold; they blew it.

And on Thursday night they paid the price.

Comments will be opened later


Kevin McKenna

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Nicola Sturgeon must halt this gravy train of wasted government funds | Kevin McKenna
The Scottish National party needs to get a grip on the country’s finances before it throws itself into another independence referendum

Kevin McKenna

23, Jul, 2016 @11:05 PM

Article image
If Nicola Sturgeon wants a new referendum, now is the time to set the timetable | Kevin McKenna
Why wait for Brexit? The window for another campaign will not be open for ever

Kevin McKenna

14, Oct, 2018 @4:59 AM

Article image
Can Jeremy Corbyn reunite his party? | Helen Lewis
He has proved he is a great campaigner, but can he bring unity to Labour and win over dissenters?

Helen Lewis

11, Jun, 2017 @2:02 PM

Article image
Nicola Sturgeon’s strike for independence should not let the SNP off the hook | Kevin McKenna
The Brexit circus may make this the best chance to break away but problems in Scotland deserve attention too

Kevin McKenna

28, Apr, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
Rivals rejoice at Nicola Sturgeon’s departure, but Scots still need persuading the union is home | Andrew Rawnsley
The exit of the SNP’s most formidable advocate offers Labour an opportunity that Sir Keir Starmer can’t afford to squander

Andrew Rawnsley

19, Feb, 2023 @8:30 AM

Article image
Nicola Sturgeon: smooth operator, and very able to make mischief | Observer profile
The idealist remade herself as a leader with heart but is now locked in a ferocious struggle over a second referendum

Ewen MacAskill

19, Mar, 2017 @12:05 AM

Article image
To rise from the ashes, Labour must go on the offensive | Kevin McKenna
At this curiously delicate point in Scottish political history, the SNP is most assuredly not comfortable with the idea of independence

Kevin McKenna

07, May, 2016 @11:06 PM

Article image
Winning the election will be a piece of teacake for Nicola Sturgeon | Kevin McKenna
The SNP can do no wrong because its opponents are making an even bigger mess of things

Kevin McKenna

10, Jan, 2016 @12:12 AM

Article image
Stoking a culture war? No, Nicola Sturgeon, this is about balancing conflicting rights | Sonia Sodha
Scottish gender reform plans jeopardise legal protections for women

Sonia Sodha

21, Jan, 2023 @7:00 PM

Article image
Ruth Davidson’s tactics pave the way for independence | Kevin McKenna
The Tory gamble on putting everything on opposing a second referendum merely helps the SNP’s cause

Kevin McKenna

03, Jun, 2017 @11:03 PM