If you haven’t been following the stop-motion inferno that has been Scottish Labour’s latest reshuffle, let ex-minister Tom Harris bring you up to speed over in the Daily Telegraph.
The short version is that Richard Leonard, the left-wing but not quite Corbynista leader, has sacked two of the party’s highest-profile and most able front-bench performers (both to his right, obviously).
More remarkably one of these, Anas Sarwar, was apparently dismissed from his health brief during a discussion on the NHS in the Holyrood chamber… just as the SNP were fighting off some bad news on the subject. Superb timing.
There’s more to it (we’ve not even talked about Alex Rowley), but one thing’s for sure: Scottish Labour’s continued failure to pull itself back into as much of a semblance of its former self is very helpful to the Conservatives.
In the most obvious sense, it will obviously lift Ruth Davidson’s fortunes in the Scottish Parliament election in 2021 if her biggest unionist rivals don’t enter the contest looking like a credible opposition. Not only will it help her solidify the Tories’ grip on their key unionist base (a mission aided greatly by Labour’s ongoing dithering on the constitutional question) but it will give swing voters minded for a change from the SNP with fewer alternatives to consider.
Of course, in the event that the unionist parties did manage to deprive the SNP and their Green foederati of their Holyrood majority and the Conservatives are second that will force Labour to decide whether or not to put a Conservative in Bute House, which might be the end of them.
But this matters in a UK context too. Even simply considered in terms of seats, Jeremy Corbyn will find his path to Downing Street that much longer if he isn’t able to count on a substantial bloc of Scottish MPs to get him over the line.
Worse, he might have to fight a general election on the prospect of forming a government supported by the Nationalists – who have just announced as their price the abolition of Trident. We’ve already seen in 2015 how badly that can play for Labour in crucial English marginals, and the SNP pitch seems calculated to highlight one of the Labour leader’s beliefs most likely to spook those very voters.
This must be extraordinarily frustrating for Corbyn’s office, which shows every sign of presiding over an increasingly well-oiled machine in the UK-wide party. Scottish Labour is often derided by devocrats and nationalists alike as a ‘branch office’. At present, it might be better off if that were the case.