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Why Jeremy Corbyn will find winning back Scotland so hard

For an ever-greater number on the left, the independence question transcends all others. 

Jeremy Corbyn has headed to Scotland for his first post-conference visit. It is here that many of Corbyn's supporters are most confident that he can improve Labour's standing (the party has just one Scottish MP and is forecast to endure another landslide defeat to the SNP in next May's Holyrood election). Unlike Ed Miliband, Corbyn is an unambiguous socialist and shares many of the nationalists' distinctive stances: opposition to Trident, tuition fees and austerity (though the SNP's hostility to the latter was largely rhetorical). Corbyn is also an outsider in his party, free of the taint of the Labour establshment and the No campaign. 

Unsurprisingly, then, early polls have shown a small swing to Scottish Labour, with another finding that a third of SNP voters are more likely to vote for the party under Corbyn. But those who view the Labour leader as an easy panacea risk much disappointment. On the basis that divided parties never win elections, the SNP has immediately argued that Labour is incapable of defeating the Conservatives, making independence more necessary than ever. To rebut this claim, the party will need to gain significant ground south of the border. 

Corbyn failed in his first attempt to make Labour a pro-disarmament party and, owing to the opposition of most of his shadow cabinet and the trade unions (who hold 50 per cent of conference policy votes), he is unlikely to succeed in the future. He has conceded today that the party may enter the Scottish parliamentary election without a clear position - a gift to the SNP. Corbyn's campaign pledge to abolish tuition fees and restore student grants was barely mentioned at the conference, with shadow universities minister Gordon Marsden stating that the party's current position was merely under "review". 

But the Labour leader's biggest problem is quite simply that he is a Unionist. For an ever-greater number of Scottish voters, the independence question transcends all others and is the prism through which they view issues such as Trident. Perhaps most significantly, it is those on the far-left, Corbyn's natural audience, who were most disappointed by the referendum result (based on polling by the British Election Study). Whatever else the Labour leader can promise them, he cannot promise to change that outcome. The danger for his party remains that the SNP's hegemony has only just begun. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.