HAROLD Wilson famously quipped that a week is a long time in politics. By that benchmark, the three months that have elapsed since the General Election feel more like a political lifetime. It’s not just that Scottish independence remains stubbornly on the agenda thanks to the SNP 56. It is also the dramatic transformation of UK Labour from being (seemingly) only inches from Downing Street, to being ever closer to terminal meltdown.

What finally happens to the traditional Labour Party remains in doubt – be it an SDP-style split, paralysis through permanent civil war, or eclipse by the Tories in England by choosing to become a second-rate reincarnation of Tony Blair’s New Labour. Regardless, the outcome will be heavily influenced by Jeremy Corbyn’s meteoric rise as a standard-bearer of a resurgent anti-austerity Left.

On June 15, soft-spoken Corbyn filed his Labour leadership ballot papers with only two minutes to spare. He had secured 36 nominations – just one more than was needed to qualify. Even then, around 12 of the MPs who nominated him only “lent” him their support to ensure a “wider” contest. Actually, they wanted to humiliate the Labour Left and keep it in its box.

In retrospect, Corbyn’s leap to being a genuine contender – the latest poll puts him 17 points ahead of second-placed Andy Burnham – is not surprising, at least not to those of us north of the Border, where genuine anti-austerity politics have proved electorally popular. The existing Labour leadership (not to mention the right-wing media) were quick to explain defeat in England on May 7 as the result of Ed Miliband taking the party too far to the left. In fact, Labour lost four million votes not to the Tories but to a populist Ukip that had stolen its anti-austerity clothes.

Second, the Labour leadership contest is being fought under new rules which have removed the blocking role of Westminster MPs, who tend to be well to the right of the constituency parties and Union membership. Any Labour voter can pay £3 online to register to take part. Some 140,000 people may have taken advantage of this, with the majority supporting Corbyn.

The media and Blairite Labour establishment have reacted to this outburst of popular anti-austerity sentiment with horror. How dare ordinary voters fail to follow the Blairite script! Cue headlines in the Sunday newspapers claiming the Militant Tendency were signing up to sway the vote for Corbyn.

Leaving aside the fact that these days there aren’t enough genuine militants to fill a telephone box, you don’t need a conspiracy theory to explain Corbyn’s popularity. In Scotland, Greece and Spain, we have seen genuine anti-austerity parties win mass appeal. True, there is an issue – which I’ll come to in a moment – about how such movements behave once they win power – for example, it is not easy to thwart powerful global banking interests bent on saving their financial skins at the expense of the poorest in society. Nevertheless, the idea that most folk want to vote themselves into unemployment or austerity is a delusion of Daily Mail leader writers.

However, there is a third dimension to the Corbyn upsurge. Opponents and the media had written him off as a lightweight ideologue. But we are dealing with more than an individual. Corbyn’s leadership bid has given formal expression to an anti-austerity movement that was already well under way in London (he is MP for Islington). Remember that Labour increased its control in the UK capital, taking 45 of the 73 parliamentary seats – a net gain of seven. Corbyn has around him key figures from the London Left, including his campaign director Simon Fletcher, a former chief of staff to Ken Livingstone. Fletcher is credited with ensuring Corbyn won the active endorsement of Unite, the UK’s largest trade union.

Would a Corbyn victory be good for the SNP? At a tactical level, he is likely to make common cause with the SNP group at Westminster. Last week, he joined us in voting against the second reading of the Welfare Bill, rebelling against the absentionist position of the current Labour leadership along with Labour London mayoral hopefuls Diane Abbott and Sadiq Khan.

On the other hand, the actual number of genuine anti-austerity MPs in the current Labour parliamentary party is relatively few – a bare 48 defied Harriet Harman’s edict not to oppose the Tory welfare cuts. Judging by the vitriolic attacks on Corbyn by other leadership contenders, his election by the wider membership will trigger an organisational split, as with the SDP in 1981. Expect David Miliband to return from the United States to take up the New Labour mantle. And crusty Labour MP John Mann (a supporter of Yvette Cooper) has already issued an open letter claiming that Corbyn failed to act firmly enough on historical child abuse allegations in his Islington constituency.

THIS scenario implies the terminal death of Labour in Scotland. It then would be only a matter of time before fresh attacks on the welfare state – the dismantling of the current state pension is next on Osborne’s austerity agenda – trigger popular demands for a second independence referendum. For the record, I’m not advocating a Corbyn victory in the hope it brings Armageddon for Labour. In fact, wrestling Scotland from the Tory grip in such circumstances could prove factious. It would be far better to negotiate a “velvet divorce” with a progressive English Labour government, based on mutual anti-austerity growth policies north and south of the Border.

That said, we should not dismiss possible downsides for Scotland in the event of a Corbyn victory. He is not a natural supporter of Scottish independence, coming from a traditional Labour Left that views the SNP with suspicion. Thankfully, the way we have deployed our new strength at Westminster is breaking down such misapprehensions. Last Monday, veteran rebel Dennis Skinner asked me if the SNP was opposing the Welfare Bill, so he could vote with us. But on balance, I’d expect Corbyn to work hard to rebuild Labour in Scotland, using the unions' bureaucracy as a lever.

If there is a weakness in Corbyn’s approach – sadly as with Alexis Tsipras in Greece – it could lie in his inability to identify a practical way of fending off retaliation from the global financial markets. The SNP, on the other hand, has proved adept at creating a truly national project that unites the working class with middle-class voters and entrepreneurs. These see common ground in forging a new nation state that favours economic growth and jobs, based on manufacturing exports, rather than the permanent deflation and consumer debt forced on us by the City of London. Also, the SNP sees building international anti-austerity alliances as the key to avoiding political isolation.

Tsipras had a popular mandate to re-launch the drachma and stimulate economic growth, free of the German banks and the corrupt Greek establishment. He seems to have wasted that opportunity. The election of a Corbyn Labour government is perfectly feasible. But it remains to be seen if he would make alliances with the Celtic independence movements to forestall the political backlash from the British Establishment and global financial order.

Letters to The National, July 27: Are we seeing the end of the Labour Party?

The National View: Jeremy Corbyn offers best hope for Labour and the electorate

Calls to postpone Labour leadership race after outsider Corbyn becomes favourite

Ken Macintosh defends his Scottish Labour leadership campaign