In Scotland's most Jewish seat, fear of Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn dominates

In East Renfrewshire, voters fear the SNP could do a deal to secure a second independence referendum


Jewish voters in the largest community north of the border find themselves between a rock and several hard places in the forthcoming election.

According to the latest census data, approximately 2,400 Jews live in the East Renfrewshire constituency to the south of Glasgow — making up more than 40 per cent of Scotland’s entire Jewish community.

The Labour Party’s antisemitism crisis means the bulk of the community fear a government led by Jeremy Corbyn and, by extension, are wary of voting for the Scottish National Party (SNP), which has refused to rule out propping one up in exchange for a second independence referendum.

Many in the community also report Jews’ historic mistrust of “nationalist” politics — although the SNP boasts a number of local Jewish activists and its candidate, Kirsten Oswald, stressed her party’s centre-left credentials.

But the community locally are overwhelmingly opposed to Brexit, as is the country at large. In 2016, all 32 council areas in Scotland voted to Remain, taking 62 per cent of the popular vote.

Although three-quarters of voters in East Renfrewshire were opposed to Brexit, Ms Oswald is quick to point out that their Conservative MP, Paul Masterton, voted for Theresa May’s deal all three times, as well as Boris Johnson’s.

“I get the impression that a lot of people here are giving it a great deal of thought,” a senior community figure told the JC.

“All candidates are pretty well thought of. For sure, there will be a very high turnout. I think people are really searching to work out what they’re going to do.”

The seat itself is electorally fascinating.

The former Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy — much loved by the Jewish community — held the seat from its creation in 2005 until 2015.

One of the casualties of the SNP surge in 2015, Mr Murphy lost it to Ms Oswald, now chair of her party, who then lost to Tory Paul Masterton in 2017, then aged just 31.

Most people see it as a two-horse race between Ms Oswald and Mr Masterton.

Paul Edlin, the president of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, said that “by far” the biggest issue facing Jewish voters was Mr Corbyn and antisemitism in Labour.

“There is concern that Nicola Sturgeon could do a deal with Corbyn, despite the problems with antisemitism in the past. Nobody I’ve spoken to in the community believes he is a credible candidate to be prime minister.

“This would normally be a Conservative seat. It was for many years, before Labour held it based on [Mr Murphy’s] personal reputation at the time. He was very much a friend of the community.

“I actually think a lot of people want to just get Brexit done — but anyway, Corbyn is the main issue.”

Retired dentist Frank Angel, a supporter of the SNP, conceded that many in the community would be voting Tory — if only to keep Mr Corbyn out of Downing Street.

“I think the Jewish community will largely go Conservative — but with a few abstentions,” the 68-year-old Giffnock resident said.

“The only realistic way to keep Corbyn out is voting Tory.”

Unsurprisingly, Mr Masterton, the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Jews, stuck to the anti-Corbyn line, saying that the Scottish First Minister “has made clear she would prop him up in exchange for a second [independence] referendum.

“On the doorstep with Jewish voters, [Mr Corbyn] comes up straight away,” he added. “They are worried that it’s feasible he could become Prime Minister. And they feel let down by Nicola Sturgeon, who has traditionally been very good on this stuff. She has always made a big effort with the Jewish community.”

On this point, Ms Oswald did not offer much of a defence — other than to point to the strong reputation she, her leader and her party enjoy within the Jewish community.

“It’s understandable that people have concerns about Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party,” she said. “Nicola Sturgeon didn’t choose the leader of the Labour Party — and if she did it wouldn’t be Jeremy Corbyn.

“I am not sure the voters are terribly keen on Boris Johnson, either… I do think it’s a terrible choice. We are standing for election to try to represent the community in Scotland in the best way we can.”

Ms Davidson, Labour’s candidate, told the JC she has been “horrified” by the number of party members who have been suspended over allegations of antisemitism — including Jim Sheridan, her colleague on Renfrewshire Council.

Mr Sheridan, the former MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, was suspended for six months after saying he had lost “respect and empathy” for British Jews over the antisemitism row.

He has since been elected the deputy leader of the council’s Labour group — although Ms Davidson did not vote for him.

“I have gone on record to say I will fight against all forms of antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia and sectarianism,” she said.

“I personally never witnessed antisemitism before [Jim Sheridan’s comments], but the Jewish community of East Renfrewshire were absolutely disgusted by it.

“I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn is himself antisemitic, but the party hasn’t been strong enough. I personally think anybody accused of antisemitism should be suspended and, if it’s proven, they should be expelled.”

Andrew McGlynn, the Liberal Democrat candidate who cites Herbert Samuel as one of his political heroes, said he would fight the “incredible divisiveness” in politics if elected to Parliament.

He said: “I don’t see this being about one Labour leader, and when he’s out everything will change… It’s a virus that’s long been in the party.

“And I think, in British politics, it’s been in the background. We really need to fight to cut the cancer out.”

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