Scotland is Labour still

There’s a rather odd analysis around that Labour is acing a wipeout in Scotland at the next general election. It is primarily based on the observation that a majority of people in both Glasgow and Dundee voted Yes in the referendum. And extrapolates that into a conversion to the Scottish National party, then conflates it into a white working-class revolt (à la Ukip). Hey presto, all is doom and gloom.

This is wrong, and here is why.

First, we won. Yes, we won. Scotland rejected separation decisively – by 55 per cent to 45 per cent. I am surprised that we didn’t make more of this at conference – it is, after all, the first national election we have won as a party since 2005. But, the fact remains we won. And it was a Labour victory. Not only our public heroes – Gordon Brown and Jim Murphy – but behind the scenes – Sheila Murphy, Blair McDougall, Frank Roy, Jackie Baillie, Kate Watson, David Whitton. All stars, and all Labour. We have great talent in Scotland and we should never forget it.

Second, the SNP lost. This was an existential moment for them. And their entire political project – their purpose – was rejected. Decisively. Not just across Scotland, but even worse for them – in their heartlands. Little has been made of this fact, but Morayshire, Perth, Aberdeenshire – areas where the SNP have held sway for decades – voted No. This is prime territory for the Scottish Conservatives under their impressive leader Ruth Davidson. The SNP have talked left and acted right in recent years. Now they have to make a choice. They will have a proper challenger from the right in their heartland seats – so do they move to the right? However, their membership has been massively boosted post-referendum by an influx of new members. These are predominantly from the left – and far-left. These new members will be demanding a different politics, one that will potentially alienate the traditional SNP heartlands. And all this is a subset of the biggest challenge to the nationalists – how they handle their defeat. There are a large number of ‘referendum deniers’. They have badged themselves #the45. (Odd, I know – choosing a number that reflects both their loss in the referendum and a failed attempt to impose French Catholic rule on Great Britain in the 18th century. But there you have it.) They want a commitment to a rerun referendum in the next SNP manifesto. Some even say that a majority of seats in Holyrood in 2016 will allow a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. These fringe forces will be powerful disruptors for the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon will find them hard to handle – she lacks Alex Salmond’s messianic qualities.

Third, Labour has a straightforward offer to its core voters. They voted for independence to get shot of the Tories. In May 2015 they can get their wish by voting Labour. It’s a binary choice: a Labour government or a Tory one – a vote for the SNP is a wasted vote. There is also a great retail offer – 100,000 new houses; a living wage; an energy price freeze; a higher minimum wage; an end to the ‘bedroom tax’. All of these can only come with a Labour government. And Scottish voters are practised in using their votes strategically. Labour won a million votes, and a three per cent swing, in 2010 in Scotland, while we tumbled to a shocking defeat in the rest of the country. In 2011 the country swept the SNP to power, then a year later Labour won all the major Scottish cities in the local elections.

If we campaign on our forward offer – and if we use all our best talent – then we will win in Scotland in 2015.

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John McTernan is former political secretary at 10 Downing Street and was director of communications for former prime minister of Australia Julia Gillard. He writes The Last Word column on Progress and tweets @johnmcternan

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Comments: 14...

  1. On October 3, 2014 at 5:27 pm Holby18 responded with... #

    I am not so sure. I have just read an article by Peter Kelner saying that the SNP could gain another 20 seats at the next election. This would be a devastating blow for Labour if true. In addition EM did not receive a very warm welcome and had to cancel his walkabout during the referendum campaign. Add also the large number of people joining the SNP who will certainly be active during the GE campaign and it will be an uphill struggle for Labour to maintain its current support

    • On February 19, 2015 at 4:15 pm Helena Brown responded with... #

      I can assure you that people who were in the Labour Party here in Scotland are almost fighting to put the message over for the SNP. My own branch grew by over a thousand since 19th September therefore I take issue that the Union won, no they only won some breathing space.

      • On February 19, 2015 at 9:43 pm Jackie Dawson responded with... #

        and not that much breathing space…

    • On February 19, 2015 at 9:43 pm Jackie Dawson responded with... #

      With any luck and the way the polls are running just now, Libs and Tory get wiped out and Labour get 4 seats maybe and SNP get the rest fingers crossed. Now they can be worried…VOTE SNP

  2. On October 3, 2014 at 5:30 pm David Lindsay responded with... #

    Well, it’s as Labour as it ever was.

    Somehow, the places that have elected Alex Salmond and Boris Johnson twice in a row, and where the Tories could just assume victory into the 1970s, are held up as the twin hearts and souls of the Labour Movement.

    A Labour overall majority (not in any serious doubt) with a few gains in the South and a few, even quite a few, losses in Scotland, is not only feasible, but might not necessarily be undesirable.

    • On February 19, 2015 at 9:48 pm Jackie Dawson responded with... #

      No Labour as a minority with support for SNP is the best for Scotland.

  3. On October 4, 2014 at 8:49 am Peter Lockhart responded with... #

    Frightening the complacency in this article. Labour didn’t win the referendum, it was never about Labour. In any case, the result was No in spite of the campaign run by Labour. We might have won overall but the damage done to the party is huge and mustn’t be underestimated. And what is our best talent, the people who nearly lost us the referendum, the same people who were so inept in campaigning we ended up with a majority SNP government in Holyrood, something the voting system had been designed to prevent. And yet here we are, this article shows the New Labour project is living in the past, still thinking working class people will always turn to Labour even though the right want to pursue a neoliberal agenda. However I do agree with the articles analysis of the new influx of SNP members. They are the same ultra hard left that Labour kicked out in the 1980’s. But what the SNP do in their heartlands is not our problem, they were never fertile ground for Labour and never will be. What’s more concerning is what will happen in Labours heartlands.

    • On February 19, 2015 at 4:18 pm Helena Brown responded with... #

      I take issue with that that these people are hardliners that Labour kicked out, many of these are the people so disaffected by the Red Tories (not my name) that they have turned in their thousands to a party which believes in social justice, who does what it says on the tin. Labour is behaving like an adolescent who hates being asked to wash the dishes. Time to learn to nail your colours, what ever they are to the mast and stop abstaining in case you are found out.

    • On February 19, 2015 at 9:47 pm Jackie Dawson responded with... #

      I’m not a hard left anything, I just know that Labour have been throwing us a spanner for the last 30 years and its time we have people speaking for Scotland and that’s SNP. I hope Labours heartlands realise that Labour have never voted in favour of Scotland, just check their Westminster records. They have lied and cheated Scotland out of a better life style, while they have snuggled up to the parties they told us they hate…THEY ARE PROFESSIONAL LIARS.

  4. On October 4, 2014 at 11:04 am SeanieRyan responded with... #

    The Tories won the referendum. Scottish Labour were the ones who did the work.

    Who will ever forget the Labour party and its friends in the sectarian Orange Order working together, Labour members, elected ones included canvassing with the National Front.

    Gordon Brown and the vow that became “sign a petition”.

    Labour have burnt a lot of bridges and will pay a price for that.

    “impose French Catholic rule on Great Britain in the 18th century”. What is that about. 1745 was about restoring the Stuarts to the throne. Putting it done as a papist attempt to impose control over Britain just smacks of the Labour party in Scotland’s obsession with taigs and papists.

  5. On October 25, 2014 at 5:57 pm nana responded with... #

    Mr McTernan.still think that the 25th october 2014?

  6. On February 19, 2015 at 4:09 pm Helena Brown responded with... #

    Sorry I take issue that you won and that you won an election, it was not an election. May I point out that it is how you won this referendum. Many people disliked the fact that you cheated, and your representatives lied to people. Your Gordon Brown lied, an absentee MP bankbencher, that he could give Scotland a form of Devo Max which had to pass Westminster and the House of Lords and not only that the English Electorate who all Unionist MP’s have convinced they subsidise Scoctand whilst it is the other way round would not have allowed their MP’s to vote for it, they would have voted them out if that was going to happen.
    The lack of thought has unintended consequences mostly but not solely caused by Labour cuddling up to the Tories. Talking the people you represent down with such glee has not been good for you. Scotland used to think the Labour Party cared about Working People, they now realise they do not. If you do not realise many people who supported you are now members of the SNP and they hate you. Even more than people like me who never liked you and never trusted you.
    I am grateful though that you have a lot to learn as to how you put this right, seems you have not much hope before 7th May.

  7. On May 18, 2015 at 10:18 pm Working Class Man responded with... #

    Ach well, that didn’t work out too well. Back to the drawing board for Mr McTernan…

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