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.
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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