Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The new insurgents

A boy from Arden done good is the SNP’s worst nightmare

The opinion polls make for difficult reading for Labour supporters in Scotland. Relief or further worry may come in the shape of Michael Ashcroft’s next Scottish polls, which he has promised will be ‘fascinating’.

It will certainly be interesting to see if Jim Murphy’s hyperactive schedule makes a dent in the Scottish National party’s stonking poll leads. However, a fairer test would be May 2015 – six months into his leadership and a year out from elections to Holyrood we will be able to measure the Murphy effect in real votes, not polls.

Murphy has publicly committed to holding every Scottish Labour seat in May – no small order considering some pundits are excitedly predicting we could lose 20 seats to the SNP.

Holding every Labour seat at the next general election would be a fantastic result, but we held every seat in 2010 and still went on to lose the 2011 Scottish elections. Too many voters say they identify as Labour supporters but vote SNP at Scottish elections. Now, in the post-referendum era, the polls suggest we are losing these strategic switchers completely. A bigger victory would be to win voters back to Labour for good, not just for general elections.

Time is short but Murphy needs to make a few crucial changes fast – Scottish Labour needs to rediscover its voice and the party needs to start acting like a proper opposition.

For the first time in a long time the battleground in Scotland is not a few well-heeled suburban seats – instead, almost every previously safe Labour seat could be considered vulnerable.

When pitching to Labour heartlands the SNP relies on focus groups and polling – the language of the left, of fairness and equality does not come naturally to it – it is learning fast and at the moment could be considered bilingual. But it is still learning. Labour does not need a phrasebook to talk to working-class voters – this is our native tongue. We just need to discover it again.

During a two-year referendum campaign the SNP succeeded in convincing too many voters that the only way to deliver social justice was via independence. One path led to equality, fairness and a redistribution of the nation’s wealth while the other signed Scotland up for neverending austerity and division. This simple narrative was surprisingly effective and still holds with too many people. We cannot rerun the referendum campaign, and we would not want to, but exposing this false choice is the key to gaining a fair hearing again.

Murphy does not need a focus group to know what ‘Glasgow man’ is thinking. The SNP tries to paint him as a Westminster elitist because a boy from Arden done good is their worst nightmare.

Perversely, the relentlessly bad polls have been like a shot in the arm for Labour – we have finally started acting like an opposition. We are the underdogs and we are at last fighting an insurgency campaign, leaving the SNP government looking slow-footed and as the voice of the establishment.

We need more of this – much more. The SNP has somehow pulled off the trick of simultaneously being in government while riding the populist anti-politics wave. It is had a good run for over seven years, but it is time Labour got back in the game and made it a proper contest.


Kirsty O’Brien is a former European parliamentary candidate for Scotland


Photo: Scottish Labour

Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.

It takes time, commitment and money to build a fight against the forces of conservatism. If you value the work Progress does, please support us by becoming a member, subscriber or donating.

Our work depends on you.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Kirsty O'Brien


  • The boy done good? By ditching most of the policies he once believed in? By being shoved out of the way by Viceroy Broon? By staging a got up row with London Labour over the mansion tax? By jogging past the B.B.C in his Scotland Jersey? By getting the N.U.S. to support student fees AFTER it would not affect him? By claiming over a million quid in expenses? By claiming to put a lock on fracking in Scotland and then not even turning up to vote?
    You have no idea how glad I am to see him. Could you find any more? Please?

  • The Ashcroft Scottish constituency polls out today make it look an impossible task. On that basis Scottish labour could be left with as few as five seats in Westminster, with Tories as the largest party but a labour/SNP coalition possible to outvote a tory/libdem/UKIP coalition.

    Sturgeon and Salmond will screw labour for every English penny in that case, and we will get wiped out in England as well in the subsequent general election.

    How do we get out of this one then?

  • The problem is after a high tension referendum many voters now identify as Yes first and then choose a party to represent that. As a result past voting intention has been obliterated by this new identity. On top of the no doubt big ground campaign and Vow Plus offer Labour also needs a “Yes to Scotland, AND to Yes to Labour” narrative featuring big and local endorsers who voted Yes but also intend to vote Labour

Sign up to our daily roundup email