The Shambles of Scottish Labour
The most recent YouGov poll shows the SNP on course to steal 20 additional UK Parliament seats from Scottish Labour. In light of this it was announced on Sunday that Margaret Curran was bringing in the help of experts to re-engage voters with the party. These experts were responsible for regaining Labour’s dominance over a London council which had elected 16 BNP Councillors. The decision shows just how out of touch and desperate Scottish Labour are. For a start, how much of an expert do you need to be to convince the people of Barking and Dagenham that they had just elected a bunch of idiotic racists? A protest vote in favour of some fascists is in no way comparable to the current situation in Scotland where support has slowly grown for the SNP over time on account of them actually doing a good job. Something the BNP are ill equipped to do, even at council level.
However, the bringing in of outsiders does highlight the nub of the Scottish Labour problem. The reason they are in decline is that they don’t stand for anything any longer. One of the toxic legacies of New Labour is that policy is constructed not by conviction but by focus groups, polling analysis and deference to powerful vested interests. Scottish Labour have clung to the tattered coattails of the Blair regime for so long they have forgotten the principles that should underlay their ideas. Henry McLeish, for me the most disappointing public figure in the referendum campaign (as he clearly saw the value of a Yes vote but stayed loyal to an idea of Labour that no longer exists) recently had a stab at framing the problem.
“We’ve lost, over the last seven years, enormous ground to the SNP unnecessarily. We haven’t gained traction on the real issues of Scotland. A lot of Labour voters don’t know what the party stands for … [which is] essentially saying, ‘Look, we’re a party of social justice, we’re a party of equality, not a party of unfettered markets.’ But nobody knows about that now.”
The reason nobody knows about that is because it is no longer true.
Curran, like many of the other Scottish Labour MPs, voted to cap welfare but she wonders how they fail to engage with their core support. They have just spent years in bed with the Conservatives in the most negative campaign in modern political history but wonder why they cannot be trusted. The Yes campaign did best in the strong traditional Labour stomping grounds, yet Labour still produce the meekest Smith commission suggestions and they wonder why they can’t connect? They are still in favour of more austerity even though the policy punishes their traditional voters for the mistakes of the rich, and they ponder why they are about to be wiped out in Scotland.
You don’t need to consult experts to tell you that you are failing because you no longer have any principles to guide your policy. They come across as lost sheep, shepherded at the UK level by a man whose competencies would make any sensible person think twice about putting him in charge of a tuck shop. Led in Scotland by a woman with less vision and charisma than my kitchen table.
The parties that they fear, love them or loath them, have principles to guide their policy and charismatic leaders to articulate the vision emanating from their ideas . Everyone knows what Nicola Sturgeon, Patrick Harvie and Nigel Farage stand for and we can see that reflected in what they offer to the electorate.
The recently commissioned focus group, Labour for Scotland, seem to understand how bad the situation is. In the words of its chairperson, Glasgow City Councillor, Jonathan Findlay:
“As a party, we recommended to our traditional supporters that they should vote No. However, large numbers of these same supporters actually voted Yes. If they are not listening to us, perhaps we should be listening more to them.”
Maybe Labour For Scotland will get to the right answers but they shouldn’t need to get there by listening to their core support. They should be there already, as any politician who claims to be a Labour politician should be intrinsically aware of what that means. It entails distancing themselves from the spin driven politics of the failed New Labour project and becoming a party of social justice again. The fact that they find it difficult to comprehend what is plainly obvious shows why they are in jeopardy of soon becoming a historic entity in Scotland.
One of the sad things about the likely upsurge in votes for the SNP at the next General Election is that it will probably consign us to another term of Conservative rule (hopefully with the SNP holding the balance of power). However, I will not be voting SNP with a heavy heart as the truth is that Labour are unfit to govern. They are a rudderless party, cast adrift from their principles. with no light on the horizon to guide them back home. The fact that they are fumbling around with focus groups and self professed experts for a way back shows that their conviction is dead. Surely some among them must have an ember of the old party still smouldering deep within?
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