Sunday, 7 June 2015


In a democracy, the principal purpose of like minded people gathering together in a political party is to fight and win elections.

And, on any view, historically, the Scottish Labour Party has been very successful at doing that.

Until last month we had won every UK General Election since 1964. Of the four Scottish Parliament elections to date we had won two and effectively drawn a third. Even at the one Scottish Parliament election that we did decisively lose we actually started the campaign as favourites to win.

None of that is in any way to ignore the crushing defeat we suffered on 7th May past.

It is however to query why so many in our Party seem to have already decided that we might as well write off 2016.

Now, I've not taken complete leave of my senses. For us to get back to the golden years of majority (albeit coalition) Government such as we enjoyed between 1999 and 2007 would require a recovery not just by us but by our potential Lib-Dem allies which it would, I accept, be unrealistic to see occurring within the next eleven months. But even in that terrible defeat a month past we still had the support of 24% of the electorate. That could, I accept, be little more than a dead cat bounce but, on the other hand it could indicate an irreducible core vote, even at the worst of times, of something approaching a quarter of the electorate.

And, if it is, let's consider some of the other things that are likely to happen over the next twelve months.

Firstly, Labour will have a new UK Leader. On any view one of the major problems Scottish Labour has had over the last couple of years has been, I'm sorry to say, Ed. He simply lacked.......... authority.

And Scottish Labour's response to this was almost to admit our embarrassment about him. It was clear months out that Scotland would be a decisive battleground at the General Election yet our response to that was not suggest the UK Leader should be up here as much as possible. Instead it was the complete opposite. To suggest that he set foot here only as much as absolutely necessary. That wasn't accidental.

Well, no matter who takes over that will change. And I suspect with it there will also be a very different approach to the rabble the SNP have recently deployed to try and disrupt our Party events. Potential Prime Ministers do not get sneaked in back doors. They arrive at events expecting that the Police will be responsible both for their safety and for the maintenance of public order.

It is difficult not to look like you are on the run if you are (literally) on the run. That will change.

Secondly, the fighting fifty-six will prove useless. That's not a personal criticism (even of the ones who are useless) it is simply an observation that all oppositions are useless except in their capacity as alternative governments. Well, the Nats have won virtually every seat in Scotland and yet they are not, and never will be, the alternative government. Once the novelty of playing musical chairs and sardines has ended, all that will be left will be the day to day grind of debating, voting and losing. Forever. Even if they can maintain their discipline, I suspect before long the electorate will begin to wonder what they are for. That shouldn't, logically, have any impact on a Scottish election but logic doesn't always currently feature in Scottish politics.

And then, thirdly, we have "Independence". It's clear that the SNP Leadership plan some sort of manifesto fudge on whether a 2016 victory would mean a second referendum. There would be one if their was "a change of circumstance". There are three problems with this. The first is that there is no indication that an early second referendum is anything like as popular with the electorate as it is with SNP activists. The second is, if anything, more difficult. If the SNP still believe Independence is such a great idea why wouldn't they want another referendum? The third however is the biggest problem of all. If a vote for the SNP in 2016 is not a vote for independence then what is it a vote for? To date the appalling actual performance of the SNP in devolved government: in health; in education; in policing; in energy policy, and in so much else has been obscured by a lot of flag waving. Once the flags stop waving however we seem increasingly in all of these areas to be falling behind the performance outcomes achieved by (even) the evil English Tories. Facts are chiels that winna ding.

And then, finally, we have the referendum that is actually going to happen. On the EU. That will dominate the public arena for the next two years. Now, the SNP would like this to be framed in terms of Scotland voting "in" while England votes "out" and that will at least be part of the debate. But there is one thing that even at this distance can be guaranteed. Certainly a third and most probably significantly more of the Scottish electorate will vote to leave the EU. And since half of Scotland voted SNP a month back then inevitably an awful lot of these people will have been SNP voters. Given the Nats harvesting to date of the malcontented, I suspect a disproportionate number. Now, we have a recent example of a Party campaigning monolithically in a referendum in Scotland against the inclination of a significant part of its electorate. Suffice to say it shakes things up. Yet at the moment at least that appears to be where the Nats are headed. And if they do? There is simply no logic in being unwilling to share sovereignty with your closest neighbours while being madly enthusiastic about sharing it with lots of other people. It was not for nothing that the Nats felt their assertion of Scots enthusiasm for the EU would best be tested by us not being asked directly. Now that it is however, I suspect the intellectual acrobatics required to hold the Party line will prove beyond the abilities of even the formidable Ms Sturgeon.

Now, none of these things guarantee that Labour will recover ground next May but they do at least suggest that things are not quite the foregone conclusion that seems to dominate the thinking of our high command. It should certainly not be Kez's pitch, to either the party or the Country, as I fear that it sometimes seems to become, that she is engaged in a five (or six?) year strategy as part of which next year's objective is mere survival and a clear second place.

For at the very least there is one very realistic goal. We have a PR Parliament and it is very difficult for one Party to secure an absolute majority. Certainly last month's election repeated would bring that result. But even in our pomp, at the high tide of New Labour and led by the irreplaceable Donald Dewar, the very electorally successful Scottish Labour Party I started with never achieved that. It would still be an exceptionally good result for the SNP to get 42% or so next May but it would mean that the Nats had lost their absolute majority. And then, I think, we would be entitled to quote with approval Alex Salmond who famously announced on the  morning after the 2007 contest "It might not yet be clear who has won this election but it is certainly clear who has lost."

When outlining matters changing in our favour I started by identifying a new Party leader. If I concede Ed was a major problem, it is only right that I acknowledge that, conversely, the Nationalists greatest asset was their own plausible and personable front woman. If you accept that, and who truly would deny it, a Holyrood Parliament in which there was no majority to re-elect Nicola to the post of First Minister would be a significant victory for the Labour Party and the Union and, even if it opened up no other more immediate opportunities, at the very least a major milestone achieved on any five year strategy to return to power.