Scottish Labour is now a shadow of its former self

Scottish Labour party conference

LABOUR OF LOVE: with the party dragged rightwards over the past 30 years, would a Yes vote kill off Labour in Scotland?

by John McAllion, Scottish Socialist Party, former Labour MP and MSP The burden of delivering a No majority against independence was always going to fall on the shoulders of the Labour Party. The Tories won only one Scottish Westminster seat at the last election. The Liberal Democrats won eleven but are currently languishing at just 6 per cent in the latest opinion polls, 29 and 25 points behind Labour and the Tories respectively and 13 points behind UKIP. The Coalition parties are losers in the context of Scotland’s referendum.

By contrast Labour still holds nearly 70 per cent of Scotland’s Westminster seats and is by some distance the main opposition to the SNP in Holyrood. Scotland until relatively recently was one of Labour’s tribal heartlands.
Throughout the dark years of Tory UK dominance, Scotland loyally registered Labour parliamentary majorities in opposition to Thatcher and Major. Many of Labour’s big political beasts were, and some still are, based in Scottish constituencies.

Shredded base
Labour remains the only element of the British establishment capable of stemming the rising tide of Yes votes. Yet Labour is now but a shadow of the party that once dominated Scottish politics. The latest polls suggest it is on course to lose its third Scottish election in a row to the SNP. It has lost popular support in each Scottish election since 1999.
Its local government base has been shredded by the introduction of proportional representation. Labour now controls just two of Scotland’s 32 councils. Its activist base has been hollowed out with the party issuing just 13,000 ballot papers during the most recent Scottish leadership election.
Moreover, Labour’s campaign on the referendum has been less than inspiring. The party’s decision to join with the Coalition parties in Better Together alienated many of its own activists and supporters. It became necessary to set up a rival campaign “Unite with Labour” to accommodate the likes of Gordon Brown who as well as not wanting to share platforms with the Tories still harboured a burning resentment against Alistair Darling his one-time less than loyal Chancellor and now leader of the cross-party unionist campaign.
Brown not only kept his distance from Better Together but began to develop his own independent No campaign. He has criticised the Better Together tactic of turning the referendum into a contest between Scotland and Britain.
He was particularly dismissive of Tory ministers coming north to lay down the law about what Britain would allow or not allow an independent Scotland to do – no currency union, no more defence orders, etc. He even suggested, to Alistair Darling’s horror that a debate between Alex Salmond and David Cameron would be “a good idea”. The separate Labour campaign did allow Labour politicians to develop their own key campaign message: vote no in September and vote in a Labour Government in next year’s UK election.
However, with UK opinion polls registering single digit Labour leads over the Tories and showing Cameron and Osborne with a 12 point lead over Miliband and Balls on the economy, the argument that another Labour government is just around the corner lacks any credibility.
As the economy continues to grow many Labour insiders fear that their lead over the Tories will disappear and with it the prospect of another Labour government. Their fears were compounded by the results of the European and English local government elections. Aside from the rise of UKIP, the Tories did much better than might be expected of a party that has been in office for four years during which they had impose deeply unpopular policies that have hit and hurt millions of voters across the country. More importantly Labour did not do nearly as well as might be expected of a party that is just a year away from forming a majority government.
Taking less than a third of the local government vote and just a quarter of the European vote does not suggest that public opinion in the rest of the UK is swinging behind Ed Miliband and his party.
The personal ratings for Miliband make matters even worse. In one poll 60 per cent of those asked thought he was “not up to the job” of being Prime Minister. More than half thought he was “out of touch” with their concerns and 59 per cent viewed him as “weak”.

Poor decision
On a range of policy issues from child poverty to the economy, big majorities thought that a Labour government led by him would fail to deliver. Voters obviously have a problem with Ed and that was the case even before he posed with a copy of The Sun and then apologised to Liverpool for his poor decision making in doing so. Senior figures in the party are now routinely briefing against their own leader and have already begun to plan who will replace him after what they see as Labour’s inevitable defeat in 2015.
Their main concern is with UK Labour’s future under a different leader. Their disloyalty not only undermines Labour’s future election chances, it blows to pieces the case that a No vote in 2014 will open the way for a Labour Government in 2015.

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