Labour’s Scottish election campaign is a disaster

by Calum Wright

Scottish Labour’s campaign has been uninspiring, ill-conceived and unsuccessful. A lead in the opinion polls has been squandered and it seems increasingly likely that the SNP will be re-elected with more MSPs than ever. The recent Scotland on Sunday / YouGov poll has given the SNP a 13% lead over Labour in the constituency vote and a 10% lead in the regional list. With just a week until polls open, Iain Gray is relaunching the Labour campaign. As a Labour party member, this state of affairs is above all frustrating: a campaign which had the potential to show Labour rejuvenated instead indicates that lessons have not been learned. Here I will highlight four main areas in which the campaign has come short: the anti-Tory, then anti-SNP, stance; the absence of distinctiveness; the lack of realism; and the leadership problem.

The recurring motif of most of the Labour campaign thus far has been “now that the Tories are back”. The idea, presumably, was to reawaken latent Scottish fear and hatred of the Conservatives, and insist that only Labour could save Scotland from the cuts. The problem with this strategy is first that the Tories are not the main opponents in these elections, the SNP are. Second, there is no clear evidence to show that the Scottish people believe that Labour rather than the SNP are best placed to “protect” Scotland from the Conservative-Lid Dem coalition.

Many of the SNP’s main players are veterans of the campaign against the poll tax and are, or were, torchbearers for the party’s left wing. Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill are now mainstream politicians, but were part of the socialist 79 Group and were expelled from the SNP in 1982. Though less explicitly anti-Tory than Labour’s rather clumsy effort, the SNP has, of course, continuously positioned itself as the defender of Scotland, proclaiming that they will oppose or mitigate the “Westminster imposed cuts”.  The SNP’s slogan is “A Scottish government working for Scotland”, and this appeal to nationalism is arguably more effective than Labour’s politically partisan approach. Of course, Labour has now switched tactic and is focusing its attacks on the SNP, but once again they have misjudged the national mood.

This leads on to the second problem with the Labour campaign: the lack of distinctiveness. Iain Macwhirter has dubbed this the “me too” election, noting that whatever the Nats pledge, Labour follows suit. This backfired somewhat when Labour adopted the SNP policy of a council tax freeze, despite earlier opposition, promising to extend it by two years. The SNP then went on to promise a five year extension. Both the SNP and Labour are centre-left parties and to most their manifestos appear nigh on identical. Now that Labour has turned its fire from the Tories onto the SNP, the main, if only, ammunition they can use is to denounce independence. The difficulty with this, however, is that voting SNP, as we all now know, does not lead to independence; it might lead to a referendum, but the SNP have proven that they can govern and that they are not a one issue party.

Labour cannot simply rely on the issue of independence to scare Scottish voters into choosing them over the SNP: it is patronising, deceptive and reveals a fundamental lack of vision. Labour needs to move away from negative campaigning – portraying the Tories and the Nats as bogeymen – and instead stress its distinctive vision for Scotland. The SNP is an umbrella group for a range of politicians whose fundamental belief is that Scotland should be an independent nation. This is essentially its only ideology; though is leaders are currently pursuing a populist, pro-business, centre-left programme, this can and will change as the makeup of the party alters. Labour is a democratic socialist party, however that is defined; it  has the ideological, intellectual and cultural tools to deconstruct and oppose the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition’s policies.

The third problem is one common to almost all the major parties: the fantastical qualities of their manifestos, most of which avoid any mention of the Scottish government’s budget falling by £1.3 billion in 2011-2012 alone. In a repetition of the 2010 general election, Scottish politicians seem to believe that the public will buy the notion that “efficiency savings” will make up most of the shortfall. Labour has suggested it can find £4.8 billion “efficiency savings” in order to fund its manifesto along with the money saved by merging police forces, creating a single fire service, cutting the number of health boards and other reforms. With such wildly optimistic figures, Iain Gray’s attack on Salmond appears misguided. “Listening to this man is like watching Tomorrow’s World in the 1970s, when we were all promised jetpacks – just like we were promised all student debt would be scrapped, teacher numbers would be maintained, and our school building programme would be matched”, he will say. But the Scottish public is no more confident that Labour is in touch with reality.

Any analysis of Scottish Labour’s campaign has to touch on the issue of leadership. Alex Salmond is a confident, capable and intelligent politician probably without equal in Scotland. The SNP will face a charisma vacuum when he eventually goes, but for now he is perhaps its greatest asset. Iain Gray, on the other hand, well-intentioned and agreeable though he seems, has difficulty articulating the Labour message, though the fault may lie more with his advisors and strategists. The debacle at Central Station may be the Gillian Duffy moment of this campaign, imprinting the image of Gray as a man lacking conviction, unable to defend or even express his policies, onto the nation’s psyche. Misquoted figures and even spelling mistakes in Labour’s manifesto emphasise this image of a poorly managed party, more interested in focus-group issues than in constructing a plan for the future of Scotland.

The campaign is not yet over, but I believe the election is already lost. Labour has once again reverted to the easy option of attacking first the Tories then the SNP without producing a coherent, costed and inspiring vision for Scotland. The rebuilding of the Labour party in England is developing apace after the defeat of last May; Scottish Labour will have to begin that process if it is to retake Holyrood.

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41 Responses to “Labour’s Scottish election campaign is a disaster”

  1. Gary says:

    Us Scots have always understood that the Scottish Labour Party has NEVER had to campaign for votes in the serious sense that it is understood in England (where I now live). Campaigning is all inward focused i.e. to become the SLP candidate, rather than outward focused to produce a vision that positively attracts voters.

    The rise of the Nats requires SLP to develop skills that it has never posessed. Not promising.

  2. Bugger (the Panda) says:

    Labour, left of centre?

    You’re having a laugh?

  3. AmberStar says:

    “Labour needs to move away from negative campaigning – portraying the Tories and the Nats as bogeymen – and instead stress its distinctive vision for Scotland.”
    @ Calum Wright,

    What distinctive vision is that? SLAB is a little bit hobbled by 13 years of New Labour, during which time the LibDems & SNP laid claim to being Scotland’s Social Democrats. What do you expect Iain to do? Just keep saying: “Labour, despite all evidence to the contrary, is the only Party for Scottish social democrats.” That would never work.

    As to Iain Gray making anything of the coming spending cuts, an issue which you say Iain is allowing the SNP to avoid, how stupid would Iain look using the tactics which the Tories used against Labour at the last GE? Tactics which didn’t work – the Conservatives couldn’t seal the deal with voters. If it didn’t work in England for the Tories, why on earth would it work in Scotland for Labour?

    I agree, the manifesto was dreadful. Filled with name-checks of organisations which had helped with the policy reviews & it is impossible to print. The worst bits, IMO, were the ‘real people’ sections; as if Labour now need these vignettes to appear connected with ordinary people. It was horribly reminiscent of David Cameron’s ‘I was talking to a black man in Portsmouth the other day’.

    A short, policy document showing Labour & SNP policies are pretty much the same would’ve been better. There was no way to up the ante; anything Labour promised, the SNP would simply match or exceed.

    Blaming Iain Gray for being less of a figurehead than Alex Salmond is missing the point. As many as 50% of Scots still support Labour for Westminster but where were the team? English by-elections saw Ed M, Ed B & Andy B make numerous trips but it wasn’t until the polls went bad that team Labour decided to make a visit or two to Scotland. Did Iain ask them to stay away? If yes, then he is at fault… because the biggest selling point of Labour over the SNP is that it is British Party & 65% – 70% of Scots would vote against independence. That was our differentiating factor.

    To pursue that differentiation in a ‘blunt instrument’ way i.e. calling independence “a disaster” was a poor way to make up for missing the opportunity to subtly convey that message by having some of Labour’s big names make regular visits in the run-up to the election. IMO, that would have made enough of a difference to keep Labour ahead. And maybe, just maybe, it isn’t ‘too little too late’ & Labour can still win here in Scotland. I really hope we can.

  4. Danny Reid says:

    Interesting stuff.
    To be honest I think Labours main problem is taking people for granted.They seem to see Scotland as a fiefdom that belongs to them and a grateful Scottish public will turn to them.
    I’m a nurse working in the NHS and I would no more vote Labour than fly in the air and there are thousands more like me yet still the Labour party put the blinkers on and expect us to come to them
    Sorry no,to me the Labour party has always been about looking after themselves and seeing us as a means for them to get their noses in the trough.

  5. douglas clark says:

    Interesting post.

    I believe that Labour (Scotland) and perhaps the SNP have more in common than is addmittable.

    It is the frankly negative vibes from Labour (Scotland) that would turn off any socialist. It is not to say that Scots don’t have socialist values, we do, it is to say that Labour (Scotland) doesn’t represent them very well anymore.

    I will vote SNP twice, not because I hate Labour, but perhaps because I think Labour (Scotland) needs to sit up and realize that it hasn’t a divine right to govern and needs to clean up it’s act.

    Just saying…..

  6. Bugger (the Panda) says:

    Must be using the same Bowdlers as Blether Without Brian.

    Sans faire rien.

  7. ZanderM says:

    Fair article.

    Vote twice for the SNP on May the 5th.

    Once for you, once for your children.

  8. DB says:

    Agree with much of this.

    To most voters their policies seem almost identical – but the SNP is winning with the notion that they stand up for Scottish interests better than labour.

    I can’t see this changing, unless labour embraces full fiscal autonomy.
    The SNP would have a huge problem under so called ‘devolution max’.
    Many of their supporters would be happy enough with that, leaving the core independence voters.

    At the moment the SNP is getting the soft nationalist vote – those looking for ‘more powers’ , if not full independence.
    The perception is that the SNP wants to move Scotland forward, and Labour wants things to remain at a standstill.

  9. Probably the most understated political story in UK politics at the moment.

    Because of the, “Last roll of the dice for Labour in Scotland” article entered by Labour-Uncut, below, earlier today, I looked extensively at this story in the Scottish media on the web, hoping to ascertain why on earth Labour’s good fortune in the polls seems to have been irretrievably reversed by the SNP in recent weeks….days even.

    I eventually ended up on various well reasoned blogs which had been commented upon by equally and seemingly well reasoned heads. I wont repeat what I read simply because I would feel shamefully disloyal in doing so but would rather say that Labour appears to have a significant problem in Scotland at this time.

    And yet I also sense from what I read that the electorate there really want to believe in Labour and can yet be swayed to vote for them…very tough to turn it around though given the time that is left. The SNP appear to be quite well tuned in to their people over priority issues where labour appear to be complacent and taking them for granted.

    Scotland is a top country that is ingrained in my DNA and I personally will respect whatever it decides next week but the labour party there appears to be in need of some radical and urgent rejuvenation in order to keep pace with the SNP and I find that troubling.

  10. Kilbryder says:

    “Labour is a democratic socialist party, however that is defined; it has the ideological, intellectual and cultural tools to deconstruct and oppose the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition’s policies.”

    When you say IT, you really mean its people – Gray, Kerr, Baillie, BAKER – are you havin a laff? Blair filletted out Labour’s intellectual tools and left the party scrabbling for votes on any basis – youth crime dog whistle policies most of all at this election.

    Culturally, Labour is now rootless. It is the party of the apparatchik, the careerist who sees a moribund machine clinging onto a once great brand; ripe for takeover. Brown, Milliband, Milliband, Balls, Cooper, Murphy; Alexander, not a working class credential among them – unless you count their nannies.

    If the activists in Scottish Labour had any principles and courage, they would break away from the dead hand of UK Labour – but that might make their brand look too much like the SNP. So, Unionist Labour it is. Taking over to defend the union where the Tories leave off. When the cuts really hit Scotland, they will be Labour’s cuts; without Scottish Labour’s acquiescence, the coalition couldn’t get away with it.

  11. Calum Wright says:

    I’m in no way abandoning Labour, I simply believe that Labour can do better. That Labour did well in Scotland in last year’s general election is no excuse for complacency. I think Labour can do well in Scotland, but I do believe that they need fresh ideas in much the same way that Labour in England are developing theirs. Scotland has (thus far) no ‘Blue Labour’ equivalent; there seems no impetus for renewal. I think that a forum should be established in which the discussion of the future of Scottish Labour can be held and I hope that many ideas will come forward.

  12. Scotland is awakening to the realisation that Labour are a party of scare and low aspiration politics.

    The Labour party thrive on people’s fears, victim status and doom and gloom.
    The SNP have for the past 4 years spread positivity and competence as there core values.
    THAT is what is causing more and more people to vote for them first time – myself included.

    I have doubts Labour will ever govern in Scotland again.

  13. AmberStar says:

    @ Calum Wright

    Scotland has (thus far) no ‘Blue Labour’ equivalent…
    Absent the slight anti-Europe/ anti-immigration note that sneaks into English ‘Blue Labour’, that’s almost exactly the ground that the SNP hold in Scotland. Family, faith & Saltire – social democracy + social conservatism with a bit of ‘national’ pride thrown in.

    You need to do better, Calum. Have you thought much about Red Labour recently or are you blinkered by the notion that Red = Old? IMO, only a Red Labour for the 21st century can succeed in overcoming the nostalgia for a past nation that never really existed. It’s this sentiment which is being sold by the Tories in England &, to some extent, the SNP in Scotland… please do not join the voices calling for Labour to jump on the bandwagon. Find the courage to be different!

  14. iain ker says:

    A pretendy election in a ‘fiercely independent’ country that happens to be ‘fiercely dependent’ on the English taxpayer.

    Meanwhile both pretendy and the aspiring pretendy-government make grandiose promises about how they will shuffle the subsidy differently and of course ‘better’ than the other lot.

    David Davis, so the story goes, was visiting some gruesome suburb of Glasgow called Actuarially-Dead-At-53-By-The-Wold and was told, ‘yer wasting yer time, we’re a’ Layburr here’.

    David looked around and said, ‘Yes, and where’s it got you’.

    Take a hint from here in the South East, if you really want to be independent, then do realise that ‘independent’ means ‘not being dependent’.

    And no blathering about oil, because the subsidy has already paid for the oil.

  15. Resignedtodefeat says:

    The worst mistake was to have Ed Balls come up and atack Salmond on the economy…..whose bright idea was that? Does ANYONE…ANYWHERE…honestly beleive that Ed has a better understanding of the Scottish economy than Salmond or Swinney or Mather? Or even Hosie for that matter? Seriously?
    Of course there are lots of other issues, but they have not been dealt with well either. Reclassifying cannabis from C to B has hurt more in Scotland due to the higher rates of MS/BPD/Glaucoma/Anorexia than in England and Wales not to mention the civil liberty aspects. The policies on miminum alcohol pricing, supermarket taxes and protecting sectarian education have not been a howling success either . Wheeling out Gordon Brown was not too smart…’let’s remind people of the fact that the financial crash happened when GB was Prime Minister’. Of course it was n’t all his fault (though some of it was of course), but that’s maybe not how the voters see it.
    As to the result next week; I don’t think the manipulation of the last Scottish GE can be mounted again, so things may actually turn out to be even worse than we expect – or better if you support the SNP. On the positive side, we may well see the demise of the Lib Dems – even Tavish Scott seems to have the skids under him (especially if Lab/SNP voters swing behind the independent) and the tories seem set to lose a few seats as well, so it’s an ill wind……

  16. Aidan Skinner says:

    Scottish Labour *have* a positive message in the manifesto, as I set out here:

    We’re not selling it in the “air war” because we’re attempting a core-vote strategy by whipping our voters with scare stories of independence and Tories. That’s legitimate, but we would be doing a lot better if we were also emphasising the really positive, good things in our manifesto. On the doorstep people ask “what will Labour actually do though?” and, by and large, when you explain it to them they agree.

  17. Watch and weep Labour losers – its all over for you in Scotland!

  18. AmberStar says:

    @ Resignedtodefeat

    Labour have climbed back to -8% on the constituency & -2% on the list since Gordon, Ed & Ed made their presence felt. Coincidence? Perhaps… but I’d love to see more of the Labour A-Team during the last few days; I think Ed, Ed, Andy B, Gordon, Jim Murphy etc. could give us a real chance of winning this.

    Obviously, some of them will be in demand down south because of the English local council elections but if they’ve any time to spare, we could sure use their presence here.

  19. Interesting that the perceived wisdom of there being little difference between Labour and the SNP continues. One is pro Nuclear, pro Trident and pro PFI the other isn’t.

    SLAB have spent the last four years in a permanent huff, it’s only during the election campaign that they’ve triangulated many of the SNP positive achievements or aspirations as their own. The electorate are not that stupid.

    Ultimately it’s very sad that what was a profoundly honest social movement that mobilised to help the working man and woman has been subsumed from within by careerists desperate for power and willing to do almost anything to hold on to it.

  20. Silent Hunter says:

    I can’t believe I actually agree with Amberstar when she says – “SLAB is a little bit hobbled by 13 years of New Labour”.

    She should know.

    As do we all, to our cost.

    I hope the SNP take Labour to the cleaners – they deserve it!

  21. There is also a potentially interesting psephological angle on this. Over the past three weeks, I’ve been taking a closer look at the gender and social grading aspects of YouGov’s Holyrood polling, published first in the Scotland on Sunday. The last of them was published yesterday. Links to the figures and relevant other pages can be found here.

    The fit between Nationalism and any form of class-politics is interesting and potentially awkward. Certainly not an impossible association, but I think it would be fair to say that Nationalism generally posits class as at best a secondary analytical category, secondary to the higher unity of shared national identity (indeed, Professor Mitchell discovered some evidence of this attitude in his study of the SNP membership). By contrast, I think it is fair to say that Scottish Labour makes explicit claims about its class politics.

    Fascinatingly, however, the polling shows that Labour continues to enjoy more support amongst ABC1 voters, and continues to lag behind the SNP amongst C2DEs. I set out the full figures in my various posts, but the data is well worth a look. The C2DE gap between was at its greatest extent last week, running to 15% on constituency ballots and 10% on the regional list. It’s a fascinating social conundrum – and one I’m afraid to say the press have largely failed to think about (never mind talk about in the pages of their papers).

    For anyone thinking about rejuvenating Scottish Labour, thinking about the implications of this polling data may be informative (and deeply challenging for deeply-held and cherished saws about the party’s true appeal).

  22. Bankieboy says:

    I must own up to some surprise at a well reasoned and argued piece – intelligent, fair and articulate. In many respects, the exact opposite of Labour’s campaign.
    What always amazes me is that no Labour politician in Scotland seems able to justify a sudden support for nuclear power and nuclear weapons – Labour in Scotland was always opposed. This has cost votes.
    How has a party which used to support Home Rule become so anti-independence? Until recently, I always voted Labour but will probably never do so again due to the continuous belittling of anyone who might support an Independent Scotland. Why do Labour in Scotland also oppose fiscal autonomy? Is it in case the country becomes better off? Surely, even the most ardent Unionist appreciates that many Labour voters actually favour Independence – well, alright, some voters!
    Perhaps more importantly from a Labour perspective, why is the above article the most intelligent thing I have heard from Labour since 2005?
    Root out your corruption, support an Independent Scotland and what a country we could be.
    Anyhow, rant over and good, fair-minded article.

  23. Calum Wright says:


    I mention Blue Labour as an example of the Labour Party in England engaging in creative thinking about its future-the forthcoming ‘Purple Book’ will no doubt have different ideas-whereas Scottish Labour appears fairly moribund. I find the Blue Labour concept interesting (as expressed, for example, here:, but it has so far only been expressed somewhat abstractly and I don’t subscribe to all its recommendations. I do not believe that ‘Red Equals Old’, but I do think that creative re-engagement with Scottish Labour’s traditions would be fruitful whilst remembering that we are in the twenty-first century. At the same time, I don’t think the SNP has been exposed as the ideological hodgepodge it is, held together mostly by Alex Salmond (a good analysis is here: and the fact that in the last parliament they were effectively in an unofficial coalition with the Tories and may well be again.

    @Aidan Skinner

    I agree that there is a positive message hidden in Labour’s election strategy. The living wage proposals, pledge to fight youth unemployment etc. are exciting policies, but have not been lost amongst the attacks on the Tories in England and the SNP’s desire for independence.

  24. MadNat says:

    How bizarre that you need the big guns from Westminster to bail out Iain Gray? Does it not reinforce what most Scots think? Labour doesn’t believe in the Scottish Parliament because its “talent” goes South. The electorate is wise to this. As Curtice said pre-2007 election, ‘we are witnessing the terminal decline of the Labour Party in Scotland’.

    Also, don’t under-estimate the impact of STV and multi-member wards in local government. No longer a Labour monopoly to underpin safe seats. Now there are more SNP councillors than Labour and it’s giving communities more diverse local leadership, an alternative voice.

  25. Calum Wright says:

    In light of my comments above and of those of others, I have set up a blog to further the discussion of Scottish Labour’s failures and futures.

    Please visit for more information!

    Content is urgently required; please send submissions to

  26. RevStu says:

    To clear up a couple of points first:

    1. Is Labour left-wing?

    2. Are Labour and the SNP’s Scottish manifestos almost identical?

    So now that we’ve sorted that out, the future of Labour in Scotland: there isn’t one.

    The current situation for Labour – namely, operating as a division of the UK party – is untenable. It cannot survive in its present state, and can only continue to decline, because all of its best talent will ALWAYS be siphoned off by the needs of the UK party. People like Andy Kerr and Richard Baker are an absolute embarrassment to the Labour movement, but the Scottish branch will always be cursed with fourth-rate talent (and even that’s a generous assessment of the current crop) because anyone with any skill will be diverted to the more important business of Westminster.

    The few Labour politicians with even a sliver of ability left in Scotland are a legacy of the past. The implementation of devolution required a certain degree of competence, and a handful of Old Labour types like Donald Dewar fitted the bill, as well as having the intellectual and political credibility to sell it to Scottish voters. (And with a vast Westminster majority, the party could afford to spare them.)

    The sterile career apparatchiks of the New Labour generation lack any such gravitas. That didn’t matter in the past, because they could acquire it from the mere fact of being in government. But the SNP have taken away what Labour used to be able to assume as a birthright, and if they win again on Thursday that circle will tighten Extended incumbency for the Nationalists will marginalise Labour further and further, as the solid-Labour demographic in the West of Scotland that remembers the party as a socialist one dies out and is replaced by a younger generation with no memory of the old days of Labour vs the Tories, and that sees SNP administrations as the norm.

    This is an inescapable spiral for Labour. Or at least, almost inescapable. The fundamental problem is the drain of talent to London, because serving in a proper government will always be a more attractive prospect than working in a glorified parish council with few real powers. Even when the SNP eventually loses Alex Salmond the Nationalists will always have a huge advantage, because they can always field their best and brightest, and being in government enables the breeding of competence and confidence through experience.

    There is, of course, a solution for Labour: Scottish independence.

    The party’s position on a referendum is and always has been morally bankrupt and indefensible. You will never, ever gather large numbers of votes by telling people they’re too stupid to be allowed to make up their own minds, or that they’re too uniquely poor and feeble to stand on their own two feet like every other nation on Earth. (Particularly when Scotland has been so abundantly blessed with resources of all kinds, not just energy.) And it’s embarrassing to watch Labour tell people the sky will fall in if they re-elect an “independence-obsessed” SNP, when the SNP have already been in government for four years and the sky so noticeably remains in place.

    (And in particular, my jaw dropped to the floor when Ed Balls was allowed to come up and tell the Scottish people they were “barmy, mad and absolutely crackers” to be even considering deciding their own nation’s constitutional future. What absolute cretin thought that such a massive, crass insult from an English MP would endear the party to Scottish voters? It beggars belief.)

    Labour should not only vote for a referendum on independence, they should actively campaign for a Yes vote. Because only an independent, grown-up Scottish Parliament will provide a stage on which talented individuals might be happy to perform instead of rushing off to a Westminster PPS job at the first possible opportunity.

    An independent Scottish Parliament would reinvigorate Labour, denying the SNP their biggest unique selling point and allowing the Scottish electorate to make a straight choice. The party in Scotland would be freed of the necessity of pandering to the inherently right-wing majority in Middle England, and could reposition itself to its old left-of-centre standpoint, one more in keeping with the Scottish mindset.

    Of course, none of this will happen while Labour in Scotland is merely a branch office of the London party. UK Labour is terrified of losing the guaranteed 40+ MPs it can count on Scotland to return in Westminster elections, and will never allow anything to threaten that. And yet, this makes little sense. Blair’s governments would have had comfortable majorities without Scotland, so it’s clearly possible for Labour to win in England and Wales, particularly if it’s allowed to tailor its policies to that electorate instead of trying to perform an awkward balancing act trying to appeal two quite different peoples.

    So the first step is that Labour in Scotland HAS to separate itself from the UK party. If not, it will absolutely inevitably die a long, slow death. Having done so it should campaign for independence, as it once did when it stood for Home Rule, and then fight the SNP with honesty and principles.

    I should declare myself. I’m an SNP supporter, although I’ve lived in England for 20 years and have no vote in Scotland. But I’m also a socialist, and I want to see the political centre of gravity pushed back to the left, both north and south of the border. I think a traditional Labour party would have a very decent chance of being elected in Scotland, and while I’d still prefer the SNP that scenario would hold no terrors for me, whereas the thought of my homeland being ruled by the utter jokes representing the party this year is simply unbearable.

    Equally importantly, an independent English Labour, forced to confront reality and consider why it lost in 2010, might yet take advantage of what will by 2015 undoubtedly be an ideal climate for persuading the electorate back to left-wing principles, in turn dragging the centre ground back to where it belongs, instead of being camped on Tory territory as it has been since the tragic death of John Smith.

    Independent Scottish Labour, and Scottish Labour for independence. It’s your only hope.

  27. Jim Monaghan says:

    Adopting the council tax freeze was a fatal mistake. At this stage the only attack left for Labour would be to warn the voters of a First Minister who would overstep his remit and force councils to accept budgets set by central government. A self-appointed president rendering next years local elections useless. But they panicked and went for the freeze rather than make clear arguments against it. Worse still, I hear reports that Ian Gray faced hostility at the STUC for the freeze only lasting two years.

    Council’s dont get to freeze their massive electricity bills, or the cost of diesel in every council vehicle. The freeze is paid for by library workers giving up the shift-allowance for working late or on saturdays, by council workers getting hours cut, by parents forking out for music lessons, public toilets closing.

    The council can only rasie a small proprtion of their income from council tax and business reates, President Salmond has taken whats left of their power from them, setting both from central government. Maggie would be proud of him.

    Turn the clock back 30 years or so and the same people who are calling on a ciouncil tax freeze would be chaining themselves to the town halls to prevent council tax freeze under it’s former name – rate-capping!

  28. Allan says:

    Two points

    1) Yes Labours campaign has been a disaster. One of the reasons overlooked is that while the SNP have lost a narative for Westminster elections, New Labour in Scotland no longer understand what they used to stand for. For example, the leaflet recieved in my house could conceviably be used to canvass for Tory votes. It looks generic and says nothing about the Scottish experience. This critisism as a whole can be labeled at “Scottish” Labour as a whole post devolution. The leaflet can be viewed here…

    2) We are now seeing the fruits of Rosemary McKenna’s selection process for the first parliament of 1999. While there were worthy candidates picked, there were no characters picked, no individuals and no future standard bearers. Everyone picked fore the 1999 elections were either from the Municipalist wing of “Scottish” Labour (ie were sympathetic to Labour councils and expoused spending on “projects”) or were New Labour clones.

  29. Cato says:


    I think you’re being a bit harsh on the ’99 intake. Person for person, Labour’s front bench was at least as good as the Nats. The problem is that, while the Nats have largely held on to their ’99 front bench, Labour has, through a combination of death/resignation and electoral attrition, largely lost its own. The problem-partly because it is more difficult for Labour to get rid of deadwood constituency MSPs than it is for the SNP to get rid of deadwood list MSPs, and partly because so much Labour talent goes to Westminster-is that no one has come forward to replace them

  30. Brian Innes-Will says:

    Labour Re-Birth

    Labour in Scotland can choose to go through the necessary rebirth and regeneration process after this electoral defeat – or as a much smaller rump of a party, after their next defeat in 3 and 5 years time. That is the real choice you face.

    To declare my loyalties, I come from 3 generations of ‘Home Rule/SNP supporters. (People forget the generations of effort and past near successes of the nationalist movement. Grandparents supported the Home Rule wave that damn near got Scotland out of the Union pre-WWII) Both parents were war volunteers – did not have to be conscripted to fight those other imperialists, the Germans, and always supported the Independance cause, before, during and after the War. I donated years of successful effort to branch building for the SNP. I will never vote for any pro-Union party. Ever. So this advice is from a professional political observer with no axe to grind as to whether you heed it or not. As you will see by reading below, the SNP are in a Win-Win situation.

    1. Threat – All Parties have a life span. After 150 years, it is no surprise that Labour are in terminal stages of degeneracy, dotage and near death.
    2. Potential – Some Parties die. Others rebirth themselves. A painful, stressful and ‘bloody’ process usually.
    3. To rebirth requires ‘heretical’ thinking. Shock horror!
    4. Hegel had it right, Marx merely copied him – all political systems and processes work in cycles of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.
    Applied to Labour, ‘Thesis’ was being Clause 4 Socialist (some want to go back there, don’t fancy your chances) Antithesis was the switch over from ‘socialist’ Labour which had got paler and paler – to ‘New Labour’ – becoming more free enterprise, greed is good, PFI, bonus culture etc etc than the Tories. Blair and Brown out-Herod’d Herod by outdoing Thatcher and outdid the damage she did, particularly to Scotland by being even more centralist, Londoncentric, imperialist, autocratic, nannying, and grandstanding that she did.
    So Synthesis is, potentially for a new Labour Part yScotland – for example, the best of the core values and policies of socialism (morphed into social democracy in these days) PLUS the best of the values, attitudes and policies of the free enterprise, liberty and freedom of the individual of the Antithesis. Which New Labour thought that it adopted – but applied so incredibly badly in the Blair/Brown fiascos.
    PROBLEM – for Scottish Labour – the SNP are way ahead of you. They already ARE the successful Synthesis of balanced Best of Left and Right political traditions; which makes them both electorally streets ahead and totally baffling to Labour supporters stuck in an Either-Or mindset. HINT. Try thinking BOTH. Eg. ‘How do we use the tradition for working class focus and care AND encourage self-sufficiency, confidence, self development and social awareness, community mindedness AND encourage individual growth and success?” (Second Hint – Not by a bonus/expenses grab culture)
    Labour can try ‘returning to its socialist roots – unlikely to succeed. the world has moved on, for good or ill.
    Try cleaned, up, improved, ‘newer, brighter, washes pinker’ brand of ‘NOO, Noo Labour’ – selling to a cynical, marketing-savvy audience who are conspicuously not ‘buying it’ in this or the General Election.
    Continue purely passive negative, and aggressive opposition as a ‘branch office of Imperial London Labour’. Sure road to defeat and disintegration – but the one most likely to fit the Labour activist mood in the coming years.

    Try doing a ‘me too’ and slavishly copy SNP policies – after first opposing them off course. Worked a real treat, didn’t it? if you will pardon the sarcasm.

    “When all else has failed, try recognising and facing reality’
    Re-birth the Party by going back to reinventing a Scottish Labour Party that is truly in tune with core values AND the Scots electorate AND sings that and no other song.

    You cannot be ‘ a little bit pregnant’ You cannot be ‘ a little bit re-born’ as a Party.
    You cannot be a ‘little-bit-Scottish’ Labour.

    So what does Re-Birthing Scottish Labour to be Labour Scotland Party entail to generate the integrity, coherence, consistency, completeness and therefore credibility and potential?

    It has to be done at Six Levels of thinking, in both Political Theory and Practice.
    That is the magnitude of the re-thinking required. Almost certainly beyond so-called ‘Scottish Labour’ to accomplish.
    LEVEL 1
    Define, at a Theory level of abstraction, a complete new ‘left of centre’ political philosophy that takes account of not just the current but the evolving social, economic, political etc etc needs, aspirations, directions and momentum of where the nation is going and how the new Labour Scotland Party wishes to influence and help to shape that evolution.
    Define at a Practice level of abstraction, a new constitution, rule set, guidelines, ethical standards etc, together with participation, involvement and engagement process to democratise and reverse the existing centralised monopoly of policy making, power and control of the old order.
    Win the power struggle to overturn vested interests and power blocs and re-define the Party.
    Level 2
    Make a choice. Continue sick and unhealthy ‘We are sour, passive, negative, sulky Angry Victims” attitiudes and values of the past.
    Eg garbage such as: ‘Win at all costs’
    ‘A ‘good cause’ justifies lying, cheating, misrepresenting, attacking, belittling etc’ and all the other passive, negative and aggressive energy wasters so loved by Liebore activists.
    ‘Turning a blind eye to nepotism, corruption, sick practices, poor standards etc’
    ‘Unethical, unprofessional, unrealistic demon-isation, opposition-for-the-sake-of opposition, sour negativity and lack of positive cooperative and constructive efforts’
    Make a clean start with:
    Healthy, positive, proactive, constructive, cooperative, progressive and ‘life, hope and liberty’ values and aspirations. IE BE ‘Comrades’ – to all.
    Apply those new attitudes, values and approaches, uniformly, continuously and consistently, in the every day conduct of the new Party communications, internal interactions, expression by representatives, interactions in the political arenas especially with political opponents. Note opponents – not fake ‘Enemies’
    LEVEL 3
    Establish and maintain at all times an internal and external culture of:
    Future orientation
    Positive constructive endeavour
    Innovative and adaptive thinking, discussion, decision-making applied in both policies and practices, internally and externally.
    Respect for multiple realities. Instead of ‘one right way of thinking’ Try ‘ So, how do we jointly work out how to get what both of us see, think and want. for the good of all?’
    In Practice, live that new culture, with colleagues, contacts, public, constituents, opposition, press, the world.
    LEVEL 4
    Create a Party ethos that achieves a successful, creativity-enhancing, lively, engaging and highly constructive and adaptive policy generating internal process that works, balances idealism and realism, central control and direction with grass-roots sovereignty and control.
    Apply that ethos with integrity – no sham facades of pretendy participation. No ‘give the mugs a voice and then ignore them’ superiority, smug centralism, control freakery and all the other traits in abundance in London Labour.
    LEVEL 5
    Apply ALL the above values, attitudes, methods, processes and procedures in campaign plans, thinking. expressed views opinions and articulated policies.
    Back ALL the above plus the immediate last sentence in the internal ethos, style, culture, communications and control processes of the new Party organisation.
    LEVEL 6
    Exercise the collective healthy mentality, orientation, style, collective culture and in all undertakings by the Party.
    Practice the same, by each and every organisation member. No toleration of ‘near enough is good enough’, no ifs, buts, maybe’s. No backsliding and returning to old bad habits. Not once, not ever.

    Do ALL that and you will have rebirthed a new Labour Party Scotland that will have hope, promise, potential, integrity, honesty of purpose and behavior, and make an ongoing powerful contribution to improving the nation. ‘Think Global. Act Local’ Set a good enough example and others will copy and adopt best practices. Being internationalist sometimes means starting with the ‘local’ bit.

    Do you think ‘branch-factory management’ so-called ‘Scottish’ Labour can do all the above?
    Neither do I, but don’t say you never saw or were told what needed done.
    You have your choice.

  31. Bruce says:

    Isn’t it simply the case that the SNP stands as the only pro-indepndence party, in a country that wants independence? Labour is competing with the Lib Dems and Tories for a minority of the vote.

  32. Owen Scott says:

    interesting to hear from you after such a long time assuming you ar the same of that name at Aberdeen university in the late 60s. Your comments match my thoughts exactly. It is not only Labour’s dismal team that renders them unfit for office; they represent the past; they are champions for a system of goverment in Westminster that was past its sell by date over 40 years ago. They have no narrative or vision from the future and should they lose tomorrow, I suspect that the internal feuding will plumb new depths. A shame really but I can shed no tears.

  33. David Gray says:


    To be honest the appearance of party apparatchiks is not unique to Labour or to the UK. Career politicians are becoming an established norm throughout many western democracies. However, I concede that this is possibly more problematic for Labour. The demise of candidates from a working class background is deeply depressing for the party and the debate within it.

  34. Brian Innes-Will says:

    Hello Owen
    Yes, one and the same.

    Thanks for endorsing the comments.
    People haven’t registered yet, but the last UK GE plus this re-election of the SNP marks the turning point for the end of the old 2 party system.

    Good to know you are still kicking.
    Not good to post address links online, so contact via Facebook?
    Regards Brian
    (Mod. Hope you will allow please)

  35. Tafia says:

    Labour made three massive and entirely avoidable errors.

    First of all it stood alongside the tories on the same platform as the Tories in Better Together.

    Then not content with that they used Brown to offer Yes voters a deal which was subsequently and substantially watered down.

    Then the final – and probably the most stupid of all – was making Murphy leader in Scotland. Whoever decided that is one Grade A f***wit.

    Labour in Scotland is finished now. experience has shown that once lifelong voters of a party start voting for other parties, they lose their fear of it and find it far easier to do it over and over again and don’t come back without massive concessions. Labour’ In Scotland’s only chance of survival now is to separate itself from the main Labour Party in entirety – funding, members, everything and take the STUC and scottish branches of the trades unions with them (scottish unions are also in rapid decline over their support for No). In short, Scotland is going to have to be viewed as a separate country within a far far looser UKL, with it’s own political parties that do not look to London and are not connected to London.

    They won’t though, because they are still far far too arrogant, much too centrist and too unionist in outlook and that is going to be their cause of death.

    Otherwise it’s stiffer than a Norwegian Blue parrot.

    And it was all entirely self-inflicted and entirely by choice.

  36. Robert says:

    Labour in Scotland lost it way, labour in England are of course Progress led, labour in Wales still fight for the NHS talking about Nye Bevan while the NHS is falling all around them.

    Labour decided the days of being out of power was over the way forward was to fight the Tories from within the right, Blair went to the right and Progress was born.

    Now then labour under Miliband will hammer down on the poorest in society by hammering down on welfare, which most working class people who will be earning the min-wage will see as an attack on them.
    Remember Reeves labour is a party of working people not welfare or benefits.

    Then you have those on income support those on welfare, injured soldiers and people who are sick disabled, a new party is needed they have it in Scotland an anti Austerity party in the SNP.

    You have to smile when Miliband says the NHS is safe with us after what New labour did, and Byrne Reeves and all those right wingers like Alexander Murphy are all now in position to keep New labour alive.

    That is the problem Miliband maybe heading back to the center but where are the voters heading.

  37. Tafia says:

    Robert – did you phone into to 5Live latye one night a couple of weeks back?

  38. John.p Reid says:

    Amberstar, I think the Scottish reference to blue labour ,was that it appeals to the Skilled working class, go know times are economically right, if SNP voters ,want the sort of socialism that the Nats are proposing it would bankrupt their country, as such, they’d be running after blue labour within a year, as Blue labour are the only ones suggesting socialism, that the acid try can afford at the moment, for the record blue labour is massive up North, no reason why it shouldn’t be massive in Scotland too.

    Blue Labour,With its views that foundations charities can’t equally fund state services, while limited budgets may have to make them Smaller,it wouldn’t be used to substitute services from the state,such as a Charity with a church,a co -op being like a big society voluntary groups including the Fabians,to get the best and that liberal doesn’t mean socialist, as wanting to conserve the NHS, That Right wing old labour, holds more too private interests ,working with publicly controlled services

  39. John.p Reid says:

    Amber star, redLabour is for the 21st century not led labour.
    Labour always swung to the left , on Labour governments falling from power, to some extent in 1951. Within 6 years Leader Hugh Gaitskell had got Nye Bevan on side to his way of thinking and 5 years later by the time of his death he left a united Party, at that time the only real dissident was Michael foot who had the party whip withdrawn from him, from 1960-1965 until Wilson unsuccessfully tried to get him in the Cabinet, Foot from the opposition back benches then leading the campaign, to stop lords reform, as it didn’t go far enough, by 1970 Foot was in the Shadow cabinet, opposing Ted Heaths moderate Industrial relations act,and supporting sacking those who refused to joins Union, under the Closed shop.

  40. John P Reid says:

    Tafia, serious question, you may know, if the result is as expected, and the Tories remain in power, labour is wiped out, possibly coming third, and the SNP try again but fail for another referendum, victory in 2020′

    do you think Scotland could go like Northern Ireland switching to parties divided along Lyoalaist, Naionalsust lines, without the Religion

    labour might not put up candidates, in seats where they come third to the Tories EtC, to try to ,have a Pro Union winner?

  41. Greta says:

    I am living in Germany and have been following the elections from the continent with interest. No one can foretell the outcome. A hung parliament seems likely? SNP could act as kingmakers from the North, although Miliband ruled out a coalition, but not the prospect of working on a vote-by-vote basis, if so the case. Many researcher on Britain`s political and economic prospect outline a rather complex – challenging – future. Whichever party or combination wins, there are these pending, familiar economic problems to be faced. I.e.: even if the current growth is sustained, living standards as measured by average GDP per head are likely to be below those in 2007, the beginning of the financial crisis (2007 -2008).
    Another familiar problem, that the new government will have to face, is the gap in incomes, wealth and every other measure of welfare both between the regions of the country and between socio-economic groups is wide and shows little sign of narrowing. Manufacturing is likely to have shrunk further as a proportion of GDP to no more than 10 per cent. In times of turmoils, populistic and nationalistic parties gain momentum. Who, then, can offer the right policies to make the national economy grow on a sustainable basis? Nationalistic Separatists, who will have to face the same structural problems in their regions as today, caused by the decline of the industries there, but having to govern without subsidies from Westminster? Or Eurosceptic, right wing parties, who believe, that the source of all evil lies in EU membership / immigrations? Again the question is: who will pay for all the – necessary – public spending, i.a. on healthcare, R& D, pensions etc.? How can anybody in times of ageing workforce and in the prospect of pension crisis deny the need of an inflow of young immigrant workers? Can the British economy thrive outside the EU?
    What if “most of our problems are not caused by Brussels, but by chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills and a culture of easy gratification and under-investment”, as Boris Johnson once said, before positioning himself as one of the most Eurosceptic senior politicians in the Conservative party.
    Referring to UKIP´s campaign on stopping / controlling immigration and leaving EU, one should point out, that already regulations and immigration rules exist, that are different in every EU country. This is because most EU countries have both EU rules and their own national rules, as i.e. Ireland and the United Kingdom choose, on a case-by-case basis, whether or not to adopt EU rules on immigration, visa and asylum policies. (
    Bringing in a new migration legislation in Britain, with stricter rules on benefit and ground of appeal, as Miliband promises, if labour wins, is therefore a viable option to handle this problem on a national level without having to leave the club for that reason for good.
    The economy is the key battleground in the election. UK went from a major industry led nation to a service nation, with banking as the main industry. The manufacturing-oriented North has been suffering from a constant decline. Unemployment is heavily concentrated in these areas of the country. Would it not make sense to encourage new manufacturing sites in these areas, offer people work opportunities and the possibility to keep their costs low, avoiding high cost-base in the South East of the UK? The revival of manufacturing, encouraging start-ups and entrepreneurship, integrating new technologies and innovations, recurring on younger think tanks etc. and by thus triggering local development, all these are projects, that are supported by the EU Regional Fund. This kind of activity would also help to achieve the necessary rebalancing of the economy away from the excessive dominance of financial services. Beyond a narrow-minded nationalistic ideology and a parochial, insular identity, either separatistic or populistic, there are better options and strategies to create a new, thriving, cultural diverse society, which is the – as a matter of a fact anyway the world we live in, wether you like it or not. The uprise of populistic and separatistic movements in Europe shows that the traditional parties has to rethink and reshape their profiles and stand up against all hate propaganda, offering instead an outward-looking, confident policy with long-term programs and perspectives.


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