Monday, 9 May 2011

Yet another post-election blog

Friday's election results brought crushing disappointment and, since then, several people much more clued in than me have written interesting and useful blogs and articles about what has happened and where we in the Scottish Labour Party go from here.

John McTernan remains, unsurprisingly, firmly of the view that any weakness in the opposition should be exploited, no matter the principle, and says we should have outflanked the SNP on the right on law and order - a favourite New Labour doctrine. Some senior Labour folk have laid into the party machine, and others have pointed out the apparently newly discovered sophistication of the Scottish electorate - all such criticisms pointing to significant weaknesses in the national campaign which were obvious to many for quite some time.

Yousuf Hamid makes a very broad set of observations, not least that we knew the Lib Dem vote would collapse but we made little effort to woo Lib Dem voters. Perhaps the most impressive review I have read is that of Jenny Kermode, who slays the obvious dragons but also points out the subtle "self harm" of policy compromises and lack of conviction, in particular pointing to the folly of our non-committal policy on gay marriage.

I would recommend a reading of each of the above, but I'd like also to add my own humble thoughts as a Labour volunteer.
  • It turns out that this wasn't a doorstep election. The SNP won on its national campaign, on the basis of its leader and its national policies, not on the basis of local connections or the personal attributes of its local candidates. This is a big contrast to the 2010 general election and the difference is significant. We could have had (and did in some constituencies) armies out on the doors and still lost.
  • Even more importantly, Labour lost on our national campaign, in which the only differentiator from the SNP was a poorly justified knife crime policy, which might have felt like a winner to the occupants of John Smith House in Glasgow but just didn't resonate across the country. And our media handling was fushionless, exemplified by the defence of said policy which was mathematically inept and embarrassing.
  • The party's system for targeting resources on specific seats was a finessed version of that which worked in the general election, and we should recognise that it worked again, so we must be careful not to toss out that baby with the bathwater. Council selections start this month and we have a fight on our hands.
I also have some suggestions about what I think should happen now.
  1. If we are going to reconstitute the Labour party, let's start by eliminating patronage from the system, however well intended it may be. Recent losses of major names and consequent lines of succession, though painful, could enable such a shift right now. Let's seize the opportunity. Open primaries for the upcoming council elections.
  2. We understand the power of the "#labourdoorstep" - let's use it for practical community help. We know how to identify, categorise and target people; lets do it in the context of capacity building instead of just vote winning. Let's make the new #labourdoorstep a community direct action movement which engages volunteers and helps vulnerable people gain access to services. Let's make it a long term output of the Labour movement, rather than an approach to winning votes.
  3. Labour values would be as relevant in an independent Scotland as they are across the UK, so the bold action on the upcoming referendum is to leave the SNP to it, and stick to our knitting. It's not our issue. Let them waste time on it, and let the people decide whenever the time comes. Labour is not an intrinsically unionist party, so let's make sure Scottish Labour can continue to fight for Scotland's best interests irrespective of a unionist or nationalist agenda. We say "bring it on", but we aren't for or against - we rise above.
DH, Edinburgh, 9th May 2011


  1. Duncan

    I found this a very interesting post and particularly with reference to 3 above.

    I can see us already starting to lead the charge against independence, as we did against a referendum (except for Wendy's, in my view correct policy of getting it out of the way) and worry that as a Scottish Labour Party the public at large will really punish us for this. We are already see as a 'london' party and this i feel contributed to our loss last thursday.

    A policy of standing back would in my view be very interesting, because as you say, why should the fundamentals of social democracy fellow a unionist line.

    An independent scotland would let us follow the ideal of a left of center Scotland at least as well as the current status quo and in reality, as Cameron makes it harder for us to win in the uk and the UK as a whole shifts more to a small c conservative leaning, maybe an independent scotland would be better for those of us who are on the center left.


  2. Thanks Alex, I really appreciate the comment. I think it would take a leader with real balls to take this route, but I think it would give us huge credibility with the electorate to step back from the knee-jerk unionist line.

    We could say we see both sides of the argument, we recognise that different views exist and they cross party lines (because many who voted SNP both this time and last are firmly unionist) and we are happy that people will have the opportunity to vote; but that we stand for Labour values whatever the constitutional settlement.

    I can imagine the reaction from a few folk though. :-)