Although the UK wide election result was disastrous for the Labour Party, the Scottish result was cataclysmic. To find an example of a comparable defeat, you must back to the beginning of the twentieth century. The scale of Scottish Labour’s defeat cannot be overstated.
Scottish Labour needs to completely reassess its campaigning strategy, leadership, messaging and manifesto before it comes close to understanding what went wrong.
Recent rumblings suggest that constitutional tensions still plague the pParty. Indeed, MSP Monica Lennon has called for Scottish Labour to split from the UK Party and support #indyref2, whilst Richard Leonard’s position on a second independence referendum has been murky to say the least.
However, the last meeting of the Scottish Executive Committee reaffirmed that Scottish Labour will not back #indyref2. Indeed, with Jonson’s refusal to grant Sturgeon her referendum, Scottish Labour’s position will not make a difference.
However, the Party’s position must be heard clearly. Labour’s line on the constitution cannot be called into question if it wants to stand any chance of winning in Scotland. Ian Murray, the only surviving Scottish Labour MP, has remained firm on the union and has been electorally rewarded for doing so.
Voters want the pParty to have a clear opinion on the biggest issue of the time, but when senior shadow cabinet figures travel to Edinburgh and make up new party policy without discussing it with the Scottish Party (John McDonald at the Edinburgh Fringe, I’m talking to you), the Scottish Party looks weak and ineffective.
If the UK Party remained true to its principles of devolved power, then they would let the Scottish wing decide Scottish policy. For too long has the Labour Party been a beacon of London influence, without properly incorporating the nations and regions.
The last Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown said recently: , that “‘unless the United Kingdom fundamentally changes from top to bottom [and] recognises the importance of the regions and gives respect to the regions, then I think the United Kingdom could end”’. This drastic outlook may be proved correct if the Labour Party does not seriously listen to the concerns of Scottish voters.
Why have the SNP been so popular when their tenure in Holyrood has been marked with economic downturn, child poverty, poor educational attainment, severe health service problems and the worst life expectancy in Western Europe? Their shopping list of failures are in spite of more tax-payer funding per head than the rest of the UK and devolved power that the SNP have yet to use.
There is, therefore, the need for an alternative to the SNP’s constitutional outlook and political regime, which Scottish Labour should answer.
Scottish Labour needs to remind the electorate that it was Labour in government that established the Scottish Parliament, created the Welsh Assembly and devolved power across the UK. A Labour government can give the Scottish Parliament a larger say on Scottish issues, but remaining in the UK will allow for sustained and increased funding.
In 2016, David Cameron eased the hard Right of his party by proposing a referendum on Europe. His bet backfired and Labour cannot make the same mistake, conceding to the Nationalists in the Party and elsewhere. To support another referendum would imply that there exists an argument for independence, when, in reality, for a Labour government to deliver the change that Scotland desperately needs, UK wide cooperation is essential. We must make the positive case for the union and avoid any possibility of Scotland splitting from the UK. Nonetheless, the #bettertogether campaign was unpopular and Labour should instead make the case for devolved, federal power for the nations and regions.
When the UK leaves the EU at the end of the month, Scottish Labour must call for the powers from Europe to be returned to Holyrood and not Westminster. After Brexit, more radical devolved power is possible and Scottish Labour should demand that power.
Ultimately, Labour must win back Scotland through promises of more Scottish power. Without winning back Scotland, Labour will be locked out of Westminster for good and, with that, any real possibility of devolved power will be lost.
Image: Paul Buckingham via Wikimedia Commons