So, as it turned out the polls were right about Scotland and the two seats which I was campaigning in, East Lothian and Midlothian couldn’t escape the national trend and both returned SNP MPs.
The SNP are to be congratulated on the result that they’ve achieved.
The swing to the SNP across Scotland is unparalleled and their campaign seems to have been played just right.
In the Labour party we’ve had our time to commiserate with our candidates, both Kenny Young and Fiona O’Donnell fought what I thought were excellent campaigns. The party in Midlothian and East Lothian was energised as never before and we spoke to thousands of voters.
But ultimately, the harsh reality is that we lost the election in Scotland and wider than that across the UK.
There have been endless comments, discussions as to why the Labour Party in Scotland is where it is today. In this post I’m not offering a definitive answer to that question, it’s just really to record my own experience, some of the discussions I’ve had and some observations on the issues that seem to be emerging:-
- Post Election Discussions – The discussion that sticks in my mind the most following the election was with a friend who isn’t a member of any political party. They take a general interest in politics and vote regularly, usually, but not always for the SNP. So, I wasn’t surprised that the first time I saw them after the election that they confirmed they had voted SNP, what did surprise me, and I think also surprised them was that aside from me, they didn’t know anyone else who had voted Labour. This is someone in quite a well paid job and who’s circle of friends includes a number of what would be termed as being in professional occupations. This underlined for me the extent to which the SNP campaign had resonated amongst voters regardless of class or employment status.
- Brand Politics – As much as we may not like it politics is to some extent about marketing, a great ad campaign will have a memorable slogan, logo, and capture the public imagination. Ring any bells with what we’ve just seen? One measure of the SNPs success can be seen in the way in which some local businesses now think nothing of putting up an SNP poster during the election campaign, or displaying a sticker with the stronger for Scotland slogan. Clearly any concerns that to display your political leanings will lose you business, doesn’t seem to feature as much of a risk.
- ‘Just because I vote SNP doesn’t mean I want independence’ – I think that it has probably taken a few of us in the Labour party a while to understand this. Back to one of my post-election discussions, maybe we have spent too long arguing about the constitution, obviously we have to respond to what our political opponents are saying, but here’s a thought, maybe the SNP are quite happy for us to talk about the constitution, rather than to focus on their record in government? The other issue linked to this is that the SNP are seen by many as being competent at what they do. I think we need to understand this, saying that people have somehow been duped or conned into voting for the SNP is going to divert us from where we should be. We need to win the trust of voters again, show that we are credible as a party through our policies and the way we speak to voters.
- Create an independent Labour Party – Lots of reasons are being put forward to do this. Personally, this leaves me in something of a quandary. One of the reasons I joined the Labour Party was that it was the party that would fight for social justice throughout the UK and that the expression of that solidarity was that we were a UK-wide party. If we created an independent party are we giving up on that and admitting that boat has sailed?
- Trade Unions – There’s been quite a bit of talk about the influence unions have on the Labour Party, in my view our links with the trade union movement are on the whole a positive thing. The latest Office of National Statistics data certainly highlights some of the challenges facing union’s today, but it also demonstrates their successes and diversity. The issues that unions highlight are also issues that we can campaign on and help inform the policies that we want to develop to challenge inequality.
The Scottish Parliament elections are less than a year away, so we don’t have much time for reflection.
Between now and then we need to convince voters with a clear strong message that we are a credible alternative to the SNP.
We also need to set out clearly what we stand for and articulate that in an effective way.
For me that message has to be about challenging inequality and working to make a positive difference to people in their day-to-day lives – whether that’s through educational opportunities, doing what we can to create better conditions for employment or improving services.
But, we need to set that out in a positive and attractive way with policies that underpin those aspirations.
That’s the campaign I hope to fight in Midlothian North and Musselburgh in these coming months.