How not to reverse Labour's fortunes

Submitted by AWL on 10 February, 2015 - 5:01 Author: Anne Field

He’s promised to bring back the sale of alcoholic drinks at football matches.

He’s pledged to make Labour the true patriotic party, patriotically committed to the patriotic interests of patriotic Scotland. And he’s been photographed jogging along the Clyde wearing a Scotland team football top. But none of this has been enough for Jim Murphy, the recently elected leader of the Scottish Labour Party, to achieve a reversal in the party’s poll ratings.

According to a recent poll in sixteen Westminster constituencies in Scotland (fourteen held by Labour, and two by the Lib-Dems), Labour will hang on to just one of the fourteen seats in the May general election.

The poll revealed an average swing from Labour to the SNP of 25%. In none of the seats did Labour’s share of the vote drop by less than ten points. In only six of the seats did its share of the vote drop by less than twenty points.

The SNP are now on course to win Coatbridge, where Labour picked up 70% of the vote in the 2010 general election.

Since last September’s referendum, opinion polling has consistently put Labour on course for no more than four or six seats in this year’s general election.

Unless there is a sudden collapse in support for the SNP the Scottish Labour Party is now heading for its worst electoral performance since 1918. 2015 would be the first time since 1955 that Labour did not top the polls in Scotland.

The ongoing upsurge in support for the SNP is also a threat to the chances of the May general election producing a Labour government, or even a coalition government with Labour as the senior partner.

Labour is certainly on course to win seats in England. But gains in England could be outweighed by a haemorrhaging of seats to the SNP in Scotland. This would leave the Tories as the party with the most seats in Westminster.

Scottish Labour’s dismal standing in successive opinion polls is the result of a combination of factors.

Under Thatcher and Major, Labour dominated Scottish politics. It held 50 Westminster seats and controlled the major urban local authorities. But it had no strategy to challenge the Tories as they laid waste Scotland’s industrial heartlands.

Under Blair, Labour in Scotland followed the same pattern as Labour in the rest of the country. Disillusion with Blair, especially over the Iraq War, saw membership collapse and electoral support decline.

Labour’s ongoing shift to the right allowed the SNP to posture as a left-wing party. It narrowly won the 2007 Holyrood elections, and went on to win an absolute majority of seats in Holyrood in 2011.

Although last September’s referendum saw independence rejected by 55% against 45%, the “Yes” campaign (i.e. the SNP) made inroads into Labour heartlands: the SNP, backed up by their leftist bag-carriers, portrayed independence as the way to beat austerity.

Since then the SNP has blamed Labour’s collaboration with the Tories for the defeat of the ‘Yes’ campaign. (In fact, the “Yes” campaign was defeated simply a majority of the people of Scotland preferred the status quo to the all-things-to-all-people independent Scotland which was on offer from the SNP.)

The probem is Jim Murphy embodies these historical factors: unswerving support for Blair; support for the Iraq War; backing the last Labour government’s attacks on welfare benefits and free higher education; an elevation of spin over substance; and collaborating with the Tories in the referendum.

No surprise then that Murphy has failed to boost the party’s electoral prospects.

The Scottish Labour Party has alienated many of its core voters by failing to offer a radical alternative to the politics of privatisation, anti-union laws and austerity. But the growth in support for the SNP and its portrayal of independence as a cure-all panacea is not a shift to the left.

As Mark Ferguson put it in a recent article on the LabourList blog:

“In many ways Scottish politics in 2015 is now a little like Northern Ireland – your view on the state of the union is what swings votes, more than economic or social concerns. That’s a terrifying political environment in which to operate.”

The pro-independence left itself is a prime example of the elevation of the ”constitutional question” over economic and social concerns, and over basic class politics.

Last week the Radical Independence Campaign (Ayrshire) proudly announced:

“RIC Ayrshire will be organising a ‘The People Demand’ March for April in North Ayrshire. We intend to set off from Katy Clark’s constituency office and move through the three towns to Ardrossan South Beach.”

The announcement met with a mixed response.

Some posts on the RIC Ayrshire Facebook page suggested going door-to-door or confronting Katy Clark at her surgery (to demand an explanation of why she called for a “No” vote in the referendum) as an alternative to a demonstration.

Other contributions argued that staging a demonstration in Katy Clark’s constituency was not really a good idea. These were countered by responses along the lines of: she collaborated with the Tories in the referendum, so what’s the problem?

The Facebook page which announced the event has since been taken down, at least for the time being.

But the fact that RIC could be contemplating staging such a demonstration in the constituency of the most left-wing Labour MP in Scotland — number three on the SNP’s list of target seats — underlines how far removed the pro-independence left is from class politics.

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