Is Labour losing its grip on the Scottish centre-left?

By April 16, 2014Uncategorized

In a thought-provoking piece yesterday on Newsnetscotland, political commentator David Torrance argues that the SNP’s bold pitch for Scotland’s Labour voters to vote Yes in September’s independence referendum is bearing fruit and may just push the pro-indy side to victory. The piece serves as a reminder of the momentum the Yes campaign has steadily built since the White Paper’s publication last November and that, even amongst all the current jostling for women voters, it may yet be Scotland’s traditional Labour core that could in the end prove decisive to the outcome of the referendum.

Indeed, many commentators have argued that the referendum debate has seemingly vexed Scottish Labour, drawing attention to the SNP’s ability to wrong-foot the party while pointing to things like the virtual invisibility of the party leadership during this process to the lack of game-changing proposals for further devolution in its recent Devolution Commission report.  There is an increasing feeling amongst those in the political establishment that Labour’s current structure may not be fit for purpose, torn as it is between a Scottish contingent attempting to deliver more powers to Holyrood and its wider UK membership which tends to be more concerned with achieving a level of fairness across Britain through centralisation and redistribution via Westminster.

Whatever the result we wake up with on the 19th of September, Scottish Labour is going to have to adapt to a dramatically altered political environment.  At this point in the campaign, it is worth wondering if the independence debate has already ended up inflicting enough damage on the party to see them lose their “claim” on being Scotland’s natural centre-left party of choice to the SNP.

As the nationalists continue to enjoy a strong reputation for governing competence and largely resilient approval ratings for their leadership, a key question for Labour’s leadership is how they plan to reclaim their spot at the top of the electoral pile.  Its recent attempts to outflank the SNP on the left on issues like tax may ultimately offer enough appeal to its own party members to persuade them to ignore the independence siren song but could turn off those Middle Scotland voters needed to push the party to victory at Holyrood, whether Scotland is independent or not.  Moreover, the generally negative messages employed throughout the referendum debate may resonate even more widely and provide many Scots with enough reason to back the more positive vision for Scotland offered by the nationalist camp.

In any event, Labour is going to have to fundamentally shift its approach in Scotland, not only to see off independence, but also to ensure they have a strong foundation to once more become a party of government.


Patrick Hogan