Vote 2011: Scottish Labour needs to find out what it’s for

The only positive for Labour in Scotland is that the shock of the results may spur party reform. For years, the problems of Scots Labour have been known.

The only positive for Labour in Scotland is that the shock of the disastrous election results may spur the party into real reform. They have had enough warnings. For years, the problems of Scottish labour have been known. A defensive party, whose main message is to scare with the Tory bogeyman or the Nationalist bogeyman; a conservative party, that lacks vision and innovation; a drab party, that doesn’t seem to want to celebrate Scotland.

That’s the message from Left-winger and former Labour MP Denis Canavan:

At the start of the current Scottish parliament election campaign, the Labour leadership apparently thought that the key to success was to bash the Tories and to present Scottish Labour as the best defender of the Scottish people against the cuts imposed by the Tory-led coalition at Westminster.

After four weeks, that strategy has clearly failed, with most polls showing Labour trailing behind the SNP, despite having started the campaign with a ten-point lead...

Labour’s response has been to switch from one form of negative campaigning to another. Instead of bashing the Tories, the strategy now is to bash the Nats. It is an action-replay of the tired old formula which Labour has used at every previous Scottish parliament election…

It is a sign that Labour are so bereft of any “big ideas” of their own that they concentrate so much on trying to rubbish the “big idea” of their main opponents, despite the fact that the policy of the SNP is for the constitutional future of Scotland to be decided not by any political party but by the people of Scotland in a referendum.

That’s the message of freethinker and academic Gerry Hassan:

Ever since Labour lost office to the SNP in 2007… Labour took the easy route back to power: bashing Tories, engaging in a populist knee-jerkism against the SNP, and engaging in no real soul searching, party reform or honest reflections on the inadequacies of Labour Scotland…

One Labour insider said, “We don’t need a miracle – a message would do.” Another commented that, “we need to give our voters a reason to come out with either a strong policy initiative or a positive leadership message…

Scottish Labour shows the enduring nature of the politics of Labour entitlement: a rather unattractive, ungenerous, tribalism: you are either ‘one of us’ or ‘against us’. It is still playing the politics of ‘the base’, of an older, authoritarian politics which goes down well with parts of its working class politics, but which isn’t about the future or all Scotland. There is a law of diminishing returns in all of this.

That’s the message from Labour-right website, Labour Labour Uncut:

A campaign which had the potential to show Labour rejuvenated instead indicates that lessons have not been learned.

Here I will highlight four main areas where I think the campaign has come short: the anti-Tory, then anti-SNP, stance; the absence of distinctiveness; the lack of realism; and the leadership problem.

Scotland needs a progressive unionist party. The Liberal Democrats have been decimated north of the border. How did the inheritor to the Red Clydesiders and the ILP become so staid? Scottish Labour’s problems are known. For the sake  of scotland and the UK, it’d better tackle them.

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