Alexander outlines harsh truths for Scottish Labour as his own seat is axed

Ed Jacobs examines Douglas Alexander's speech to Scotland today, and looks at the effect the boundary review will have on Scottish representation.

The shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, one of Labour’s key strategic thinkers, will this evening deliver a lecture in which he will admit that Labour in Scotland had been “well and truly gubbed” in May’s elections to Holyrood.

Delivering the Andrew John Williamson memorial lecture at the University of Stirling, Alexander is expected to conclude that the public have seen Labour north of the border as running “opposition for its own sake” and simply failing to outline a distinctly Scottish vision for the country.

It is also thought that he will recognise that SNP’s success has in part come about as a result of the Scottish people seeing Alex Salmond’s government as being “fairly competent” and “broadly aligned to their values”, and will call on Scottish Labour to establish a “one Scotland” vision north of the border and abandon some of the scare tactics used against the SNP’s plans for independence.

In a preview of what he will say, writing for the Scotsman newspaper, Alexander today writes:

“The harsh truth for Labour is that the Nationalists’ victory in May did not derive exclusively from their approach to national identity. It also reflected that those who voted for them judged them fairly competent and broadly aligned with their values in their stewardship of government over the previous four years.

“Just as importantly, Labour in opposition was seen as too often concerned only with opposition for its own sake. Too many Scots judged us to have complained in unspecified ways about the SNP’s failure to deliver, without articulating a clear enough alternative story and account of Scotland’s possibilities.”

Assessing Alexander’s speech, thought to have been considered long and hard over the summer, the Scotsman’s political editor, Eddie Barnes argues:

“The lecture will probably put some noses out of joint within Scottish Labour’s notoriously prickly ranks, but at least Mr Alexander has nailed the nature of their crisis to the door. However, what this lecture doesn’t do is resolve the more pressing question of who is going to answer Mr Alexander’s clarion call (Mr Alexander has ruled himself out for the vacant Scottish leader’s job). Today’s lecture provides a template for the beleaguered Scottish party. Who will be its face?”

Meanwhile, as the shadow foreign secretary looks to assess the future of Scottish Politics, he will do so with the uncertainty of what will happen to his own seat of Paisley and Renfrewshire South following the publication by the Boundary Commission for Scotland of its initial proposals to reduce the number of Westminster constituencies in Scotland as outlined within the Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Bill.

Under the plans, just 2 seats, defined within legislation, SNP held Na h-Eileanan an Iar (the Western Isles) and Lib Dem Orkney and Shetland, will remain untouched with a number of interesting scenarios ahead, including:

• Douglas Alexander faces seeing his seat divided between two new constituencies, potentially pitting him against his Labour colleague, Jim Sheridan for a new Paisley and Renfrew seat.

The Lib Dems Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander looks set for an interesting battle with his former party leader and leading coalition critic Charles Kennedy, whose Ross, Skye and Lochaber powerbase is marked for the axe as the Highlands loses a seat.

• The seat of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale home to Scotland Office minister and the only Tory MP north of the border, David Mundell, is planned to be distributed among several others.

• Shadow Business, Innovation and Skills Minister, Ian Murray meanwhile looks set to have to compete with either former Chancellor, Alistair Darling or against Edinburgh East MP, Sheila Gilmore as his Edinburgh South seat is in line to be scrapped.

• Anas Sarwar, a candidate for the Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour has been left looking for a new constituency as his current Glasgow Central seat has been split up, although its name survives. This could see him being pitted against former Scottish Secretary, Ann McKechin who’s Glasgow North seat would disappear altogether.

• A further clash would see Gordon Brown and one of his closest political friends, Glenrothes MP Lindsay Roy competing for the seat, as the bulk of their seats merge.

The Scotsman has also reported:

“In addition to losing two seats – one in Aberdeenshire where Malcolm Bruce and Sir Robert Smith will potentially be rivals – the Lib Dems face notional Labour majorities in two others.

“This means that Edinburgh West’s Mike Crockart and East Dunbartonshire’s Jo Swinson could both be out at the next election.

“The SNP hopes that the boundary changes will give them at least two more seats with the new Dundee West and Gowrie seat offering them a comfortable majority. The party also thinks the new Stirling seat is now more winnable.”

Outlining the plans, Hugh Buchanan, secretary to the Scottish Boundary Commission explained:

“The Commission has worked intensively to design this set of constituencies, which we believe provide a good implementation of the rules set by Parliament. We now want to get people’s views on these proposals so we can improve them where the legislation allows us to do so.

“The number of Scotland’s constituencies is reducing from 59 to 52, with each mainland constituency having the same number of electors within 5%.”

Not everyone however is quite so appreciative of the plans that have been outlined, with the director of the Electoral Reform Society in Scotland, Willie Sullivan dubbing the commissions’ work a “thankless task” before declaring:

“If Scotland’s new boundaries prove as ‘mad and insane’ as England’s then responsibility must lie with the British government.”

Shadow scottish secretary, Margaret Curran meanwhile has expressed her concerns that Scotland’s voice in Westminster would be substantially weakened as a result of the changes, arguing:

“This is a bad scenario for Scotland because Nick Clegg’s plan to gerrymander seats will weaken Scotland’s voice at Westminster. Scotland’s great cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh will see their voice in parliament reduced.

“Instead we have totally new constituencies that cross different from local authority boundaries, are completely different from Holyrood boundaries, and often have little regard for local communities.”

For the Conservatives also, David Mundell, whose seat faces being abolished, whilst supportive of the process, has been reluctant to support the specficifc proposals being suggested by the Commission, saying of his own seat:

“At the moment I want to look at the detail to see how individual wards are split up and I also think it’s important to gauge and hear what the public have to see about it.”

See also:

Scottish Labour needs a new Donald DewarEd Jacobs, September 26th 2011

SNP boost capital spending, but at what cost?Ed Jacobs, September 22nd 2011

Labour in Westminster should learn from Scotland on economic policyCameron Smith, September 23rd 2011

Super-confident Salmond has the air of a man who seems untouchableEd Jacobs, September 8th 2011

Corporation tax – devolution too far?Ed Jacobs, August 24th 2011

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.