Scottish Labour needs to make itself relevant this weekend

When Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont address’s the Labour faithful in Brighton this weekend, she will be faced with two key challenges.

When Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont address’s the Labour faithful in Brighton this weekend, she will be faced with two key challenges.

With less than a year to go until Scottish voters go to the polls and decide their fates, for many, the option they would prefer, namely devo max, simply isn’t on the ballot paper. For those seeking to maintain Scotland’s place at the heart of the union, the challenge is to establish a credible, cross-party offer to the voters, one that gives them confidence that voting to reject independence will not be a vote for the status quo.

Lamont needs to set out that vision and a path towards a united, Better Together approach to the powers to be provided to Holyrood, or else face the risk of Scotland sleepwalking its way to separation.

The gauntlet will today be laid by shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander who, in a speech in his Paisley and Renfrewshire South constituency, will call for all parties, including the SNP, to come together and establish a strong and durable offer for the future of devolution in the event of a rejection of Alex Salmond’s pet project.

Alexander, who earlier this year called for a national convention on the future of Scotland, will tell (£) those assembled that despite the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives having given a positive response to his call, Labour needs to go one step further. He will explain:

“All sides of this debate have an interest in the referendum outcome being respected. So if, in a year’s time, Scotland does reject separation, then why shouldn’t Nationalists too come to see a National Convention as a constructive means to discuss, deliberate and decide together on what our better future within the UK looks like?

“For while the answer to the question put in a year’s time will resolve whether or not Scots want to be a nation separate from the rest of the UK, the deeper question as to what kind of Scotland we want to be will not be resolved.”

In what is being seen as an attempt to secure the support of those within the Labour Party who have been reluctant to commit even to the principle of further devolution, he will declare:

“I hope that such a National Convention could become a shared commitment by those parties who believe that Scotland’s better future lies within the United Kingdom.”

Attacking the tone of the debate on both sides meanwhile, Alexander will conclude that the campaigns so far have become “arid, acrimonious”, an argument that is failing to chime with the priorities of Scottish people.

Johann Lamont’s second challenge in Brighton, meanwhile, will be to restore Labour’s credibility as an alternative government-in waiting north of the border. Over two years after the SNP secured a historic, single party majority in the Scottish parliament, the polling on voting intentions remains weak for Scottish Labour.

Ipsos MORI’s Scottish Public Opinion Monitor shows that, among those certain to vote, 41 per cent would vote for the SNP, up two points since May, whilst Labour remains four points behind on 37 per cent, an increase of just one point since May.

Asked about the leaders of the Scottish Parties, Alex Salmond has managed, for now, to halt the decline in his satisfaction rating with a net satisfaction rating of +8 – up 6 points since May. Johann Lamont is on trails on +6, up 1 point, although Ipsos Mori point out that “a third of Scots still do not know enough about the Scottish Labour leader to provide a rating”.

Commenting on the results, Christopher McLean, senior researcher at Ipsos MORI Scotland, said:

“Over two years on from their landslide victory in the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections, the SNP remain the most popular party among voters in Scotland. Indeed, the SNP’s popularity is aided by the high levels of satisfaction with the party’s leading figures as both the first minister and deputy first minister continue to achieve high approval ratings.

“Scottish Labour continue to make progress under Johann Lamont and are close behind the SNP. However, a third of voters remain unable to rate the Scottish Labour leader’s performance, suggesting that more could be done to improve her profile among voters.”

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