Labour’s crisis in Scotland could deny it the keys to Downing Street

Labour has put its fingers in its ears in the hope that not hearing the bad news would make it go away.

Labour has put its fingers in its ears in the hope that not hearing the bad news would make it go away

In the end, Johann Lamont’s resignation as leader of the Scottish Labour Party over the weekend was probably inevitable.

Increasingly poor polling results and a party looking divided meant that something had to change. Sadly though, Ms Lamont is being used as a scapegoat for a much bigger problem – namely Ed Miliband’s failure to connect with voters across the country.

Putting aside the deserved sense of grievance that the outgoing leader of the Scottish Labour Party has at the way Labour HQ in London stifled the Scottish party’s ability to do things its own way, the independence referendum highlighted the dire position Miliband personally is in north of the border.

For a leader of the Labour Party to be performing worse in the polls in Scotland than the Conservatives when voters are asked which leader they prefer is bad enough. Add that to the fact that just 1 per cent of Scots trust Ed Miliband most to deliver extra powers for Holyrood – again behind David Cameron – and the picture becomes bleaker still.

Whilst a new leader north of the border might help, Labour’s immediate priority will be the UK General Election, an election in which it will be Miliband, not the Scottish leader, who will be putting himself forward as a prime minister-in-waiting. It is for this reason that Labour officials would be making a catastrophic error in believing that a mere changing of the guard at Holyrood is enough.

So why does all this actually matter?

Because Labour’s crisis in Scotland now looks more likely than ever to deny it the keys to Downing Street, allow David Cameron to continue as prime minister and by default continue the sense of grievances across Scotland that it isn’t getting a government that it votes for.

With some predictions that the SNP could win up to 25 seats from Labour, Miliband would need to pick up an additional seat in the Midlands and the South for each one it loses in Scotland just to keep the number of MPs he has at the moment, let alone to win an outright majority.

One only has to look at the polling ahead of the Rochester and Strood by-election, a seat which Labour held between 1997 and 2010, to see how dire things are for the party in the South.

The reality is that Labour is in a crisis of its own making. Having taken Scotland for granted for far too long it is now being out-flanked by the SNP on the left, whilst in the South the voters have turned to the right and in northern England, UKIP’s appeal to ‘traditional’ working class voters is becoming a severe headache for Labour strategists.

This has been brewing for some time, but Labour has been caught with its fingers in its ears in the hope that not hearing the bad news would make it go away.

Johann Lamont might have resigned in Scotland, but in the long run it is Ed Miliband who is proving to be more of a problem, and with just months to go before the country goes to the polls, the prospects of any dramatic turnaround looks increasingly unlikely.

As the Christmas carol goes, Labour faces a bleak mid-winter.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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.