Scottish Labour faces crisis of its own making

For too long Labour has taken Scotland for granted. It is now paying the price.

For too long Labour has taken Scotland for granted. It is now paying the price

That a party that has been defeated at the polls spends time pondering what it stands for and what it’s ‘offer’ to voters is not new. Indeed, in many respects it is a good thing – an opportunity to take stock, understand why voters rejected them and change accordingly.

To be undertaking such an inward analysis just months before a General Election and in the wake of a win at the polls would be a sign of panic and desperation. That however, is the position that Scottish Labour now finds itself in.

Having been at the forefront of what proved to be a successful Better Together campaign, the party north of the border should be fizzing, ready and eager to implement it plans to bolster the position of Scotland within the union. The mantra was that it was possible to have a strong Scotland within a strong United Kingdom. What we find instead is a weak Scottish Labour within an increasingly weak UK-wide Labour Party.

Over the weekend, the mood of desperation now faced by Labour north of the border reached new levels, with the sight now of a party increasingly looking in on itself rather than outwards at the voters.

Concluding that Scottish Labour has become “a political machine that is angry about what has happened in Scotland in the recent past”, namely the voters turning to the SNP, Labour’s last first minister, Jack (now Lord) McConnell declared in the Times that the “Scottish Labour Party needs to be a cause. It needs to represent the future and a better Scotland”.

The current state of the party in Scotland is, he said, “very sad for Labour but more importantly it’s very sad for those we represent”.

His views were echoed by his predecessor as first minister Henry McLeish, who over the weekend argued that many of Scottish Labour’s supporters no longer know “what the party stands for”, adding that it had the “least attractive” offer on further powers for Holyrood of any of the Unionist parties.

As he starts a new week in the office, Ed Miliband would do well to have both McConnell and McLeish in for a coffee to begin the process of better understanding how to change things.

For too long, Labour has taken Scotland for granted. It is now paying the price.

Faced with Nicola Sturgeon leading the SNP and predications by Peter Kellner of YouGov that the SNP could secure up to 20 seats at next year’s General Election, the problems Labour faces in Scotland are no longer just a local difficulty; they are a crisis that could well prevent Ed Miliband gaining the keys to Downing Street next year.

Something must change and change fast. As Scotland on Sunday’s leader comment yesterday concluded:

“Can this once-mighty party whose story is marbled through the history of the Scottish ­nation over the past century make its way back into the hearts of the voters? Can it rediscover its mojo? Perhaps it is too late. Perhaps the torch has been passed on, especially with the SNP ­expected to take a leftward turn under new leader Nicola Sturgeon.

“But if there is to be a Scottish Labour recovery it has to start now, and it has to start with a radical, generous and bold approach to the Smith Commission on more powers for Holyrood. In one sense this is a very good opportunity for a party trying to make a statement about its future. But whether Scottish Labour is capable of grasping this thistle ­remains to be seen.”

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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