Scottish Labour has the fight of its life on its hands

Murphy must shift the campaign away from Scotland's constitutional future, and convince the electorate that it matters who is in Number 10


Speaking on the Today programme this morning, Scottish Labour’s Leader Jim Murphy did his level best to divert attention away from talk of independence, noting that the real SNP/Labour battle will come next year when Holyrood is up for election again.

The general election, he said, is a straight fight between two men for Downing Street – David Cameron and Ed Miliband – and Scotland needs to choose which option it prefers.

It’s a line that’s been used for the past few months but which, if the polls are to be believed, has made little impact. However, it is one that the party needs to continue to push in the hope, rather than expectation, that it gains traction in the minds of voters.

Yesterday’s poll by ComRes for ITV News, reported on by Left Foot Forward, noted that when asked to choose between David Cameron and Ed Miliband as prime minister, Miliband has a commanding lead in Labour held seats north of the border.

But of those in the same poll planning to vote SNP in the same constituencies, 56 per cent are doing so because they support independence, whilst previous polls have indicated that Scotland is swinging back to supporting the idea of the country going it alone.

Little wonder therefore that the SNP, who following September’s defeat ruled out another referendum for a generation, is now having to run two campaigns. In the official one they argue that next month’s vote is about giving Scotland a strong voice at the top table of UK government.

The other, through nods, winks and not so subtle hints, is about advancing the case for Scotland to no longer be under the control of the government they now seek to influence.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon’s failure yesterday to rule out including a referendum in the party’s manifesto for the Scottish Parliamentary election next year was the biggest clue yet as to the proxy campaign that is going on right now.

And the SNP’s prospects will, however unintentionally, have been boosted by Nick Clegg’s assertion ahead of a visit to Scotland today that the SNP and Conservatives are proving ‘very convenient bogeymen’ for each other. Any suggestion that the SNP is now the party best able to stand up against the Conservatives will do them no harm at all.

Scottish Labour has the fight of its life on its hands. It has just five weeks to confound polls that have been fairly consistent since September and turn the campaign around. It needs to shift the campaign focus from Scotland’s constitutional future to why the UK matters to Scotland, and why it matters who is in Number 10. The jury’s out as to whether it will be possible but, as the phrase goes, it is now squeaky bum time for Labour.

Meanwhile, ahead of tomorrow’s 7- way leader’s debate, SNP strategists have argued that Nicola Sturgeon’s experience in television debates during the independence campaign will stand her in good stead.  They have sought to contrast what they see as her cool, calm approach to David Cameron and Ed Miliband who, the SNP believes, will become ‘shrill and shouty’.

Labour has responded by accusing the SNP of ‘breath-taking arrogance’.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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