David Robertson wrote:What I'd like to know from Scottish colleagues, sympathetic to Labour or otherwise, is whether they believe there to be any foreseeable credible prospect of some Labour revival.
I’m not a close follower of the Labour movement, so what I am about to say is pretty much guess-work, but may prompt discussion.
Have we witnessed a paradigm shift, or was the recent election result merely at the outer margins of probability, the result of various factors combining like the different reels on a fruit machine to produce 3 gold thistles, with a reversion to the mean likely?
I don’t think anyone knows the answer to your question, but change in Scotland has been happening for years, only to accelerate of late. Of course, the electoral system has magnified the change; increased volatility may lead to a big reaction in future.
I think the SNP has done 3 things (having squeezed into power in 2007, which itself is a probably a function of several factors such as slight boredom with the status quo, the fall-out from the Iraq war and a possibly a reversion to mean after minor parties won a lot of seats in 2003).
1 – it has governed relatively competently, and relatively conservatively (although the constraints of the Holyrood set-up encourage this).
2 – it has sought to demonize the Westminster establishment and played on distrust of particular bogey-men such as the Tories, Tony Blair, the House of Lords etc.
3 – it has targeted the core Labour vote in the West of Scotland with an alleged “anti-austerity” and anti-Trident agenda.
It has used its better and more modern campaigning ability to capitalise on the so-called increased political engagement and stoked a rise in discontent. With the Lib Dems a party of government and Labour being tagged with some of the blame for the financial crisis (and being lambasted with sharing a platform with the hated Tories during the indy ref), there were fewer places for the anti-establishment vote to go.
(As an aside, IMO the increase in political “engagement” is limited, and overstated. It has moved a couple of notches along the scale from:
• No thoughts, through
• Almost total disengagement – “they’re all the same” – i.e. seeing things as black only, to
• “Our side good, everyone else bad”. i.e. seeing things as black and white.
There are few shades of grey, few nuances, no colour.)
I think Scottish Labour has had 3 difficulties.
1 – the conflict between traditional socialists and the New Labour social democrats appears more pronounced, and unlike in England, there is a viable alternative for the electorate
2 – for years Scottish Labour has been able to stick a red rosette on a donkey and get it elected; now this no longer the case the party is bewildered
3 – there appears to be a dearth of talent and leadership material. (This may be a function of the erosion, due to Electoral Reform, of their local government base).
Is there a prospect of a revival? It is possible. Empires tend to fail. The pendulum swings back. The economic case for independence is weak in my view, and has been weakened further by the drop in oil price. The SNP has largely managed to avoid any blame for failings in Education and the NHS – that may not last for ever, especially as more powers are transferred to Holyrood. The 56 may prove to be relatively impotent. If people have switched allegiance once, they may switch allegiance back again. It's certainly interesting.