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Inverclyde result was a draw. It’ll take more than an Irn-Bru re-branding to turn it round.

Ed Miliband may be relieved at last week’s by-election result in Inverclyde, but for Labour in Scotland, it was no better than a draw. Labour held the seat with almost the same share as the late David Cairns in what was a good general election result for Labour locally and in Scotland. That’s the good bit. The SNP almost doubled their vote, appearing to clean up on former Lib Dem voters and winning voters from all other parties. Enough to say with justification that they’re still riding as high as in the May Holyrood elections. Hence the importance of the review of the Scottish party led by leading Westminster Blairite Jim Murphy and MSP Sarah Boyack. Scottish Labour, whose dominance was almost unchallenged for decades, has the fight of its life ahead of it.

Gerry Hassan, in the latest Chartist, describes Scottish Labour as the party of “fear and negativity”:

Scottish Labour became a party of negativity not just in this election, but over the last 30 years from 1979 onwards. Scottish Labour has defined itself against three forces: first, Thatcherism, then, New Labour, and now, Scottish nationalism.

According to the Daily Record, the solution is an Irn-Bru rebranding:

Scottish Labour is to rebrand itself as the “Irn-Bru of modern politics” with distinctive “made in Scotland” policies that will set it apart from the main UK party, party insiders have revealed. The radical overhaul of the Labour image aims to turn the party into an iconic Scottish brand that will outflank the SNP’s appeal to patriotism….

In their determination to root the party in Scotland, senior Labour figures have even studied how Scottish products like whisky and Irn-Bru retain a solid Caledonian identity while appealing to a wider market.

However, whether this is a superficial rebranding like the invention of the “Scottish Labour Party” in 1994 or the “autonomous, self-governing party” that Gerry Hassan seeks is unclear. The fact that the first discussion of the review between MPs and MSPs took place this week in Westminster not Holyrood suggests the former is more likely.

Scottish Labour will undoubtedly get a new form of leader, as the Herald predicts, but will it be a Leader of the whole of the Scottish party, or will the new structure actually reinforce the dominance of Westminster MPs in a still Unionist Scottish Labour politics? That may serve to maintain Blairite dominance, but it may prove a pyrrhic victory — the last bastion of Bairism in a declining Scottish party, unwilling to triangulate in a place where that means moving the party to the left.

The membership of constituency parties in Scotland is already lower than any other British Labour region, other than the Tory South-East and South-West — 206 compared with 250 across the UK, 276 in Wales and 428 in London. It is encouraging that a move to organisation on the basis of Scottish rather than Westminster constituencies is being considered — a sure way of refocussing  the party. Not much information is given away in the reviews terms of reference or the consultation document.

We now know from the Scottish election study that the SNP’s advantage over Labour extends to all classes, all religions and none (though less so amongst Catholics), to men and women and to all age groups.

Scottish Parliament election results 2011, by social class

Subjective class

Working Class

Middle Class None

SNP

47 37 53

Lab

33 16 17

Con

7 22 14

Lib Dem

4 8 4

Green

3 9 4

Other

6 8 8

Objective class

AB C1 C2DE

SNP

41 41 47

Lab

25 25 28

Con

14 17 9

Lib Dem

5 8 4

Green

8 6

4

Other

7 3 8

Indeed, the SNP made its greatest gains where it has previously been weakest, amongst women, the working class and catholics. Furthermore, it is now clear that it gained from all parties not just the Lib Dems — although they did win twice as many Lib Dem defectors as Labour.

Flow of constituency votes, 2010 General election to 2011 Scottish election
Constituency Vote 2011 Constituency vote 2010
SNP Lab Con Lib Dem
SNP 95 31 27 47
Lab 3 66 7 23
Con 1 1 62 3
Lib Dem 1 2 3 27


The result in Inverclyde, notwithstanding the holding up of the Labour share, is likely to have been similar — Labour is likely to have lost votes to the SNP swhilst also gaining others from the Lib Dems.

If the Scottish party wants to make sure that this review pushes Scottish Labour in the right direct, members need to get organised to have maximum influence on this review.

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