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Labour’s Scottish bloodbath … And what needs to be done about it

Salmond and Sturgeon BLOODBATHAs an ex-Trot, I’ve got previous when it comes to looking at reality and laughing in its face. I’ve been running through those memories … hope that the far left might work together constructively … that a new workers’ party was a go-er … that the paper I used to sell was improving … in preparation for the much-trailed Ashcroft polls of select Scottish constituencies. And? Put it like this. I chuckled at the numbers his fieldwork has turned up because the alternative was sticking my head in the oven.

They are bad, really very bad. Of 14 Labour-held seats polled, the party is set to lose them all bar one to a SNP tsunami. We’re not talking marginals here either. Take West Dunbartonshire, which is typical of the Ashcroft sample. At the 2010 general election Labour’s Gemma Doyle romped home with 25,905 votes, or 61%. The SNP trailed far in second with just under 8,500 to their name. Fast forward to 2015 and it’s carnage.

If the poll findings were replicated on election day Labour would slump to 38% and the SNP surge to 47%. That’s practically unprecedented. Let’s wallow in some more misery. Look at Coatbridge, Chryston, and Bellshill. The Labour incumbent Tom Clarke has represented the constituency and its predecessors since a by-election in 1982. In 2010 Labour support in the seat increased giving him a majority of almost 21,000. Yet on the basis of the polling, it’s as if it never existed. Labour are presently on 43% while the SNP have powered through to a 47% reported share. Across the board the SNP support is not just in double figures, we’re talking monster swings in the 21%-27% range. It’s almost obscene.

As Ashcroft himself notes, he’s not saying this will apply uniformly across Labour’s Scottish seats. He after all picked out Labour heartlands where the Yes vote was at its highest. He’s also not in the business of forecasting. As he says, it’s a snapshot, not a trend. Speaking of which, how is that looking?


Unless the entire SNP is implicated in a huge scandal, or are seen to be doing dirty deals with the Tories it’s very difficult to see how Scottish Labour can pull enough irons from the fire. This is despite the Herculean campaigning efforts of Jim Murphy and his attempted shake-up of the party.

This, of course, has been a long time coming and it’s not a uniquely Scottish problem. Too many constituency parties have become rotten boroughs beholden to awful cliques of mutual backscratchers. These have been the party to – and occasional victims of – stitch-ups, internal ructions, incompetence and, in some cases, criminality. The key difference between Scotland and the rest is the process is even more accentuated. When you have Scottish Labour MPs seriously thinking having fewer than a hundred constituency members isn’t a problem “because we win anyway”, then they are the problem. (At this point, it’s worth remembering the Prince That Never Was, David Miliband, bequeathed his successor a contact rate of 0.5% – still think he’d do a better job of steering Labour through this extremely choppy waters?)

Activism is not a magic bullet, but it does help enormously because regular campaigning narrows the distance between politics and people. Politics matters more, however, and Scottish Labour has long been a basket case. As Labour in England and Wales took baby steps toward a more recognisably social democratic policy platform – one many times removed from what is needed, but still infinitely preferable to the Tory alternative – Scottish Labour was stuck in a time warp. From at least Wendy Alexander on the party was stuck in a time warp. The suits, the policies, they were all a bit 1997. The election of Johann Lamont, who ran as a quiet leftist, saw the nonsense redoubled. The Blairite common sense of the perennial unpopularity of “traditional” Labour politics saw Labour triangulate to their right, as if a left-tacking SNP insurgency would go away simply because their dogma said so. This culminated in the absolutely awful Labour-led Better Together campaign. I don’t think it was Alastair Darling’s readiness to share platforms with Tories that did for Labour (and I’m not saying that because I have a soft spot for Ruth Davidson) but rather the fact the campaign was almost entirely negative and self-serving, offered Scottish voters nothing but scare stories, and were seen to be lining up with the Tories to screw Scotland in the event of its independence. Would you want to vote for a party guilty of that?

This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. This was only possible because political parties generally speaking have been emptied of the people that once animated them. With the labour movement defeated in the 1980s and systematically ground down by Tory and New Labour governments since, it’s small wonder that Labour appears remote from people’s lives, that much of the politics on show are antithetical to the interests of those the party was set up to represent, that people from working class backgrounds are underrepresented in Parliament, and the state of the left in Labour is shocking. The only consolation is the Tories are in an even more advanced stage of decrepitude.

What can be done? Labour generally and Scottish Labour cannot be fixed before the election. Options are limited. On the plus side Labour is slowly growing, though we’re not talking the Green surge, and its troops are out and about. Even yours truly has been hitting the doors in the marginals. Yet what we need is politics. Jim Murphy pretending not to be a unionist isn’t going to fool anyone, but shifting emphasis to the left not just on the NHS but on the living wage, education, tuition fees, housing, and employment rights under the theme of security in everyday life might just prevent Scottish Labour from being fatally wounded, and help us recapture some softer Green, SNP, and – yes – UKIP votes. You might suggest I would say that anyway, but I also have YouGov in my corner.

For Labour, these are the worst of times without them being the best of times. The Ashcroft numbers do look incredibly daunting, and with the constant drip-drip of anti-Labour shit-stirring and nonsense in the media it might discourage and demotivate those prepared to go out and help. Which is exactly what Ashcroft and co wants. His numbers are methodologically sound, but they are also an episode in the election battle for hearts and minds. Our job is to note them, adjust our strategy accordingly, and carry on.

This article first appeared at All that is Solid


  1. the Ashcroft data is flawed for the reasons given, and are designed to demoralize. This is a worst case scenario, keep going.

    However the big issue is that this is the election in which voting for what you wants gets you what you DO NOT WANT. Vote for the SNP, get the Tories. Getting that message across will be crucial.

    It is also important to look at the youth vote. A post on the COnversation web site states we have lost a million voters, mainly young, mainly progressive.

    How is this playing in Scotland? A voter registration campaign is now an urgent priority south of the border. Why not in Scotland?

    Trevor Fisher.

    1. History shows that if you vote for Labour in Scotland and England voted Tory, then you get Tory.
      The idea that vote SNP and get Tories , shows how blinkered , delusional and desperate Labour voters are.
      **** NEWS FLASH**** LABOUR is NO LONGER the party of your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents. They are a different shade of Conservatism.

    2. The poll is to get the SNP to sit back and think its so easy and that it will win by a landslide.This will not happen,perhaps the SNP will take 10 seats in total,and maybe just the same as before.The idea from a Tory lord is to show how the Tories manipulate all of us,some crying in their tea/beer,cause the Labour party to start campaigning early and they will still lose because England shall vote Tory or UKIP,and Labour helpless again,same old Labour story “if only,if they never” vote SNP and the Tories will sh*t themselves,for they fear any change.

  2. Robert says:

    The people in Scotland has been given a choice the SNP or New labour or Progress, can Murphy change his direction from a die hard Blair-rite maybe, will the people see it like that not to sure.

    So in the end I think it’s to soon for labour to win this one, but the 2016 election well that could be the one and then the 2020. But if Murphy turns to the right under his old mate Blair then the fight will be a simple one socialism or Tory-ism.

    1. Mukkinese says:

      The risk is that giving Labour a good kicking in Scotland will be enough to give the Conservatives a majority in Westminster.

      If the SNP gain every seat in Scotland they would still be powerless in the face of a Conservative majority.

      That is not fair nor pleasant, but it is the reality of the situation…

      1. Robert says:

        Not an issue for the people in Scotland is it, this is only an issue for the people in England and Wales to a degree. why should people in Scotland vote labour to help the English.

      2. Matt Noble says:

        That is simply not true. The only way voters in Scotland could increase the chances of a Tory majority is if they elect some Tories in Scotland. There just aren’t any seats in Scotland which the Tories could take as a result of people moving from Labour to the SNP.

        The SNP surge will actually hurt the Tories’ chances of forming a government as they will take some seats from the Lib Dems. What we are seeing is a huge change in Scotland that actually won’t make much difference in the Westminster arithmetic. Seats that were previously Labour will now be SNP, but will still line up behind Labour to help them form a government, so the numbers that determine who controls over half the seats will stay largely the same.

  3. swatantra says:

    Wow, this purge could actually clear away a lot of the deadwood up in Scotland, giving Labour an excellent chance of rebuilding from scratch a leaner more effective pragmatic and Progressive Party, ridding it of the clutter of ideology that often attaches itself to Parties that have imagined themselves given the Divine Right to Rule.
    MacSalmond and MacSturgeon have brought Burnham Wood to Holylrood’s very doorsteps and stuffed Scots Labour’s MacBeth MacMurphy.

  4. David Ellis says:

    Scottish Labour was an outpost of the Westminster Empire. It was premissed on the garnering of a few crumbs from the master’s table. The crumbs stopped coming and the reason for Scottish Labour disappeared with them. Why would anybody vote for this Pasoked husk? Unfortunately a left alternative with a programme for the transition to working class power and socialism in Scotland to challenge the wooly populism of the SNP. That is the task facing socialists in Scotland. Propping up the opportunists isn’t.

    1. Robert says:

      That is the issue though will Murphy change his colour to red, somehow I think he will find it hard.

  5. as I have said, the message has to be…. vote SNP get the Tories

    How to get this across?

    Trevor Fisher.

    1. Robert says:

      That is your problem you have not yet caught up with the fact, if you vote SNP in Scotland you get the SNP you do not get labour or the Tories. 100 days we are told after the next election Scotland will be a totally devolved country with it own powers.

      So if you live in Scotland and vote the SNP you will get the SNP.

      Your idea that voting SNP will get you the Tories simply does not hold water. why should Scotland worry about what you get in England or Wales for that matter.

    2. Lily Zotou says:

      But this is the biggest lie of them all! The Scottish vote has influenced a general election TWICE since the second world war and on both occasions they were short-lived minority governments. The only time there is a Labour government is when England votes for one. People know this. So why try to peddle a lie? That only makes the distrust wider and deeper.

      The Scottish branch office of Labour cannot regain either credence or support while led by a nasty, right wing, neo-liberal hack. That’s the fundamental truth of it, and it needs to be honestly addressed.

  6. well I do not normally reply to people who do not give their full names, and perhaps Robert is a Tory who would like us to believe that an SNP vote would get the Scots an independent Scotland in 100 days, though in reality it delivers Westminster to the Tories, which is what the Tories now hope the SNP will do.

    Electoral politics is dictated by the first past the post system, so lets look at the reality. At this election the option is the same for the UKIP voter and the Green Voter as it is for the SNP voter

    If you vote for your party you get the opposite. SNP voters get the Tories. UKIP voters get Labour. Green voters get the Tories. This will be the case as for every party taking the votes away from the party likely to enter #10 delivers the result to the opposition. THink dialectically. The UKIP voter wants a UKIP – Tory coalition on the right. Recent polls show SNP voters wanting an SNP – Labour alliance at Westminster

    In reality both parties only help Miliband or Cameron into #10 on a minority basis. That’s reality.

    Where the 100 days and a fully devolved Scotland comes from it would be interesting to find out. Perhaps Robert could give us his full name, tell us what party he supports and how he got the referendum wrong. Westminster will still be in charge of the UK even with more devolution. And the SNP will deliver Westminster into the hands of the Tories they loathe by denying Labour the seats they need.

    That is the reality. You have to think tactically in this election, and that is true for Greens, UKIP and SNP in this election. Vote for your party, get the government you do not want.

    Trevor Fisher.

    1. Robert says:

      Sorry again the question is a simple one and really you simple are not answering the question.

      If I was in Scotland now working living voting and I was to vote SNP, why the hell, would I care if you in England get the Tories.

      I’m disabled and until 1997 had spent 39 years in labour when I left labour it was 42 years I’ve been to about six conference mostly sent by my trade Union.

      In 1990 I suffered an accident which saw my spine crushed leaving me paraplegic from the waist down. In 2010 I went through the ATOS medical lost and then won on appeal.

      I was then sent the medical the doctor had done on me in 2010 which stated this patient is suffering severe chronic issues with the loss of use of his legs and his bowel and bladder this patient will not work again, yet ATOS still found me fit to work knowing dam well I would would win but ATOS were paid £1200 by sending me to the appeals it was only paid £100n for the medical so the more people ATOS sent to appeals by failing them the more they made.

      So I left labour in 2010

      But your still not answering why people in Scotland who vote SNP should give a toss whether you get a Tory party in England.

      I means that has to be a call of help please if you vote SNP please vote Labour to give us a labour leader, Why…

      The fact is we are heading for total devolved parliament in Scotland and Wales it may take Wales a bit longer, what happens in England is your problem.

      You can only kick a dog so long before it bites you.

  7. as you ask why we in England should worry about the balkanization of the UK and a Tory-Ukip Westminster, you assume that nationalism is a good thing. No. And not for Scotland. The SNP have never explained why the threat of the banks leaving should be ignored as they did, or what happened to their claim for Scottish Oil, which they claimed was theirs to use alone. Not heard much of that since the price fell. the medium term problems of an independent Scotland are massive.

    But the bigger issues are international. Since NATO will remain dominating Scotland, the idea they can get rid of the nuclear subs is as daft as most of the irrational ideas the SNP put about.

    look east and see what is happening in the Ukraine. Apart from the nationalist issue, read the article on the conversation web site about the call fie the west to arm Kiev, by Adam Swain on 4th Feb. Which I totally agree with. Russia is nuclear armed, and Putin not likely to back down in a conflict. A Westminster government can have some influence on the US and the wider situation, so lets have a government we might influence. There is no way Miliband could do a Blair, we know too much.

    A UKIP-TORY government is a different matter.

    My main beef with the SNP is they live in a world of nationalist illusion. While as football supporter this may seem trivial – it is not trivial to me or the people who support Glasgow rangers – the attempt of the billionaire owner of Sports Direct to turn the Rangers into the tool of his personal sporting empire makes the point that socialists cannot be nationalists. The world is interconnected, and more so than when the Internationals were set up in the C19th.

    I am sorry you are disabled. I left the Labour Party in 2007 and have no interest in promoting the PASOK style clique that runs the party.

    But the idea anyone in Europe (or the USA for that matter where we still have a bit of leverage) wants the Tories back in office is sheer madness.

    Trevor Fisher.

  8. Lily Zoutou’s comment is linked in a box with myself and RObert, so it is not clear what the comment relates to.

    The pattern of voting since the C19th has been that Southern England is broadly Tory and the celtic nations (with the exception of Ulster) have been anti Tory. This was probably true before the IRish Home RUle split of 1886 but certainly true afterward. England has to swing pro Labour to get a working majority, but needs the North and Scotland-Wales to have a solid base.

    The current situation is the Northern seats (and some in the south are threatened by Labour voters going to UKIP, while in Scotland it is threatened by the SNP. Wales the UKIP effect is probably pro Tory but the data is not certain.

    What is clear is that the voters who vote for the fringes will get their opposite, all thinks being equal and issues like turn out complicate the picture. Labour is certainly going to suffer because youth is not registering, and Youth is more left than right.

    However Lily is suggesting that one of us is lying. Which one? The electoral situation is that if the SNP take Labour seats, the Tories gain. That is clear from the data

    so what alternative electoral scenario is possible? Jim Murphy has said nothing on this, and his leadership is not going to change. So its a question of maximizing the Labour vote if it is not to go down to defeat. Simple as that.

    Trevor Fisher.

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