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Is Willie Bain going to be the last man left standing for Labour in Scotland?

Jim Murphy by by Steve Punter at’re in a secure military facility and there’s an intercontinental ballistic missile, inbound. The anti-missile batteries have fired and missed. Electronic counter measures cannot dissuade it from its course. You glance helplessly at the blip on the radar getting closer and closer, hoping the blast doors are thick enough, that the concrete bunker is buried deep enough to ride out the devastating attack about to be wrought. At worst, you’re vaporised. At best, you pop the hatch to emerge into a blackened and blighted landscape. 

That doomed stronghold is Scottish Labour, and that man fretting in the bunker is Willie Bain – quite possibly the last Labour MP left standing, if today’s TNS poll is anything to go by. It’s astonishing stuff. The realignment of British politics from the emergence of Labour to supplanting the Liberals as one of the two main contenders took a generation. The same is happening right now in Canada, which has seen both its main parties – the Tories and the Liberals – displaced by challengers. Again, same time frame. In Scotland however, time has sped up. What takes decades to accomplish has flipped in the course of a single Parliament. Such tends to happen when masses of politicised people enter the stage and find existing modes of political expression wanting.

What is happening in Scotland was a long time coming. The referendum was the precipitating factor, and the election of Jim Murphy has so far seen Labour’s position deteriorate further, despite tacking left and taking activism seriously. Yet no one, not the SNP, not Labour, not the professional commentariat, nor the academics saw any of this coming. It has been a huge collective failure for anyone whose business is the reading of political tea leaves.

In hindsight, it seemed so obvious. The warning signs were there. Not just the long-term trends and the decrepitude of Labour’s organisation. You didn’t need to be a sociologist and sink a shaft into the earth of Scottish society to observe the wobbly mantle under Labour’s position. Just watching the comings and goings of Holyrood was enough. In 2007, the SNP won 47 seats on the basis of 32.9% and 31% of constituency and list votes respectively, forming a minority administration.

Four years later, they defied Parliamentary convention by winning an increased share after a term in government. Their vote for both sections rose to 45.4% and 44% respectively. Labour managed 31.7% and 26.3%. Yet with the weakness of Scottish Labour exposed absolutely nothing was done. It was business as usual.

The SNP was allowed to rhetorically annex Labourist politics while Labour opposed them from the right. To underline the complacency, politics watchers across the spectrum grew complacent. “Those canny Scots“, many thought, “they want a SNP government in Edinburgh to look out for Scottish interests but when it comes to Westminster elections, Labour will be returned to keep the Tories out“. And, for a while, the polls bore that out.

It was rubbish though. Polls are snapshots, not predictors, and political comment paid no attention to the evidence filling their senses. As a rule, if large numbers of voters return challenger parties in second order elections, and do so again, something is shifting. Once voters of one party switch to another, then vote for them subsequently, the chance they will stay with their new home is much, much greater. We experienced it in Stoke with the rise of the BNP across several local elections. The LibDems for a time managed a similar trick nationally by building up its base in local government. And UKIP have followed a similar strategy these last couple of years. We had a clear indicator of the calamity to befall Scottish Labour, and no one spotted it.

Is Willie Bain going to be the last man left standing? We will find out in 10 days time, but it’s not looking pretty. When the retention of just 10 Scottish seats would be a good result for Labour, that underlines how unmitigated the disaster is. Coverage of Scottish result declarations are all set to be snuff movies for the politically interested. And as Labour activists in England and Wales sit down to celebrate Tory and LibDem scalps, the catastrophe up north will finally be driven home.

This post first appeared at All that is Solid

Image credit: Jim Murphy by Steve Punter


  1. Robert says:

    I doubt labour in Wales will be jumping up and down they have an election next year, and with Plaid and the Liberals struggling if labour needs to have a coalition to take power it could be as simple as asking the Tories.

    I do think politics is changing across the world but in the Uk it will take a long time to break the hold of the FPTP politics, we need to change that to give others the chance.

    labour Tory Tory labour both are so close it’s hard to see the parting.

  2. Dave says:

    In the Independence referendum last year, whole communities in Scotland were saying Yes to independence for Scotland, but when the votes came out, many of those communities voted No. so the SNP should not count their chickens before they are hatched
    The SNP have tried to demonise the Westminster parliament and have talked about us and them. What the Scottish people need to realise is, a great number of these so called English MP’s in Westminster, even if they represent constituencies south of the border, are actually Scottish born. So it’s not English against Scott’s as the SNP would like us to believe.
    I wonder when Salmond is going to crawl from under his stone and start dictating again. “God help the Scottish people”

    1. Robert says:

      That is your view, I doubt it’s the view of the voters now who look to be heading to give labour the biggest bloody nose in it’s history.

      Voters are not looking at labour as the party of Scotland any more, and I bet if you had another referendum now it would be a yes.

  3. swatantra says:

    I’m tempted to finish off the quote: ‘Will the last Labour MP in Scotland, please turn out the light.’
    But it can’t be that bad, surely? Scots Labbour will have done awfully well if it manages to win 9 seats? It’ll be a triumph.

    1. swatantra says:

      I’m wrong. According to the latest ‘Poll’ SNP will take every seat. Oops!

  4. Chris says:

    Frankly, I feel that we in the party are the ones being betrayed by the Scottish electorate. We have sacrificed everything for them and now they fall for some snake oil saleswoman who’s pretending to be more leftwing than us.

    1. Robert says:

      No that has to be the worse excuse ever what have you or the English/Welsh done to sacrifice for Scotland.

      The Scottish people were the heart of the labour party and what your saying is that everyone who now votes SNP are stupid, cannot see they are being taken for a ride, well that cannot be right.

      The simple issue is we have three parties labour Tory and Liberals those three have been the power base in politics for a long time.

      But labour became New labour they went to the right they even have a party within a party now which is the Blair-rite Progress party.

      Scotland needs to have a left leaning labour movement what we have is Miliband and Progress, it does not meet the need of people in Scotland Wales or I expect socialist England.

      You cannot blame the voters for wanting something other then Progress or Murphy for god sake.

      Not forgetting Scotland has a lot of unemployed , low paid jobs and people claiming benefits and welfare.

      Labour does not do welfare or benefits, only helps those in work.

      And your saying labour is left wing, well if they are they are hiding it well.

      1. Dave says:

        (Quote Robert) Not forgetting Scotland has a lot of unemployed , low paid jobs and people claiming benefits and welfare.

        Labour does not do welfare or benefits, only helps those in work. (Unquote)

        So the SNP will be big on benefits and welfare Robert. Who do you think will be expected to pay the bill, Yes the rest of the UK, those that you all seem to despise. All I can say is “watch this space” You will all wish you had voted Labour or Tory even!

        1. Robert says:

          Ok then Dave what would you do with the 11 millions people who are on some form of benefits and getting welfare who are sick disabled who labour added to with two wars., I worked and paid my national insurance stamp for 33 years.

          You have stated that others are expected to pay the bill, now then tell us what you would do, I can guess mind you.

          I would be interested.

          Remember what the left (socialists) are supposed to be supportive off.

          And remembering the biggest bill of welfare is for those in work, do you work Dave bet you get welfare payments.

          As for wishing I voted labour or Tories what you cannot tell the difference, you seem to have a bee in your bonnet over welfare.

      2. John p Reid says:

        If only all of Wales voted for plaid, heh

  5. Dave says:

    The answer Robert is, No I don’t claim welfare and never have, No I don’t have a bee in my bonnet about the welfare state. What I do have in my bonnet is the millions of people who have a very comfortable life on welfare, those that should be made to go out and work but know how to work the system. I don’t have a problem with the genuine claimants but some of them are on up to £26,000 a year, paid for by working people, some of whom are on just over basic wages.
    Why should a person on welfare be paid enough money to enable them to have a better standard of living than a working person. Most pensioner couples are living on half of that amount and survive so why the £26,000. I will tell you, because it brings in votes.
    The welfare state is a fantastic institution but it needs sorting out. Now, I would vote for the SNP or whatever party promises to do so.

  6. Robert says:

    What can one say to this, not a lot really.

    1. Dave says:

      I wish you all the very best for whatever outcome you would like to have Robert.

  7. Chris says:

    Scotland flourished under Labour, but SNP voters don’t care. They’re ungrateful and they’re betraying their Labour-voting parents and grandparents.

  8. political tourist says:

    Wee Wullie Bain chapping doors in Barmulloch at 6pm on the day of the election.
    Wonder how that turned out.

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