Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Where Labour went wrong

A guest post by Denise Findlay

The SNP did wonderfully in the general election but not all of the credit can go to the SNP.  Labour played a part in the victory, by making a catalogue of errors and running an abysmal campaign. So here is a nice baker’s dozen of Labour mistakes:

1. First Past The Post Reality

45% will not win a referendum but it will win you an FPTP landslide.  Labour did not recognise this reality and made no attempt to engage with the independence movement.  Labour instead continued the Better Together tactic of demonising the SNP and supporters of independence.

2. The Tories are the Enemy Not the SNP

Labour spent far too much of their TV and press time criticising the SNP, seemingly forgetting the real enemy entirely. The SNP was able to present itself as the anti-Tory party, while Labour became the anti-SNP party.

3. Sidetracked by EVEL

In the Westminster debates immediately after the referendum Gordon Brown - the guarantor of the Vow - used his speeches to rail against EVEL instead of focusing on the new powers he promised to Scotland.  This was made worse by their next mistake:

4. Losing the mantle of the Party of Home Rule

Labour’s submission to the Smith Commission conceded the bare minimum of new powers.  Labour’s reluctance to concede powers to Scotland stripped them of their Home Rule credentials. While Labour shed the clothes of Home Rule, the SNP picked them up and dressed themselves in them. Incredibly the SNP became the party of both Home Rule and independence.

5. Electing Jim Murphy as Leader

When Lamont left claiming the Scottish Labour Party were treated as a ‘branch office’ it was a gift to the SNP, but not as much of a gift as her replacement Jim Murphy. Quite why the Labour Party members chose a Blairite and one so associated with the referendum to try to win back Yes voters is incomprehensible. It did, however, confirm to the many people that have left the Labour party, that as far as socialism is concerned, Labour are a lost cause.

6. Glasgow Man

Labour devised a tactic to win back ‘Glasgow Man’, a Labour-Yes voting Glaswegian. For some inexplicable reason, teetotaler Murphy though that offering alcohol at football would succeed. The motivation of Yes voters was to ‘build a better country’, and that dream is unlikely to be traded for a pint of beer. It was a contemptuous idea of ‘Glasgow Man’s priorities and had the side-effect of also alienating women.

7. Patriotism and the Labour Constitution

‘Scottish Labour is now a patriotic Scottish party, putting Scotland’s interests first’ begs the question what have you been these last 100 years? It confirmed many voters' suspicions that Labour had not been acting in the interests of Scotland.

8. 'SNP Bad' Overkill

A tactic of constant attacks on the SNP, Labour aided by their friends in the press drummed up a ‘A&E crises’ and nightly we were treated to the latest statistics and how bad the NHS was under the SNP.  Eventually it became background noise as there was no event to hang it on, i.e. Mid-Staffs. 'SNP Bad' became a joke when in answer to any issue the Labour response was ‘SNP to blame’.

9. Full Fiscal Autonomy Bombshell

The ‘£7.6 billion FFA bombshell’ poster which simultaneously reminded people of : the Tories (copy of ‘Labour Tax Bombshell’ Tory poster), Iraq (bombs) and Trident (Trident shaped bomb) was a work of genius. And in any case, the Yes voters they needed to win back had not been scared by full Project Fear and independence so they were hardly likely to be put off by Full Fiscal Autonomy.

10. Contradicting UK Labour

Labour in Scotland could have piggy-backed on the UK Labour campaign and defended the Austerity-Lite agenda of Miliband. Tarring the SNP as fiscally incompetent could have had traction. They decided to offer a different Austerity policy to UK Labour, with Murphy stating that there would be no cuts in Scotland. This caused issues for the UK Labour party and Murphy had to be very publicly slapped down, Chuka Umunna’s statement ‘The leader of Scottish Labour does not write the UK budget’ highlighted what we all knew; UK Labour called the shots.

11. Project Fear (the Sequel)

The Scottish debates saw the Project Fear band back together, with Labour, Tory and Lib Dem haranguing Nicola, reminding everyone of the Better Together Labour-Tory alliance.

12. Second Referendum Gambit

The tactic, again aided by Labour’s friends in the press, was to connect the general election result with a second referendum. This tactic also featured a poster with a signpost onwards to a second referendum or backwards with Labour – prescient perhaps. A second referendum was something the SNP could not talk about for fear of losing the SNP-No voters but luckily Labour was saying it for them. It was a call to arms to the independence supporters giving them an incentive to get out and vote.

13. Ed Miliband Ruling Out SNP Deal

Scottish Labour lobbied Miliband to rule out a coalition with the SNP - this was to stop the SNP being able to say ‘Vote SNP Get Labour’.  Normally Labour and Tory would stick to the mantra ‘We are going to win a majority’ and not talk about coalitions. Ed Miliband ruling out a coalition or deal with the SNP said to voters ‘I might not win’. Ed Miliband saying ‘he’d rather a Tory government than work with the SNP’ said to voters ‘I don’t want to win’.  Of course it also allowed the Tories to drum-up anti-Scots sentiment and the SNP to dominate the news cycle for weeks.  A mistake on so many levels.

So, what now for Scottish Labour with UK Labour turning rightwards? Even a Blairite such as Burnham is too left-wing for middle-England, where does Scottish Labour go?

You can follow Denise on Twitter HERE.

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This is guest post no. 2 since I made my 'appeal' the other day.  Guest posts are welcome on any topic (within reason!).  My contact details can be found at the top of the sidebar.


  1. Another Mistake, but one that took 20-30 years to materialise - Decades of neglect of their safe seats.

    In the past, Labour in Scotland didn't have to fight for every seat, as they had to in some parts of England (London and the Midlands for example). All they had to do was turn up at the office during a campaign (leaflets, the odd speech or appearance).

    As a result of this, they had two massive failures waiting to happen:

    1) Their funding was massively reduced as people disengaged with all Westminster parties, and they couldn't fall back on their record of being worthy of re-election.

    2) More importantly, in the past, these funds came from safe seats that required little in the way of campaign funding pumped back in. It went to England marginals in the main.

    Now with no safe Scottish seats, they lack the funding, but have the double whammy of having to find the funding elsewhere if they want to win them back. Will the Labour safe seats of the North of England, Wales or London be funding the 2020 Labour battles in Scotland? I doubt they can afford that and the marginals in England.

    If you want to keep a seat safe, pamper it a bit. Don't neglect it, and certainly don't neglect it for decades.


    P.S. - Nice article Denise :))

  2. An excellent summary.

    Taking items 2 through 13 points to a root cause - Labour (and not just Scottish Labour) had no strategy - only a never ending supply of tactics.

    Thus identifying Labour's problems, a lack of thinkers.

    "Strategy requires thought, tactics require observation." Max Euwe

    In Scotland an informed electorate recognised them for what they have been for some considerable time, a party bereft of thinkers and thus strategy. I do not mean to claim that the Tories are thinking for the common good - only that they had a strategy to outwit a bunch of tacticians.

    It remains to be seen whether the SNP, having arrived in number in WM, have a strategy. I hope they do and that they are afforded opportunities to tactically advance such a strategy.


  3. 2. The Tories are the Enemy Not the SNP

    Labour spent far too much of their TV and press time criticising the SNP, seemingly forgetting the real enemy entirely. The SNP was able to present itself as the anti-Tory party, while Labour became the anti-SNP party.

    Somebody should tell Dennis Skinner.

    1. Skinner is a perfect example of the out of touch westminster establishment's petulant resentment of scottish MPs and arrogant sense of entitlement.

      The rules are clear and if this token 'mascot' of old Labour is whining about being too old to change his ways then perhaps he should have explained his infirmity to his constituents with a touch more clarity during the election campaign.

      Though what anyone who likes to think they are left-wing is still doing in the party of Blair and Miliband is complete fucking mystery TBH.

    2. They also had a massive campaign to unseat Caroline Lucas - why pour resources into unseating a Green instead of a Tory?

  4. Gordon. Brown last minute intervention,again

  5. I read on Wings that

    Dennis Skinner was one of the 34 “rebel” Labour MPs that voted for the 40% rule for the Scottish referendum of 1979 that ultimately brought in Thatcher.

    Can anyone verify that?

  6. We can sit here and debate the parties many failings and they are many. The real question is can Scottish labour learn from them, or will it decide to ignore the lesson like UK labour has done?

  7. I really hope Labour do not recover - with Labour out of the picture the next independence referendum will be SNP v Tory with only one winner.

    I thought Murphy would move to the right to get the ROC unionist vote - there is something about Left & unionism that doesn't go together well. Tuition Fees, No Free Prescriptions etch bring Scotland into line with rUK and with UK Labour.

    Or they can become independent from UK Labour and support devo-max and be relaxed about independence.

  8. During the election I heard Murphy being asked repeatedly "how would you grow Scotland's economy".----he hadn't a clue, kept repeating he would up the minimum wage, as though that were a strategy for growth.
    I live in East Ayrshire, worked in the last two deep mines. When they closed many of the factories were also closing, but when Labour got in for 13 wasted years, they did nothing to revitalise our economy----after electing Labour MP's for a century.

    1. To grow the economy you need to grow employment and productivity.

      That's why the SNP need the powers to be transferred to HolyRood So for example they can cut employers NI for SME's which would help employment. And give incentives to investment for SMEs to aid productivity.

      Labour really didn't care about Scotland, the MPs enriched themselves while providing lobby fodder to the UK New Labour party as it moved to the right.

  9. I think Labour need to 're-engage' with the electorate. To 'listen' and 'regain trust'. Rebuild 'from the bottom up' etc. Like they did in 2007 and 2011.


    Nice summary Denise.

  10. A very astute analysis Denise. Well done!
    Now please can we have an equally well thought out analysis of what the SNP got right and what they need to do to capitalise on that success?
    All I get from the mainstream media are photographs of Jim Murphy smiling from ear to ear (no, I can't explain it either), thousands of words on where British Labour in Scotland went wrong, and detailed advice on how they can dig themselves out of the hole they've dug.
    Rather annoyingly, I'm going to keep pointing out the mainstream media's obsession with British Labour's plight, because I'd be quite happy to see British Labour consigned to the proverbial dustbin along with the rest of the panda coalition.
    Of course, if I had your journalistic talent I would write the article myself, but unfortunately I don't, so I am counting on you to come through for me on this one.

    1. I could actually do companion post on what SNP and the wider Yes movement got right. I can immediately think of 12 things of the top of my head

    2. Well, one thing's for sure Denise: you will be the only writer in Scotland (if not the UK) who has attempted to write such an article. I've been waiting for one in The National, but all I'm getting are the aforementioned smiling Jim Murphy shots and endless opinions about how to resuscitate British Labour. I suspect there are a lot of other people who, like me, now want to know what exactly the SNP can actually do to exert real political influence on the Westminster parliamentary system or whether, as the London-centric media (and many who populate their comment forums) would have us believe, the 56 SNP MPs are almost totally powerless. I don't have the political acumen to work out how the SNP might seek to influence the UK laws that exert massive influence over the daily lives of Scots, so I am looking forward to reading a sharp analysis by someone who does!

    3. A case in point from yesterday:


      Photo caption: Jim Murphy reflects happily on successfully avoiding a total wipeout of Labour MPs in Scotland.

      Now you know why I'm not writing captions for The National! ;-)

    4. Good suggestion David.

      Denise - I'm looking forward to as excellent a piece on the SNP's strategy, as this one is on Labour's (failed) tactics!

  11. The 'largest party forms the government' which was repeated ad-nauseam even when comprehensively debunked. It was obvious they were lying.

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  13. A very incisive post Denise.

    It's also worth pointing out that the lib dems also repeated a great many of those mistakes yet they have become such an utter irrelevance nobody even cares that the chump Rennie is astonishingly still in place as their scottish leader.

    Rennie didn't just comprehensively fail to turn things around after the 2011 SNP landslide, just like Murphy, he managed to make things even worse!

    As a trusted member of Clegg's ostrich faction Rennie toed the line and did what he was telt regardless of the obvious voter and activist stampede away from the yellow tories.

    Like Murphy and SLAB Rennie too thought endlessly banging away about how terrible the SNP and it's supporters were would somehow magically turn things around all the while enabling some of the most disgusting and illiberal tory policies.

    Perhaps the most staggering thing about Rennie and Clegg's ostrich faction is that they are still at it! Rennie looks to have all but given up scotland and is back to banging on about how awful the SNP even now are while we can actually still talk about Clegg's ostrich faction despite the toxic Clegg having gone. (YEARS too late to prevent him from toxifying the lib dems as whole) Every single spinner and supporter of Clegg in the lib dem backrooms is still in place while they are desperately talking about the lib dem Lords being their 'saviours' without a shred of irony after the Lord Rennard scandal.

    True, the likes of wee Danny and his chums have been wiped out (save for the numpty Carmichael) but that was another obvious one we predicted long ago precisely because Rennie wasn't even bothered about the damage that was obviously being done by the yellow tories to scotland.

    There will be absolutely no way back for them with Clegg's allies in place. They not only will repeat all the same mistakes they already are. Keeping Rennie where he is is total confirmation they don't even care about scotland any more after they were annihilated.

    An annihilation which most of James readers and posters predicted long, long ago let's never forget.

    Labour will move to another Blairesque triangulator though we will see if they turn out to be quite as small as little Ed was. Burnham seems to be the only one with his eye on the ball as talking about bringing the EU referendum forward is canny. The start of that IN/OUT referendum campaign is about the only thing that can distract the right-wing media from screaming about red communists and union barons regardless of who wins the Labour leadership.

    You can also pretty much sum up everything that Labour did wrong by that one mad (though hilarious) act of Murphy's in hiring "no-brainer" McTernan as his political guru and spinner.

    We all laughed pretty damn hard when the right-wing media and tory twits told us we must be afraid of Murphy but some of us laughed even harder after he hired "no-brainer" McTernan. Rightly so. :-D

  14. McTernan and McDougal how on earth did anyone think they would have known how to appeal to Yes voters? Murphy should have hired some folk from the Yes campaign to keep him right.

    1. Back when Murphy was being anointed by the BBC Scotland sock puppets (e.g. jogging outside Pacific Quay in a Scotland top, etc.) he did actually promise to hire "Yes" supporters in his new role as the "wholly autonomous" manager of the British Labour Party's Scottish branch office. Typically, that was the last we heard of it.

    2. The McTernan thing is the biggest mystery of all. At least Murphy had a track history of winning elections in his constituency. Has McTernan ever been in charge of anything but losing campaigns? Why does he keep getting hired? Can anyone explain it?

    3. Maybe he knows where the "bodies" are buried?!

  15. The SNP do not appreciate that capitalism is destroying the planet and human lives. In reality they are part of the problem. Will independence mean Scotland is not subservient to banks and corporations? I doubt it.

    1. Mmkay Mr Chomsky.

      We'll be sure to give you a call for the next Indyref because either we were all fucking hallucinating or some of the biggest and most corrupt crony capitalists were on the No side cheek to jowl with the tories, Labour and the lib dems.

      Funding them in fact.

    2. Anon, the first lesson in winning people over to your side is to not attack them.

      I cite 'Labour party vs Scottish electorate' as a classic test case.

    3. However, the plans for a revised tax system that was made for an independence Scotland would have curbed the big companies by making them pay their way. Why do you really think they were against it?

    4. Maybe you should write an article that lucidly explains your views.

  16. Cameron also outplayed them. By bowing out of the debates, in the first one Cameron came out worse against Milliband, after that Milliband was made to look bad compared to Sturgeon. Cameron just sat and watched and laughed. If he had took part, he would ahve looked worse than Milliband, and it could ahve changed the result.

    1. Nope. Cameron just looked like the coward he so clearly is. Since we seem to be back to ashamed/'shy' tories fucking up the polling then it's worth pointing out that there's a reason they are ashamed and that the tiny majority and his obvious weakness when he tries to stand up to his own party's lunatic right-wing is not the only thing Cameron has in common with John Major.

      As we shall see soon enough. ;-)

  17. Very good analysis. On UK level I would add: Failing to be an effective opposition, and letting the Tories define the political narrative. It seemed almost as if they were scared of tackling the Tories. Also, an election campaign full of silly gimmicks and PR stunts, and without any discernable political coherence.

    1. On UK level I think the reason Labour lost can be summed up in two words: "Ed Stone".
      I thought maybe they'd dumped it in that giant warehouse at the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark"but apparently it's turned up in Woolwich: