Written by OULC member and Queen’s College Rep, Becca Brimble.
With only 7 seats to the Conservatives’ 13 and the SNP’s 35, it is a sad reality that Labour is not faring as well as it could be in Scotland. Following the 2014 Independence Referendum, popularity polls diverged, with the SNP taking a huge lead over Labour. Meanwhile, the Conservatives remained relatively consistent from 2014-2016, sitting around 15%. Of course, the Brexit Referendum in June 2016 further changed the way in which Scots view politics. Every constituency in Scotland voted to remain, increasing feelings of nationalism and separation from the rest of UK. However, post-Brexit Referendum, SNP popularity has dropped, while Labour is on the increase with (on the 8th of November 2018) SNP at 39%, the Conservatives at 27%, and Labour at 24%. This is indicative of a widespread lack of confidence in the SNP’s ability to lead Scotland without Westminster post-Brexit. There is where labour has an opportunity to set in.
Interestingly, in the lead up to the first Independence Referendum, SNP popularity declined. However, the SNP plan to hold another Independence Referendum after the Brexit deal has been confirmed. Therefore, the lead up to the second referendum presents an opportunity to Labour to gain back voters, should a decline in SNP popularity happen again. This is a chance for Labour to take back voters who wish to leave the EU; those who want to remain in the UK; and those who believe in the strength of a Labour party which is committed to seeing the United Kingdom through these uncertain times, with particular attention being paid to Scottish issues.
Scottish Labour must make themselves known as a Scottish party fighting for Scottish issues, rather than as an extension of English Labour.
Labour must take a two-pronged approach in order to gain seats in the next election: they must tackle nationalist attitudes and focus on swing constituencies; but they must also not neglect safe seats either, whether they are Labour, SNP, or Conservative. There must be focus on issues affecting safe seats to dispel the myth that Labour is only concerned with England, while also making a real effort to tip the scales in marginal seats: there are 7 constituencies in which a swing of less than 1% is needed from the SNP.
Scotland has many issues which are uniquely Scottish: the culture, demographic, and landscape of Scotland differ greatly from those of England. Things brings with it a range of issues which must be treated differently than in England: healthcare, industry, housing, fuel poverty, tourism, and education. The Scottish people want a government which is committed to solving these issues in Scotland, and there is little sentiment that the UK Government is capable of doing so. Labour has a chance to show Scotland that they can adequately deal with these Scottish issues, where the Tories consistently fail to do so.
SNP deputy leader Keith Brown said: “In Scotland and in Westminster, Labour are the willing accomplices to the Tories and the masters of empty promises. Scotland deserves better.” This is clear use of scare tactics designed to shoehorn Scots into voting for the SNP. There is an opportunity here for Labour to gain back many SNP voters by making it clear that Labour is dedicated to resolving these issues, and that they are far better placed to do so that the Tories. Labour can help to mend the social and economic segregation that the Tories have created by demonstrating their commitment to Scots.
This is where Labour has a chance to make some ground: feelings of nationalism supersede most policy decisions in other areas. The SNP and Labour have broadly similar policies, with the exception of independence, and the SNP use this to their advantage. The Saltire has become a symbol of independence, rather than of Scottish identity. Using the two-pronged approach, in addition to working to rebrand as Scottish Labour, the party can win back swing constituencies, while also holding onto safe seats.