Time to Learn from our Mistakes

As Sir Keir Starmer bores us all to death in ascending the leaden throne which is the leadership of the Labour Party, one constant criticism is that not one of the eight remaining candidates for Leader or Deputy have offered a valid critique of why Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was such a disaster. This, we are assured, is the time to look back and consider what went well and what didn’t. My regular reader will not be shocked, stunned nor amazed to learn that I have some views but why should I intrude on private grief.

But it occurs to me that if the aftermath of a disastrous defeat is a good time to reflect on the campaign, then the aftermath of a very successful campaign should be an even better time for reflection.

I recall a poll during the 1st Indyref which basically suggested that if YES was successful then Scotland would elect a Labour Government at the first election to an Independent Scotland but if NO was to win then the SNP would be the preference to defend Scotland. While I thought this was to say the least, counter-intuitive it did have the virtue of being correct. One of the tragedies of 2014 was that we did not undertake a real assessment of why we failed to persuade and what parts of our programme were vote winners or losers. In the pain of the result and then the euphoria of the 2015 election I can understand why that opportunity was lost.

2019 however is another matter!

We had by any standards a very good night. But why?

Now, I would suggest is when we should be utilising Angus Robertson and his team to do some real in-depth analysis of what happened, why it happened and as a consequence of understanding these, how do we translate that into a YES vote in indyref2.

It’s an old cliché that failing to prepare is the same as preparing to fail. We must ensure that we prepare and a valid part of that is understanding what motivates our supporters. An equally valid part is understanding what motivates those who are not yet our supporters.

We won roughly 45% of the vote in 2019 and because of the vagaries of the ridiculous 1st past the post system took 47 or 48 seats depending on how you count the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath result. That’s not a lot of movement from 2014 but a big move from 2017’s election when we took roughly 37%.

There are lots of theories as to why but I would suggest that what we need is not a basket of theories but some serious research. How many of the 45% want Independence? More importantly perhaps is to ask how many of the 55% who voted for another party want Independence? And how do we bring them to voting for it? How many Labour, Tory and Libdem voters want Independence? Why, if they want Independence do the vote for Unionist parties? For that matter, how many of our voters in 2019 may not vote for independence? How do we reconcile those who want Independence but not to be in the EU? Why did our vote increase from 2017?

In a recent report Lord Ashcroft notes “But the feeling that the Labour Party was no longer for them went beyond Brexit and the Corbyn leadership. While it had once been true that “they knew us, because they were part of us,” Labour today seemed to be mostly for students, the unemployed, and middle-class radicals. It seemed not to understand ordinary working people, to disdain what they considered mainstream views and to disapprove of success. The “pie in the sky” manifesto of 2019 completed the picture of a party that had separated itself from the reality of their lives.”

Lord Ashcroft Polls: Diagnosis of Defeat

To ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes made by Labour over many years of taking their voters for granted, we must always be willing to do the hard rigorous analysis of what voters want from us, like about us and why they are increasingly willing to support Independence even when they do not necessarily believe it will make them personally better off. We must also ask why not and be willing to look at how we can continue to move people to our side. Are we working hard enough to attract voters outside the Central Belt? Do we offer a vision which is attractive to e.g. the Sunday Post reader in the Highlands and Borders who is sceptical of the EU? Is it by accident that 8 of the 11 unionist MPs are from these areas? Are we seen as too much of a one woman, one issue Party and Government?

I don’t know the answers but I do know someone who can try to find them. Now, I am realistic enough to know that any such detailed analysis will not be shared with all and sundry but I do expect the bones to be shared with our candidates and Cas. I also expect to see the results appear in the new campaign materials Nicola has promised.

Like a good football manager strengthening the team when you are at the top, we need to ensure that the up and coming stars get the chance to show their worth. It must have been a real sickener for the unionist media to have timed their revelation of Derek McKay’s disgraceful behaviour for budget day only to see Kate Forbes turn in such a bravura performance.

Now is the time to ask the hard questions. When, for example RBS announce that they would move their HQ from Edinburgh to London in the event of Independence do we not have a better response than just to slag them off? We can do things to shift opinions from Government, rather than Labour’s position of facing another decade at least in opposition. Angus has served the Party and the cause well over the years in many rolls but his greatest contribution could well be to undertake the necessary research into what we do well in our offering to the people of Scotland. And what we need to improve!