Labour still looking forward to yesterday

There is an old cliché which we all fall back on some times, about having won the debate and lost the vote. Especially true in Council Chambers across Scotland where after the 2012 elections unionists cobbled together all manner of coalitions which had one aim; to stop Independence and the SNP.

But in the run up to, and on, polling day this year, one thing which became increasingly obvious was that although we lost the vote on September 18 2014, the debate is virtually over. Nothing made this more obvious than the sheer hostility unionists displayed over even flying the Saltire, even more so SNP colours.

On polling day I had one local Labour unionist Councillor try to tell me to remove my car from the playground of the school which was being used as a polling station because my Saltire car flags were flying. It was of course pointed out to him that the Saltire is our National Flag Well it’s my National flag. His might be different. It is not a political symbol. The officer he summoned was told exactly the same!

As Mary and I drove around Falkirk with car flags flying on the car we would get many waves and thumbs up from passers-by and other motorists. But the glares and scowls from the unionists were what really made it worthwhile.

They know within their hearts that they were on the wrong side of history on 18 Sept or as it is sometimes known, Black Thursday. They know too, that the tide has turned and although Independence may not yet be the settled will of the Scottish people the tide is now running very strongly that way. It is only a matter of time as the table below of voting patterns illustrates;


Lab SNP Con L/D
1999 908392 672757 364225 331379
2003 659879 449476 312598 286150
2007 648374 664227 334743 326232
2011 523559 876421 245967 103472
2016 514261 1,059897 501846 178238


A couple of things really stand out for me from this;

  • Is the remarkable rise in the SNP vote. Adding 180,000 votes at any time is fantastic but after 9 years in office and having lost the referendum, it speaks volumes about just how much the people actually trust the SNP to “stand up for Scotland” regardless of their constitutional preference.
  • Is the unrelenting fall in the Labour vote. Even in a year when every other unionist party benefited from the coalescing of the unionist vote Labour still managed to lose another 9,000 votes. Fortunately, Kezia has declared that she will stick to such a successful manifesto.

Why Labour is the only unionist party to go backwards this year on top of 2015, is one of the key things we have to identify. For those of you who know me you will not be surprised that I have a theory.

Back in the early stages of the referendum campaign, Labour were so desperate to bury the Nationalist movement as well as the SNP, that they reawakened one of the sleeping forces of Scottish politics. The working class orange/tory vote. Labour had made huge efforts from the late 1950s through the next 30/40 years to turn this vote, through Trade Unionism, Municipal Socialism etc away from a religious/ political vote which the old progressives / Scottish Unionists captured and turn it into a class vote through the working class solidarity theme. And they were very successful in doing so. The mantra that they had more in common with a miner in Yorkshire or Wales than with a Laird in the highlands served them very well. The book “The Strange Death of Labour Scotland”  by Gerry Hassan and Eric Shaw explores this up to 2011.

When they decided to mobilise this vote in “defence of the Union” for the referendum they unwittingly grabbed a tiger by the tail. Far from going back into the Labour fold after Black Thursday, these folk found that they had more in common with the “Stop a second referendum by voting for wee Ruthie” party than they had with the ragbag which now runs the Labour Party. Especially when Kezia did not know where she stood;  for /against / undecided on a second referendum and even more so on how she would “lead” Labour in such a campaign. In doing the Kezia flip flop she merely highlighted the intransigence of the tories on the subject and gave that vote a very powerful reason to keep “defending the union” above all else.

Indeed, I know of one Labour Councillor who made no secret of the fact that he had not even put out a single Labour leaflet in his ward because of this.

The political axis in Scotland has turned from being left/right to being Nationalist/Unionist. I think it was Anne McGuire who made the point on one of the election programmes that the SNP are the party of Independence, the Tories are the party of the Union and Labour are the party of devolution and I suspect her analysis is correct. The problem for her and for Labour, is that devolution is yesterday’s issue. Being promoted by yesterday’s party!

1 Comment

  1. On top of what you describe surely tax also had a role. I think Corbyn thought tax plans would get support back but having already lost the left, more of those who remained jumped ship especially the 80,000 AWOL on the list vote. Dugdale probably has to stick with manifesto till Corbyn goes whether she likes it or not.

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