A change in attitude and tone

Paul-DevlinPaul Devlin, a Labour activist in Glasgow South, says the general election result was on the cards for nearly a decade, and our path back will need to be careful and contrite.


The general election was obviously a catastrophic one for us in Scotland. More pandas in Scotland than Labour MPs is not a sentence I ever thought I’d see. However, I am afraid that this type of result has been on the cards, not since the referendum, not since the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections but since the election of the SNP government in 2007.

I’ve written before about how our oppositionist tone has damaged us deeply since 2007. I was a member of the MSP Researcher Group in 2009 and it struck me how our attitude to the SNP seemed almost to be that they were a bunch of chancers, squatting in government. A charitable reading of this is that due to the close election (and particularly the loss of one seat by 48 votes) this feeling was perhaps understandable. However as John Curtice and others pointed out, we had lost the popular vote. Furthermore, our conduct between 2007 and 2011 was reflected in the election result in 2011.

On reflection (and I realise that hindsight is a wonderful thing), us joining the Better Together campaign was a colossal strategic error. By allowing the SNP to align us with the Tories, we handed them a political gift that has kept on giving. Moreover, we seemed to think that a victory in the referendum would burst the SNP bubble.

A couple of days after the referendum, I was texting a colleague in the party suggesting that how we go about things like campaigning as a party should perhaps be re-examined following the Yes campaign’s victory in Glasgow and the fact the SNP had taken constituency seats from us in Glasgow in 2011. Their reply of “I worry about the future of the Labour party in Scotland, I really do” was sickeningly prescient. Yet it seemed to take the party as a whole until the publication of the Ashcroft polls in February to realise that our MPs at Westminster were under serious threat in May.

On that point, I hope that this month’s results quash once and for all the notion/myth that the ‘A team’ was at Westminster and the MSPs at Holyrood are the ‘B team’. Our failure to combat Alex Salmond’s strategy of presenting the Bedroom Tax as the present-day equivalent of the Poll Tax (a policy foisted on Scotland by a Tory Government with no mandate in Scotland) was the responsibility of both our MPs and MSPs.

Looking forward, our whole tone and attitude towards the SNP has to change. Too often we come across as having an almost irrational hatred of the SNP. It infuriates and frustrates me as much as anyone that somehow the SNP have managed to claim the mantle of progressive politics and social justice, even when young people’s literacy rates are declining and our NHS in some areas is being pushed to breaking point. However, our tone up until now means that even when we do have genuine, potent points to make, as we did for example on the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, which is now slowly unravelling, the general public have already stopped listening to us.

A more measured approach is required for what is sure to be a long road to recovery. As Douglas Alexander so eloquently put it in his concession speech on general election night (even more so given it was a moment of both political and personal devastation for him), the Scottish people have roundly rejected the prospect of a Conservative government, but they do not feel able to put their trust in Labour.

On the same night I was shocked and dismayed to see one of our senior parliamentarians attempting to blame the SNP for the forthcoming Conservative government – both the BBC exit poll and the actual result showed this to be absolute nonsense. Language such as this, and attempting to equate the SNP with ugly nationalism and/or UKIP, needs to be consigned to history. As Nicola Sturgeon has made clear in a calm, understated away, the SNP is pro-EU and pro-immigration, therefore attempting to draw such parallels is simply not credible in the eyes of Scottish voters, as well as potentially being insulting to the huge numbers that have voted for the SNP.

I fear that there will be no single great turning point that leads to a sudden collapse in the SNP vote. Moreover, Labour cannot be seen as attempting to chase every single SNP misstep or embarrassment so, for example events such as the ill-advised tweets of the SNP candidate in Edinburgh South are not automatically a ‘huge test’ of Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership.

Finally, as we approach next May’s Scottish Parliament elections and the council elections the year after, it is clear that our candidates need to be selected in a way that means that they genuinely have the support of the local party. As Catherine MacLeod wrote just hours after the general election, candidates need to be selected on ability, and on no other criteria, and certainly not on personal allegiances.

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16 thoughts on “A change in attitude and tone

  1. There is no chance of a change in attitude from scottish labour. As i write this a deal is being worked on to remove murphy in exchange for a list seat at holyrood in 2016. Its all about ‘whats in it for me’.

    1. What a deliciously fruity conspiracy theory, only slightly marred by the fact that Jim Murphy would need a list selection anyway were he to remain as leader. Indeed removing him as leader would remove that requirement entirely. Still, don’t let me spoil your fun.

      1. Told you. This is a stitch up. Murphy walks with a fig leaf of respect and a promise of a list seat next year.
        The snp dont need a strategy now. Murphy is worth his weight in ballot papers.

        1. Jim Murphy has said he won’t stand for election next year. Do facts ever trouble you in your political analysis, or do you just wave at them as they pass you by?

          1. He says he’s not going to stand for Holyrood, “that its time to do something else”. But that’s what worries me, he is uniquely unqualified to do anything.
            My gut instinct is that he will be ‘asked’ to put his name forward.

          2. Here’s another thought that will further depress any Labour supporters left out there. Murphy will not be the only loser from last week that’s looking at Holyrood 2016.
            Of the 40 Labour MPs that lost their seats last week, there must be a dozen that have had enough of politics. Lets assume that another dozen go out and actually find another job (I know Im stretching it a bit but please stick with me). That leaves another dozen plus, and I will bet money on it that some of them are already eyeing up Holyrood.
            I shouldn’t tell you this, me being a narrow minded xenophobe and hater of all things Labour but that would be the end for Labour in Scotland. The last thing it needs is Westminster losers trying to be Holyrood winners.

  2. Duncan What chance do you think there is of Jim Murphy standing in a first past the post constituency seat next year? There will be plenty to pick from, I suspect, as I Cannae see members flocking to get nominations for Scottish Parliamentary seats after last weeks almost total wipe, which of course had nothing to do with Jim Murphys ‘leadership’!!
    When are you people going to start acknowledging the ‘Elephant in the room’

  3. Wow,I must say that amongst the vitriol,the borderline obsessive hatred,smears and falsehoods directed towards the SNP by many in Labour who should know better,this piece of writing is most unexpected.
    You have such a grasp on the reality of the situation Labour are in and honest enough to say it,I applaud you for that.
    As a SNP activist im in no Rush to see the Labour Party turn itself around but if men of your calibre are pushed to the fore Mr Devlin,I fear it’ll be sooner rather than later.
    The day Labour will recover is the day when they stop comparing every argument they make with the SNP and feel confident that their argument stands by itself,with no need to qualify it with petty attacks on the SNP or anyone else.
    We may be on different sides but I know you believe every word you’ve wrote here and I wish you well.

  4. So you think murphy is just going to walk with his pension duncan? i dont think so.
    He has to get something and the seats in the lords is already booked for brown a darling.

  5. The SNP ARE a bunch of political chancers and opportunists with only one real goal. That is true of them at the top. It may not be true of all the support that they have managed to draw to themselves of course.
    It is also true that continually pointing this out is subject to a law of diminishing returns. There is nothing wrong in pointing out the dangers ,weaknesses etc in the SNP of course, but the trouble is that, if this is all that is going on, if Labour isn’t setting out a clear vision of its own, if we are seen to oppose everything the SNP does simply because they are SNP, then we lose credibility. The same applies to other parties though. I have never believed either that we should simply oppose every Tory party policy simply because its a Tory policy.

  6. You get it Paul. A good article and one that I welcome, even as an SNP voter. I like the idea of some grown up politics replacing ‘SNP Bad’ and also believe that a Labour party acting in a proper manner is a potential asset to Scotland.

    I can’t see it happening though. The remnants of the party appear to be an increasingly zealous bunch who have decided that the voters are to blame for Labour’s predicament. And if Jim remains in charge it will be one cheap stunt after another rather than the steady path to recovery you illustrate. I wish you well in trying to get your message across.

  7. Good article Paul, I’m an SNP member but can admit Ed did put forward a fairly positive & progressive manifesto, however Labour at least in Scotland did little or nothing to promote it.
    Instead Labour squandered almost every opportunity by spending most of their time on banalities like drinking at football or spouting vitriol at the SNP.

  8. A few articles like this on this site lately – good to see and hopefully you find a path that works for all.

    Issue I have is that people have been telling you this during the referendum & the General Election and it appeared that you didnt want to listen to this, or at least acknowledge the concerns publicly

    FYI I dont think the Scottish elections are a foregone conclusion, its a very different election, but then again I didnt think SNP would ever get above 40 MP’s, so what do I know! 🙂

  9. While Paul’s piece is more balanced than the stuff we get from DH or Dickie Baker, it is still peeing in the wind. On Big Debate today one of your ‘brightet’ hopes, Jenny Mara still couldn’t bring herself to call Nicola Sturgeon by her proper name. It was a case of Sturgeon this and Sturgeon that. This displeasure at giving the First Minister her rightful place was palpable.

    I also don’t see how you can blame Nicola Sturgeon for Neil Hay’s tweets, since they happened 2 years ago and they didn’t deserve the faux outrage that Ian Murray gave them. Try Ian Smart’s fascist scum or Tom Harris’s Downfall video for comparison.

  10. Anyone who needs hindsight to recognise that joining Better Together was a “colossal strategic error” shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near Scottish Labour’s decision making processes. I made clear well before the referendum that I, personally, wouldn’t have anything to do with BT when I was approached at a CLP meeting to knock doors for them. I know I wasn’t alone in that.
    By the way, I see that former Labour MP Michael Connarty is now crediting “Labour United” with saving the Union, nothing do do with BT apparently.
    I would go further and say that cosying up to the Tories in some of our local councils is a disaster waiting to happen. The SNP won’t even have to try very hard to make hay with that.
    I agree completely about the selection of candidates. Local parties can’t just be left to rubber stamp the least worst from a list supplied by HQ – Eric Joyce, anyone? Bringing local talent up through local ranks is a sure way to reinvigorate the grass roots.


  11. Labour in Scotland’s problems started further back when Tony Bliar threw the baby out with the bathwater.
    Foisting an arch bliarite onto Scottish Labour was a huge mistake, that and the alignment with the tories during the referendum, Gordy Broon’s false promises and Ed Miliband stating his preferencefor a tory government have killed Scottish Labour.
    All that remains to be done is for a death certificate to be issued.
    Unless there is a split away from London and an all new Labour springs up with all the old deadwood mercilessly hacked away and a positive new message of hope delivered, Labour is finished here.

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