DOUGLAS ALEXANDER reflects on Scottish Labour’s position following the by-election victory in Inverclyde and asks, ‘What’s next?’


Sitting in a supermarket surgery in Paisley this weekend I witnessed a range of emotions among Labour minded voters in response to Iain McKenzie’s resounding victory last Thursday: relief, pride and even surprise were all in evidence.

But what should Party members’ reaction here in Scotland be to this latest by-election victory, coming as soon as it does after the dreadful defeat we suffered in May.

I think the worst possible response would be complacency. Any sense that things have simply returned to ‘business as usual’ after the shock of the spring would be disastrous.

In their desperation to hide their own disappointment the SNP spokespeople in the studios after the result got themselves into a terrible tangle.

So after eight weeks telling us that everything in Scottish politics had changed, they spent the hours after the result claiming nothing in Scottish politics had changed – and that Inverclyde had remained a rock solid Labour seat.

But we must not fall for this flawed analysis. In May things did change and now so must we.

Put simply, the welcome and hard won victory in Inverclyde should be a catalyst for change and not a cause for complacency.

So what form should that change take?

As I suggested on Good Morning Scotland on Friday, I think there are four areas where we need to move forward.

First, in the time ahead, there will be a change of leadership. When and to whom are of course matters under discussion within the Party but at some stage a new leader will be in place.

Second, the organisational renewal of our Party from the ground up must be taken forward. This week, the initial findings of the review being conducted by Jim and Sarah will be discussed. But in the weeks and months ahead these initial recommendations need to be translated into a blueprint for renewal.

Third, we need to open up the political conversation about Scottish Labour’s positions and policies. If we’re honest May’s defeat was a first and foremost a political failure. So change in the Scottish Labour Party structures (important as that may be) is in itself insufficient.

I’ve argued here on Labour Hame previously that I think there are two lodestars by which we should chart this political way ahead, reflecting the twin currents of Scottish politics – ideology and identity.  We should hold on and renew both our centre left social democratic values, and to our historic commitment to home rule within the United Kingdom.

These lodestars do not simply reflect the essential benefits of Scottish Labour over recent decades – they also continue to represent the contemporary outlook of the majority of Scottish voters.

Finally, we need to draw strength from Inverclyde in making the case with confidence that patriotism and separatism are NOT the same thing.

Politicians like Smith, Dewar, Cook and Brown were able to embody and uphold a broad and expansive sense of Scottishness that had little to do with narrow nationalism. Each was proudly Scottish and British – and all resisted Margaret Thatcher’s demand that, as Scots, we should choose between being Scottish and being British.

Now, in a different time and a different era, Alex Salmond is once again demanding that we make that choice. Every day he tries to persuade Scots that Scottish Nationalism is the true expression of Scottish identity. It’s not, and it never has been

So, long before a referendum campaign gets underway we need to assert with confidence and determination that Labour are and speak for the majority of Scots in rejecting a future of new divisions and barriers within these islands.

Now as July begins, and the holidays get underway, we as Scottish Labour have work to do. As Inverclyde shows hard work pays off in politics as in life. So thank you to everyone who helped on the campaign. If we now work together and take forward the work of change we can make Inverclyde – like Garscadden and Hamilton in previous generations – a by-election that tells us more about the future than about the past.

Douglas Alexander is the Shadow Foreign Secretary and served in the last Labour government as Secretary of State for Scotland, Transport and International Development. Follow Douglas on Twitter at @DAlexanderMP.

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7 thoughts on “After Inverclyde

  1. Douglas,

    1. You mention (inter alia), Brown’s Scottishness.

    “……. and Brown were able to embody and uphold a broad and expansive sense of Scottishness that had little to do with narrow nationalism.”

    Was it not North Britain he clung to? (US talk show response to ‘Where do you come from?)

    Some sense!

    2. And the diatribe delivered by your winning Inverclyde candidate?. Did you approve of this very angry man’s statements.(Compare and contrast with SNP winning statements).

    3. ‘Scottish Labour’ – define please, I can only find Labour in Scotland, led by Ed Milliband.

    1. Brian,
      If you havnt worked out the answer to question 3 yet, I suggest you dont post until you have. It has nothing to do with electoral commission registration, or party funding – its more fundamental than that. Its about the people – something I though the SNP would know all about.

      But then this is actually part of the nationalists “You can only be Scottish if you support the SNP – the only party of Scotland” line, isnt it?

  2. You Talk about a new Leader in Scotland in due course, come on guys if we are going to stand up to the SNP, Iain has to go quick he led us too our worst defeat in 80 years, this will be the talking point of our party, we cannot even find a leader after May’s disaster and let’s face it Inverclyde was never really in doubt, one of the last heartlands we have guys.

  3. Nice to see Councillor McCabe back at the helm after a couple of months since deciding to step down as Leader of Inverclyde council to spend more time with his family…..

  4. Well said Douglas. Looking forward to the challenges ahead as a party and redefining Scottish Labour as the main political force in Scotland. If there is one political party that will fight its way back it is the Scottish Labour Party as there is a desire and a will to succeed among all of us. Time to forget the past and push forward with determination and courage. We will win.

  5. The mention of Thatcher just shows how one trick Scottish Labour has become.

    I admired new Labour as because I was a one nation Conservative it appealed to me and many people that saw themselves as aspirational but unfortunately, for Scottish Labour anyway, the SNP have become the party for the aspirational.

    The Labour pitch at the last election was one aimed solely at the core vote – an anti Tory type pitch which, although successful at the 2010 UK general election, was nullified by the fact that the SNP were successfully able to pitch themselves as a credible alternative to both the Labour party and the Tory party.

    As it stands I live in Glasgow East and I’m represented by a Labour MP – the utterly woeful Margaret Curran – and an SNP MSP – John Mason – who is, at the very best, reasonably active locally and will, when called upon (based on previous experience of him as a councillor), solve any issues I have.

    I don’t feel any draw towards voting SNP other than a reasonably decent local MSP but have zero draw towards Labour based on an awful MP.

    Scottish Labour is a party that could garner my support but needs a little bit more than a bit of tinkering around the edges in order to gain my support.

  6. I think the leadership question is crucial. Even if it means widening the pool of candidates Labour must select a leader figure with authority and a sense of mission.

    The voters in May were presented with a Labour party which they perceived to be a status quo party. Labour must once again become a dynamic and distinctive party with a radical critique of contemporary Scotland and realistic policies to address issues such as poverty and education.

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