Election Reflections 2011 from Midlothian North and Musselburgh

Following on from Danny Phillips’ post yesterday, BERNARD HARKINS shares his thoughts on the way forward for Scottish Labour with some reflections on what went wrong in the 2011 election.


Johann and Anas have just been elected to lead our party, congratulations to them both.

2011 was a tough year for Labour and as the year draws to an end we tend to look back on the past 12 months. For me personally I achieved a lifetime ambition, I was selected to stand for the Labour Party as the candidate for Midlothian North and Musselburgh in the Scottish Parliament elections.

It was both an honour and a privilege to be selected and it was an exciting time.

Ultimately, in the early days of 2011, with Labour holding a strong lead in the polls we could not foresee what would happen in the early hours of May the 6th.

Since that day the party has a undergone months of reflection, rule changes and a leadership contest.

As we approach the start of 2012, with a new leadership in place we now need to move forward as a party.

But looking back one last time, what do I take as the lessons from my own campaign about what the Labour Party needs to do:-

  • Labour must re-connect – As a party we cannot lose sight of the need to be in touch with voters, not only our own supporters but others who may share some of our values, we need to be visible to our supporters and not just at election time;
  • Offer a clear message – There is no point in us reversing or changing our position on major issues weeks before an election, the public will not take us seriously and it undermines our position;
  • A Campaigning Party – Even where we are in power we should not forget that the party needs to campaign on issues to show that we are interested in what is happening in our communities and that we are open to new ideas;
  • A Party that Leads – We should be a party that is willing to lead public opinion even on issues that may not be that popular. Of course we need to appeal to voters, however it is rare for voters to agree 100% with the views of the party they support. But I think they will respect a party and still vote for it if that party stays true to its values.

None of this is rocket science or refreshingly new but based on the experience I gained where a small but dedicated team took voter ID of 2% at the start of a campaign to over 10% by the end. Where on a daily basis we leafleted, knocked on doors and spoke directly to voters in Midlothian North and Musselburgh about the issues that were important to them.

I don’t believe anyone could have worked harder than the team I had during that campaign and they are an example of all that is good about the Labour Party.

Ultimately we did not win, it just wasn’t our time, but as 2011 draws to a close, I want to thank those who invested their time in our campaign and hope that we learn the hard lessons of this year so that we can move forward to a brighter tomorrow under our new leadership.


Bernard Harkins is the Branch Secretary for Musselburgh and District Labour Party and a trade union and community activist. He was also the Labour Party candidate at the Scottish Parliament election 2011 for Midlothian North and Musselburgh. Follow him on Twitter @harkins4holyrd or read his blog.

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23 thoughts on “Election Reflections 2011 from Midlothian North and Musselburgh

  1. Probably the most important thing for Labour is to put forward a compelling and positive vision for the future of the people of Scotland. We want to know how things are going to get better if we elect a Labour Government and how that will be achieved. Avoid the bitter opposition for the sake of it and give us a vision of how Scotland can shine in the world!!

  2. Who is this “we” of whom you speak? The “we” who are going to elect a Labour Government. If it is the electorate of the UK as a whole, pardon the Scots for nor hanging around for that particular bus. When the last one turned up it turned out the destination board was wrong and we got on the Tory-Lite bus instead.
    On the other hand if you have plans for what a Labour-type Government could do for the people of Scotland, then I’m all ears and look forward to going that journey with you. But another trachle up the bumpy dead-end that is the “British Road to Socialism”? No thanks.

  3. 95% of Scotland is classified as rural. 18% of the population live there. There is no sign yet of any policy lead about rural issues from Labour. We are in the midst of a period of great change in rural Scotland. Labour has to take part or be left behind.

  4. Reconnecting, messaging, campaigning – I agree they all need to be done, but this is not going to exite any voter.

    Leading – “A party that leads”, all very well, but under Labour leadership the country was led into a war in Iraq, a free for all in the financial industry and a widening of the gap between rich and poor.

    Right now, Scottish Labour is saying that alternating between Tory and Labour governments at Westminster, is better for Scotland than Independence. Do you really think this is something that the people of Scotland can take a pride in? Pride in being governed by the decisions made in another country, largely by the dominant views of that country? Pride in all our revenues flowing to London, to have expenses deducted and a share sent back to us?

    I really think Labour needs to think radically about where it proposes to take Scotland constitutionally and politically, if it is going to have any future. Right now I see no evidence that it is going to make the changes necessary to survive.

    1. Och, good grief, this from today’s Guardian:

      “we could move forward a couple of years and realise actually Liverpool is a foreign country, or indeed Manchester.”

      “The big issues, the things that scar Scotland – the least of them is whether we should have a border at Gretna Green or not.”

      Who is making such foolish comments? This is going to get Labour nowhere; this is scaremongering of the crudest type in a modern world, where you can cross virtually every European border without a passport.


      1. “where you can cross virtually every European border without a passport” – But the UK isn’t in Schengen! So in fact you can cross no UK border without a passport. You may not like or approve of the argument being made, but please don’t try to spin that border controls between countries are not going to exist in the independence future.

        1. Please correct me if I am wrong, but there are no passport controls between the Uk and Eire. Why I hear you cry, because they are covered by the Common Travel Area that covers the whole British Isles and includes Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Isles. Or are you suggesting that this agreement would be rescinded for an Independent Scotland.

  5. “you can cross no UK border without a passport”

    Actually, you can cross UK / Ireland land border without a passport.

    “don’t try to spin that border controls between countries are not going to exist”

    Seems to me that the spinning of the crudest form was “actually Liverpool is a foreign country, or indeed Manchester.”

    1. Yes, I was puzzled by that comment too. Thankfully long gone are the days of checkpoints on the Eire-UK land border; just like tavelling across Europe now.

      When I’m driving to Manchester (as I do often on business), I pass a sign at the border saying ‘Welcome to England’ when going south and ‘Welcome to Scotland’ on the way home. These tell me I’ve just crossed a border between two countries. Not really different from, e.g. when I travel to France, where my wife (and so half my extended family and friends) is from.

      All seems really odd to me this talk about border controls, everyone becoming ‘foreign’ to each other etc if scotland was politically self governing. Maybe I’m just too much of an internationalist!

  6. As a former shop steward, (of 15 years standing), I saw the written message on the Labour Party wall way back in the early 1970s. Distancing the main Wesrminster Labour Party from the Co-op and unions was the beginnings of the end. Now we see three right-wing Westminster political parties all run by classmates of the same group of English Public shools. The Labour Party has effectively trimmed the once great parties roots to turn a great tree into a small shrunken Bonsi version of itself. The expression, (Get back to our roots), was never more true than it is today.

  7. A very good book (I have it here in front of me) is “THE BORDER LINE Solway Firth to the North Sea” by James Logan Mack. 1924. It describes in detail the ancient and more recent international border line between Scotland and England, with many illustrations and photographs, and historical facts.

    ‘But facts are chiels that winna ding,
    An downa be disputed’

  8. This post from Bernard and the previous post from Danny Phillips remind us of the scale of the challenge we face in 2012.

    We face a massive task as a party and there are a variety of things that need to be taken on. The priorities for 2012 are:-

    Constructing a strong council election campaign that will return Labour councils and Labour councillors to protect our local communities and support Labour’s political rehabilitation.

    A complete overhaul of our organisation is required. We failed at many levels in the 2011 election and now is the time for radical review of how we organise as a political party.

    We need to work out how we are going to campaign in the referendum and begin the task immediately of making the arguments for Scotland remaining within the UK.

    Many posters have identified the need for a strong political message. In simple terms, we need to be able to explain ‘What we Stand for’ and why supporting Scottish Labour matters in the 21st century.

  9. Graham, I read a lot of comments from Scottish Labour supporters about having to reconnect, providing a clear message, leading, etc., Kames Kelly states ‘we need to explain “What we Stand for”.
    I think individual Labour supporters need to make up their own minds because I think the Scottish Labour movement doesnt know any longer what it stands for.
    I think the vast majority believe in devolution and more powers for the Scottish parliament. But instead of campaigning for it in the up and coming referendum Scottish Labour is going to have to fight a long and no doubt very negative campaign on the maintenance of the union and the status quo, alongsde their fellow unionists The Tories.
    Who in the Labour Party has made this decision. It is as if Salmond has a mole deep inside the British Labour Party psyche.
    It is coming to a point where Labour Party activists in Scotland must ask themselves some very fundemental questions. Hope or despair. Party or country.

  10. James Kelly
    You do not have to work out how you will campaign in the referendum, you really have to work out what you will campaign FOR. To “remain in the UK”, is this the limits of Labour ambition??. Dont you want Scots to enjoy the same life chances as people in the Home Counties ? Or Scandanavia? If you do ,what is your plan for getting to that goal, with the limited powers of Hollyrood and the huge centrifugal force of London to suck up resourses.

  11. James Kelly

    “making the arguments for Scotland remaining within the UK”

    You MUST explain why Scotland is better served by alternating Tory / Labour administrations in Westminster, for this is surely what we can look forward to, than by governments of our own choosing within Scotland.

    You MUST explain why Scotland is better served by sending all of the revenues raised to London, to have a portion deducted and a portion granted back to Scotland, than raising revenues in Scotland, and spending them as we see fit here.

    1. Yes a good question how will the Barnet Allowances of Scotland, Wales, Ireland & England balance out.

      Another £80 Million to support Bombardier is fine but where is our support

  12. The NHS in England is going to be able to use its facilities in 49% of cases for private care patients in the future. I just wonder how the Labour supporters on this site see the future as things like this come to fruition. If Scotland doesnt go for FFA or Independence then what happens down south will happen here because of Barnett consequencials. We cannot turn a blind eye to this and just follow orders. Its time for a serious debate inside Labour.

  13. This site appears absolutely choc-a-bloc with wonderful good intentions regarding the direction Labour need to take to regain its rightful and proper place, in charge, with a steady hand on the chequebook. In fact its been full of promises to ‘re-connect’, ‘Offer clear messages’, ‘listen to our supporter’ since this website first took off.

    Now this enthusiasm is to be admired and with the Local Elections coming up, I’m absolutely positive that the Labour spirit being ably demonstrated on here by those many faceless and ‘committed’ contributors will ‘start the fightback’ (oops there’s another of those sayings) we’ve all been waiting for.

  14. According to upmystreet website average council taxes in 2010/11 are

    Band D England £ 1438 Scotland £ 1654
    Band F England £ 2078 Scotland £ 2390

    There is an argument that Scotland is a richer country per capita than England; nevertheless it would seem justified to keep this difference in average council tax under control. Perhaps the greater question is how efficiently councils are managing the money they have

    1. “it would seem justified to keep this difference in average council tax under control”

      Whose job would that be, I wonder? It seems to me that the whole point of having our own Scottish parliament is that we can make our own decisions, and if they happen to be different from what happens in England, then so be it. Are you suggesting that Westminster should be keeping a tight hold to ensure wider differences don’t emerge?

      My view is that we should be looking for a fairer replacement to the Council tax as a matter of urgency (whether or not the Council Rax is kept in England.)

  15. I am having difficulty with understanding the leadership position of standing with the tories in Westminster last night and how this will improve chances in the local elections this year.

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