Sean Morton was Labour’s candidate for Moray in the 2015 election and is Labour councillor for Fochabers Lhanbryde. He says the party must learn to listen to all parts of Scotland, and that includes the Highlands and Islands.
Of course, I have to start any article these days with something about how we suffered a terrible defeat at the election; we’re on our deathbed; how will we ever recover? CAN we ever recover? All those thoughts and more have been at the front of our minds – not just since the exit poll came at 10pm on the 7th May – but since the spate of polls that came when it was clear we had no game plan for after the referendum.
I remember that sinking feeling in my campaign office in Elgin when one of my outstanding volunteers gave me the news of the exit poll. We had kept our spirits up all day, utterly convinced that through sheer willpower alone, we could hold back the tide.
It wasn’t to be. In my case, I was highly unlikely to win Moray. Still, we passionately fought Labour’s corner anyway and ended up with more votes than any northern Highlands and Islands constituency. We didn’t hold back the tide – but by god we tried and we certainly weren’t swept away.
On the doorstep, we appeared to escape some of the nastiness that was levelled at comrades in the central belt and urban parts of Scotland – people didn’t think we seemed much like the Scottish Labour Party. They knew that here in Moray we focus like a laser on local issues. But to them, the Scottish Labour Party is a party that’s only concerned with Glasgow and the central belt – not representative of “people like us up here.”
That’s a problem. All across the Highlands and Islands there is a perception that when Scottish Labour talks about Scotland, it means urban Scotland – central belt Scotland. If that perception continues, we’ll get no hearing with half the country before we even start our fightback.
So we need to learn the lessons the SNP learned long ago: we can’t win by only focusing on some parts of Scotland. We need to learn the lessons the U.S. Democrats learned in time for 2006 and 2008 and 2012: you need a 50 state strategy – play everywhere and you’ll have a chance to win everywhere.
We are embarking on a great debate about how we change our party to change our country. But we can’t have that debate if the leadership and deputy leadership candidates don’t go everywhere and talk to everyone. We can’t have the honest conversations we need to have with our future leaders if they’re not able to come to the Highlands and Islands and tell us how they will lead a truly inclusive Scottish Labour Party, representative of all our communities. We have to make sure that we include all corners of the country in the weeks and months ahead.
We worked hard across the Highlands and Islands. We suffered the pain on election night too. And we have ideas that need to be heard. So let’s give everyone the chance to ask the hard questions, put forward solutions and shape our party’s future.
Note: Sean wrote to the party to request a Highlands and Islands hustings but they are unable to facilitate one. He will be working with members to organise one and inviting the candidates to take part.