I want to begin by thanking the thousands of activists who worked so hard for Labour across Scotland and across the UK for a Labour Government. I want to thank the 700,000 people across Scotland who voted Labour yesterday.
I also want to congratulate the SNP and their activists. Politics, for rank and file volunteers, comes with so few personal rewards. The enjoyment of nights like last night is one of the few rewards grassroots activists get and I congratulate them on their moment. They will have celebrated well into the morning.
Meanwhile Scottish Labour are waking up after a dreadful night for our party. Far worse than that we are waking up on a terrible morning for Scotland, and for working class people across the UK, as David Cameron prepares to form another government. The friends and colleagues defeated have been faithful servants to our party and forceful advocates for their constituents.
But this isn’t about us. It isn’t about individual’s careers. Because while we have lost seats the thing that hurts most is the loss of hope that will be felt as we face another 5 years of a government totally lacking in vision and compassion.
I didn’t stand for leader out of a sense of personal ambition. I stood because I knew that Scottish Labour after losing in 2007 and 2011 and after the emotional hangover of the referendum faced the biggest challenge in our 127 year history. As Leader I wanted to meet these challenges and I still do.
When I was elected I gave a speech where I was frank: we hadn’t been good enough. We hadn’t been radical enough. We hadn’t reflected the optimism and self-confidence of modern Scotland. Those challenges remain. We have worked every day to try to turn this around.
We had, by anyone’s measure, the most radical manifesto. Our campaign was energetic and professional on the ground. The dedication of our activists was extraordinary. But we have been overwhelmed by history and by circumstance.
We make no excuses. A party can never blame the electorate. But we found ourselves hit by the perfect storm of three main factors:
First the simple maths of a Yes vote finding a home in one party versus a No vote spread across three. It is clear that it will be some time before the divisions of the referendum fade into distinctions between traditional left and right.
Second, we were hit by two nationalisms. A Scottish nationalism reassuring people that they could vote SNP and get Labour. And an English nationalism stoked up by David Cameron: warning vote Labour and get SNP. Unsurprisingly, forced into an artificial contest between English nationalism and Scottish nationalism, many Scots, including many no-voting Scots, chose the SNP. And let’s be clear: it wasn’t just in Scotland that the SNP cost Labour votes.
And the third factor is of course the long-standing problems, that led me to stand for leadership in the first place, we had for too long lacked a clear message, a clear offer and continuity of leadership. Five leaders in seven years. We did not have the time or the space to turn it around. Some have said it was an impossible task – to turn around years of gradual decline in 5 months – but it hurts nevertheless. That was my job.
Scotland deserves a stronger Scottish Labour Party. Working class people need the party back on its feet.
So where now for Scottish Labour? We have to start from our strengths. And here the success of the SNP strategy offers us a guide on how to move forward. We have been beaten by a party who claimed our heritage, clothed themselves in our values, and copied many of our policies. They promised this wasn’t about independence. They went out of their way to avoid even mentioning Fiscal Autonomy. And of course, the central message of this election for the SNP was that you could vote for them and get a Labour Government.
I am determined that we will always be a better Labour party than the SNP. We will take confidence in the principles behind our policies and we will renew and retarget them for the Scottish election. We will defend Scotland against any attempts to undermine our public services by abolishing Barnett and any attempts to undermine our welfare state.
With less than a year to the Scottish Parliament elections. We cannot afford another period of introspection. People need Labour now. They need a strong opposition. They need us to be what we have always been at our best, a voice for working people.
We have a century of sacrifice and struggle behind us. From council housing and new towns, from hydroelectric to wind power, from the NHS to the smoking ban, Labour has been the biggest and most progressive force for change in Scottish history.
We will be again. But only if we have the courage of our convictions.
This morning I think of the words of Ernst Toller:
“It is not seemly for you to Mourn,
It is not seemly for you to delay,
You have received a legacy soaked in the heart’s blood of your brothers.
The pregnant deed waits for you.
…Wide burst the gates of bright morning.”
Last night was gloomy for Labour. This morning as the sun rose we were hurting.
But in a morning like this, before too long. We will bounce back. We will again be the change that working people need.