Ben Procter and Tom Jennings say Scottish Labour needs to adapt to the new normal in digital communications and adopt agile, data-driven campaigning in preparation for the next Holyrood election.

There is no denying the scale of the challenge that faces the Labour Party and its new leadership team. For us to achieve a majority of one in the next UK general election there would need to be a national swing in the range of 14 to 16 per cent. A swing of that magnitude would be larger than the swings to Labour in 1987, 1992 and 1997 combined. To call it a Herculean effort would be an understatement.

In Scotland, as many have already pointed out, 2019’s results paint an even worse image. There were a number of reasons why voters felt they couldn’t trust us with their vote in December, and after losses in every election in Scotland since 2007 we do need to identify the root causes.

This may be our last chance to get it right. We are fighting for our survival.
If we don’t change, we won’t have a future. With potentially less than 12 months to go until the next Scottish Parliament elections it would be foolish to think we can leapfrog back to being the largest party in Scotland — but if Scottish Labour is to survive we must use this time wisely and as a springboard for the years to come. We must find new ways to make use of modern technology to engage, not just with the electorate but with each other.

Current polling suggests that if Scottish Labour MSPs are to be elected in the next parliament they will likely be on the regional lists. With over twenty thousand members across eight regions being responsible for appointing the illustrious top slots, everything is to play for. But as we are switching off from emails, and direct mail through the letterbox is out of reach for all those but the wealthiest, how do we maximise our use of digital to ensure that a new, bold and driven generation of candidates emerge victorious in regions as diverse as the Lothians, West Scotland and the Highlands and Islands?

Digital has created constituencies far more connected than ever before. Neighbours now talk on social media rather than over the garden fence; communities gather in Facebook groups as opposed to the community hall; the trusted gatekeepers now include not just religious leaders and the local press but owners of well-followed blogs and social media accounts. COVID-19 has intensified digital living, and as we adjust for the difficult months ahead our campaigns must adapt to the new norms in preparation for 2021.

Digital-savvy candidates have great potential to use data — freely shared by voters — to reach out and build the broad coalitions required to win. A digital-focused approach allows candidates to better inform their campaign, ensure vital resources are not needlessly exhausted (especially on costly analogue communications), and recruit new volunteers through aspirational storytelling and emotive calls to action.

Intelligent and agile campaigns based on voter data, supporter activation and emotive calls to action are more likely to encourage engagement, activism and donations. In short, understanding where target voters are (and crucially what they think), as well as how supporters prefer to engage in activism, is not only possible through digital but preferable to its costlier analogue counterparts.

Underpinning all this must be a strategy that harnesses the power of digital: trusting the data, creating compelling content, and giving digital parity with leaflets, if not a greater priority when it comes to tight campaign budgets.

In Coventry North West, digital marketing agency We are Civitas produced an empathy ad and ran Facebook ads throughout the last 48 hours of the 2019 general election campaign. By reaching thousands of targeted voters, Taiwo Owatemi was elected (contrary to exit poll predictions) by just 208 votes (0.4%). There were similar stories in Warrington North where newly selected candidate Charlotte Nichols got over the line with a majority of 3.3%, and in Bristol North West, where Darren Jones MP embraced digital campaigning and was elected with an increased majority, bucking the national trend.

Digital does not win elections outright of course, but it can make the difference. We’ve seen the difference that a Labour government makes, and we know how much better, brighter and more prosperous Scotland can be with a Labour-led government in Holyrood.

And it is not impossible to defy the odds and create opportunities for Labour to gain in constituencies across Scotland. We saw this in 2016 when Edinburgh Southern became the first gain from the SNP at a Scottish Parliamentary General Election with Daniel Johnson becoming our newest constituency MSP. How? By working to build a new coalition of voters and build a common consensus, Daniel and his team were able to achieve a swing of 8.2% to Labour against the national backdrop of a 9% swing in the opposite direction.

In the next Holyrood elections we have an even greater challenge to do the same in constituencies such as Linlithgow, Renfrewshire South & Coatbridge and Chryston. These constituencies and others represent a number of towns, villages and communities, each with their own aspirations for the future. It is our job to effectively communicate our vision, with a narrative that speaks truth to power and delivers progressive and lasting change for the nation.

As Jackie Baillie MSP, Scottish Labour’s new Deputy Leader, recently said “We need to open our doors, rebuild and unite our party, look outwards not inwards and be ruthless in our intention to win.”

We are all on Team Labour. We all joined to make a difference and deliver a fairer Scotland and build a better Britain. It’s time. Let’s do this.


Tom Jennings is Borough Councillor and founder of We are Civitas, a digital marketing agency that transforms how campaigns, candidates and incumbents engage their most important people.

Ben Procter is the former Campaigns Officer for the Scottish Co-operative Party and current member of the Scottish Labour Policy Forum representing Eastwood and Glasgow Cathcart.

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20 thoughts on “Our last chance to get it right

  1. “…………………and after losses in every election in Scotland since 2007 we do need to identify the root causes”
    So what the root causes?. Come on guys. Put aside the algorithms for a minute. What do you think is the cause of Labours downfall in Scotland?

  2. PS
    Labour sent 40 MPs to Westminster in 2010, in 2015 it was one single solitary soul. Those numbers are spectacular. What happened in the space of 5 years? I would be interested to know what you think. Were there multiple causes? or was there one cataclysmic occurrence?
    I have my own thoughts on this but I would appreciate your input.

    1. Im disappointed, but not surprised. I had hopes that one of the authors of this article might have been serious when they wrote, ‘we need to identify the root causes’ (of losses) and therefore make an attempt to engage in a discussion of where it went wrong for Labour in Scotland.
      But then, Ben and Tom know. They know when the wheels came off. They can place it to the day.
      The problem is; They still cant talk about it.
      The continual denial of mistakes made is depressing to watch. But what is really depressing about denial is that, to continue the denial, it requires the need for continued justification.
      A few weeks ago (31 March) Labourhame published an article by Robert Hoskins. Robert saw an opportunity presented by Covid19. The point Robert tried to make was that Scotland is better in The Union in this time of pandemic. Robert tried to use the pandemic to justify The Union.
      Well here we are 6 weeks in and its not looking good. In fact its worse than bad. There are two countries where the virus has infected and killed more people than anywhere else. The figures are stark. Which ever numbers you look at the USA and UK are out there on their own.
      Why is that? Coincidence? Bad luck? Or could there be another reason?

  3. Hello Tom and Ben. I am afraid this article sums up why Scottish Labour will continue to drift in the doldrums. This is all marketing. The ‘broad coalitions’ phrase that has caught on from Ian Murray really means getting Tories or Lib Dems to help ‘stop the SNP’. Your rationale is not about changing society for the better. There is no vision here, just marketing ploys to draw in a few voters who think that voting tactically might ‘stop the SNP’. This is very disappointing.

      1. Hello Duncan – you are right. Fair comment. Indeed I thought that myself after posting.

    1. Hello Wynn how did it go with your friend on shielding and the Scot Gov box

      1. Hello David – thanks to your signposting me she is now in receipt of the box and also seems to have an improved care package. I was impressed with the way everybody we spoke to who was involved in this tried to drive the process forward quickly. One of the main benefits for her also is the reduction in stress. Having this sorted has made her anxiety levels drop big time. Thanks for your help with this.

        1. Glad to be able to help the Scot Gov box is a big thing if like me in shielding cant go out .North Ayrshire Council have been a great help. They have set up local hubs the volunteers and NAC staff are great very positive .
          Contact your local council if you need anything
          Stay well keep safe .Stay home

  4. For me everything will change because of the virus .politics correctly in my view is off the agenda .As a Labour party member for me Nicola at the daily briefings has been head and shoulders above Boris and his team .
    Both will have very serious questions to answer on care homes .Today Wednesday 13th May at FMQS Richard Leonard raised the question of testing and the ch4 news investigation into testing at the care home near Glasgow .
    I don’t think Boris has done well at PMQS against Starmer Stay at home clear and simple .
    Then for me for financial reasons its back to work if you can no consultation failed to make it clear England only chaos Today Wednesday 13 May London transport overrun .Stay at home changed to stay alert no mention England only still for me correctly Scotland is stay at home.
    He will have to answer questions on all of it Care homes lack of PPE why no one spotted the virus coming when it was raging in China and spreading .
    The election we need to unite no more infighting .Richard and team need to look like a competent government in waiting .
    I think they will .All members need to play their part by doing what you suggest .
    But also connect with local people ask friends neighbours think whats happening locally what can the party do
    Asking what people think can be surprising it wont be what our leaders in all parties think is the big event of the day .
    It will be local events and ok whut ur ye gonna dae aboot it son or hen .
    And remember with the virus and lockdown that changes everything .
    People are trying to get by .
    But when the Holyrood election comes we wont have Jeremy to blame if it goes wrong.

  5. In Scotland, Labour is no longer the most supported political party of working class voters, of trade unionists or even of socialists. If it were willing to abandon its Unionist position and challenge the SNP head on, it could regain pro-independence, left-wing voters but it clearly wishes to instead fight with the Tories for the Unionist vote. Death by a thousand cuts…

  6. The Welsh FM today has said for the first 3 weeks of this pandemic they were not informed of what the UK Government was doing a complaint the London Mayor also made at the time as did our FMThen there was a flurry of meetings .Then on Sunday no warning of the change from stay at home to stay alert the first he knew of it was on social media and the press .And no word when the PM spoke to the nation on Sunday he was speaking of England only. A point our FM has also made.

  7. Sturgeons daily briefing, in plain language with all-too-human emotions in view, gained her respect and popularity.
    The same right-wing press that worships Boris (who hides away from scrutiny) have piled onto Sturgeon with questions only she has to answer, without context, perspective or fairness.
    Undoubtedly mistakes have been made. The U.K. was far too late taking action, had no plan for PPE or care homes. The devolved administrations were daft to follow the 4nations approach.
    The excess deaths tally (perhaps the most accurate count of mortality) for the UK (over 60,000 according to the FT) is the worst anywhere in Europe, with England in a sad league of its own. Yet the finger is pointed at Scotland with a per capita death toll less than half of England’s.

  8. Gavin I would add another point I record the BBC Papers the headlines over unions asking questions over safety regarding schools return have been along the lines of Militant unions prevent schools return of kids to school .
    The media including tv except the BBC is owned by large and very powerful companies and conglomerates .
    The Telegraph is nicknamed the daily Boris .
    As a labour party member I have to agree the FM has been head and shoulders over Boris and friends at the daily press briefings in fact Boris has largely been absent he is PM but has left the briefings to other ministers .He has also been taking a weekly drubbing from Keir Starmer at PMQS .
    One thing I would point out is I cant understand why the FM cant see why the Nike conference outbreak in Edinburgh did not have to be made public .Yes patient confidentiality has to be respected but what about other people using that hotel they went on a tour what about the public were they told to get tested and it meant the virus
    was in Scotland a lot earlier than the public knew .
    I think the lockdown is being eased far to early for financial reasons we cant afford it .Ch4 news said blame wrong scientific advice has started big time on PPE etc at UK level .And Rolls Royce laying of 9 thousand workers Chancellor is warning of a very deep recession many believe its already here PM has already said he wont use the A word .As in Austerity
    Hope you and your family stay safe and well.
    Would love to see what you and the rest of the Labour Hame readers think.

  9. David. My views, for what they are worth. The press is overwhelmingly biased toward the Tory party, more so now than I can ever remember( and I have done my three score and ten). The press is partial, lacks the normal ethics of journalism, context and perspective, and is biased in both commission and omission of news. I would say biased toward Boris, but there are small signs that Boris is being warned off from being TOO keen on funding furlough schemes, and sending the UK economy into deeper indebtedness. *No more money for the indolent workers* they whine. The TV broadcasters are much the same, with Channel 4 and the BBC having had a shot across their bows, first by Cameron, then more explicitly by Johnson.
    London soon became the coronavirus epicentre, so lock-down and furlough followed (though all too little, too late). Scotland did not get the legal authority to lock down until the 23rd March.The virus has been squeezed out of London, so guess what? The lock-down and furlough schemes are being wound down, whether the rest of the UK is virus free or not (“R” in the North of England being particularly high).

    Since the Big Bang, most of the UK’s economic eggs have been in the basket of the “square mile” of London’s financial centre. It is one of the greatest accumulations of wealth on the planet, and many Tories are deep in its trough. So we must all dance to its tune, and the piper is the Tory media.
    The Tory housing Minister can break curfew and get away with it. Now we find Dominic Cummings has done the same. And will also get away with it.

    England has the highest “excess death” count per capita in the world–by far, yet all we hear is NIKE, NIKE, NIKE by Scotland’s so-called journalists. Not a single person died through Nike (which also closed its headquarters in London, for a deep clean), but the biggest source of infection was by travellers through ports and airports, whose passengers we still haven’t screened/quarantined. Only Westminster has the power to close borders, limit visitors or fund furlough.

    Given the pictures of crowds on beaches, parks, the Peak District, packed public transport in London, the second wave can only be a matter of time. Given the role commentators in the media have played in sneering and bad mouthing the lock-down, I doubt if it will be contained as easily next time.

    David, live, love, laugh–be happy. Most of all–be safe!

  10. Thankyou for your comment Gavin
    Ch4 news for me have been holding the Gov to account over Care homes NHS PPE testing IE sending out test kits and counting them when posted .Its got to the stage where on a regular basis we get told no one from the government is available for comment.
    The Nike conference I have been told Livingston shopping centre was deep cleaned staff not told virus related .
    Also it meant the virus was in Scotland earlier than we were told .
    I think journalists are doing their jobs asking about it .
    You are correct about London and I remember the London Mayor saying it was 3 weeks before he was told what decisions were being taken about London .
    I agree airports etc should have seen screening straight away what about the channel tunnel what checks there
    Boris without warning went from stay at home to stay alert appears as well as not telling the devolved nations he did not tell some of his own cabinet ministers and did not say England only result chaos .
    Packed transport social distancing down the drain and for me lockdown eased far to early .
    The FM said she felt like crying when she saw the packed beach at I think Portobello .
    Just watched today Saturday 23 May the UK gov daily briefing dominated by Dominic and wifes road trip
    Grant Shapps took it Ian Blackford is correct the PM should have done it instead .
    For me I want to see questions about cancer treatments etc being cancelled .
    Also Dr Calderwood and a gov scientist lost their jobs for breaking lockdown but you and your family stay safe
    And for entertainment watch the fall out from Dominics road trip because he has already said cops did not speak to him and he does not care what it looks like more on that front to come and our Dom and wife are not staying quiet haha.

  11. Gavin double checked the Livingston deep clean was the Nike facility but centre management not told virus related

  12. Just watched Dominic press conference .He has made it worse.
    Press conference for him but no UK virus briefing and have they forgotten at UK level to report the no of deaths and ill people and people on shielding no mention at UK level over the last few days .

  13. Hi Guys think of Scottish Labour as a product and first market test on the doorstep with real people face to face and only when the feedback on the doorstep is positive should you then be in the position to market it, as it stands currently it’s my view that the product Scottish Labour is undesirable and needs a complete overhaul and rebranding so lots to do good luck.

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