The biggest shock is that losing Glasgow wasn’t a shock

Paul Bisland, a Labour member who supports Scottish independence, says last week’s election results suggest more bad news for the party in June, and thinks the answer is a shift in our strategy and our constitutional position.


When the Labour party losing control of Glasgow is no longer a shock, then times are beyond worrying for the party. If you were shocked by last Thursday’s result, you haven’t been paying attention and you should look away come June. For everyone else, the expectations for the general election have never been so low. The party will come second nationally, but that is not even remotely the story that matters in Scotland.

With one MP at present, the party faces the possibility of having not one single MP in Scotland just one month after losing control of the city that is synonymous with the Labour movement in Scotland. Just a decade ago, when the election of 47 SNP MSPs to Labour’s 46 suggested the first hints of a serious rival party in Scotland, the idea of Labour being third in the Scottish Parliament, out of power in Glasgow, and potentially without an MP in Scotland would have been unpredictable to even the most prescient of journalists, pollsters or Professors of psephology. The odds would have been enormous.

Yet now the bookies make Labour slight favourites in just one Scottish seat – the Edinburgh South seat that the party currently hold. For some perspective, the same Irish bookmaker has the Lib Dems as favourites in five and the Tories as favourites in six. Whilst the bookies have been wrong recently over Trump and Brexit, it is still a worry that they would expect Labour to be the fourth largest party, if we even register a seat at all, come June.

Faced with the situation as it is now, Scottish Labour cannot repeat the mistakes of other recent defeats and simply carry on as if this is temporary. The truth is that the 2014 independence referendum did not just change the rules of politics in Scotland, it changed the whole game, and the current trend suggests that it is a game that Labour will play next to no part in for the foreseeable future. Make no mistake, this is terminal decline. The party will never cease to be, but if it becomes a race to be third between Labour and the Lib Dems then we will cease to be relevant and in politics it is much the same thing.

Further trouble faces the party if the decline is not arrested soon. The old quips about donkeys in red rosettes in Glasgow have never seemed further away and what that actually means is of huge concern for the future. A whole generation of new voters, who would almost certainly have been Labour voters under previous conditions, are now voting SNP or Conservative. The strong Labour brand, attachment and identity is diminishing with each vote (which is a relatively fast measure in these referendum and snap election days). The idea of Labour being the only party who can win is gone, and when that is replaced by the feeling that Labour can’t win, the same thing we often attach to the Greens or Lib Dems in most First Past the Post contests, then there is a massive problem for how the party is perceived. Add to this the number of people who have changed their party of choice, and seem to be sticking with their decision, and you have a situation in which the bottom could still be further down than the current position.

There has to be an acceptance that the party has been spectacularly wrong on strategy for over a decade. This is not to blame individuals or to seek to diminish the contribution of activists and hard-working members, but the electorate are never wrong and the other parties are not to blame for Labour’s decline. The party has to look in the mirror and take the full responsibility for taking our base for granted, failing to make an offer which appealed to the country and for a strategy which has been incoherent if not inexistent.

When power was devolved to Scotland, the same process did not happen within the party which devolved it. The party has been harmed by this and the idea of a “branch office” has become a regular line of attack for our opponents. Future Scottish Labour leaders must be able to chart a course which is at odds with Westminster Labour, especially since the views and voting habits of the Scottish and English electorates seem so distinct and out of kilter.

Clearly a solution which focuses on Scotland is the only way forward and the autonomy of the party speaks to that requirement. This would also insulate the party against unpopular decisions in the UK wide party; as a young Labour activist at the 2011 Scottish Parliament election I was used to hearing the Iraq war being used as a reason not to vote for Scottish Labour, and so the party needs to be able to disagree with future UK Labour governments and take positions which better represent the Scottish people.

The constitution is one such issue. Scottish independence as an issue is not going away and Labour’s approach to it has been our undoing. The biggest mistake was to dictate to the party what their view on it should be. Thousands, like me, have been alienated by a decision to oppose independence without any form of debate within the party – certainly below the level of elected member. The Scottish Green Party voted on their position, but Labour in Scotland avoided a proper democratic process; a process which would have highlighted the level of support within the party and might have allowed the creation of a more nuanced position.

The flat out rejection of another independence referendum means the party now competes against the Conservatives for the votes of those who do not want independence and the SNP have free reign to mop up 56 of 59 seats with the concentrated support of those who want another vote on the matter. Right now it looks like the only thing that can stop Labour from being sidelined in Scottish politics would be a final outcome to the constitutional issue, however that looks.

The future for the Labour Party in Scotland is in the hands of the decision makers within the party. Continuation of the current path will lead to nowhere, and the time to prevent the current decline from becoming long-term irrelevance is finite. A fundamental change of approach is required urgently. The need for a party who oppose austerity, support strong workers’ rights, fight for equality of opportunity and exist to end poverty in one of the richest countries in the world will always be there. Whether Labour will be the party who meet this need into the future is a question that will only be answered by time.

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35 thoughts on “The biggest shock is that losing Glasgow wasn’t a shock

  1. “Clearly a solution which focuses on Scotland is the only way forward and the autonomy of the party speaks to that requirement.”

    But the reality is that there is no Scottish Labour Party and, therefore, the epithet “branch office” is more truthful and, following from that there is no autonomy. That being the case the Scottish Labour Party has nowhere to go because that would mean the Labour Party (the only party registered with the Electoral Commission – Scottish Labour is an accounting unit) campaigning for Scottish independence.

  2. To be relevant we have to work out what has gone wrong. We need to realize there is another game in town .
    Its called the SNP . Voters are not loyal to one party anymore. Ordinary party members are demoralised. We need younger no nonsence leaders who will go out and do the job

    1. Keir Hardie, who founded the Labour Party believed that Scotland should have Dominion Status—-Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc…………….

      Perhaps he was in the “wrong party”.

      1. Keir Hardie also opposed immigration. Which goes to show how facile it is for people to try to win arguments by pretending responses to the political situation a century ago should be unchanged today.

        1. Labour supporters and politicians like to mention him when it suits their purposes.

  3. Your problem with this article is, Duncan Hothersal, Scott Arthur, Jim O’Neill , Andy, Kezia Dugdale and a good number of similar minded labour officials. All of whom still don’t realise when you can’t see over the edge of the hole you bloody well stop digging.

  4. Hi Paul,

    Good article. It must be clear by now that Scottish Labour have decided that becoming an unelectable fringe party is a price worth paying to remain in the Union. However there are a few pro-indy left of centre parties in Scotland that are always open to former Labour party members, I’m speaking from experience here.

    Ask yourself what are the Labour policies/ ideals you believe in, then look at the Greens & the SNP’s policies & decide which most closely matches yours, no doubt there will be some policies you disagree with but clearly there are Labour party policies you disagree with as well & working on the inside as a member of a pro-indy party you’ll have far more chance of changing those than you’ll ever have of convincing Labour to back indy.

    1. Good advice Jim……… should pass it on to Henry McLeish and Alex Rowley.

    2. Thanks, Jim. I could of course leave the Labour party and join a pro-indy party, but if all the pro-indy Labour people left, then the prospect of the party embracing indy – or at least making it an issue of conscience – goes to zero. I would urge those who share Labour values but are pro-indy to get involved in Labour and to bring the party towards a more neutral position on independence.

      For me, the Labour party is about worker’s rights, equality and an economy that is fit for the many and not the few, and whilst I see independence as being the way to achieve that (whilst others like Duncan don’t) I still think Labour are the home of these beliefs. My ideal situation is a Labour government in an independent Scotland!

      Thanks for your comment.

      1. Entirely your choice Paul & I wish you good luck with it, occasionally the million to 1 shot does come in. I & many others in Labour during the Blair years when Labour kept moving ever more rightward, tried to fight the tide hoping against hope that the party would find it’s way again & I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me Jeremy would have become leader on day. It’s just a pity that the party keep knifing him & the members who’ve elected him twice now in the back.

  5. I joined the Labour Party in 1980 believing in the Internationalism of Socialism. I still do. That is why I have no interest in retreating to socialism (or not) in one country. And if anyone believes that the SNP is socialist or even centre left, they are deluding themselves

    1. Jim, Well said – the Labour Party has always been (and should remain) INTERNATIONALIST, in spite of the absurd defeatism of the “if we can’t beat them, let’s join them” quasi-Nationalists. Are the latter totally ignorant of history, particularly the conflicts (world wars and many local conflicts) caused by nationalism?. Do they really believe they are different/superior to people in rUK – excluding minor differences (spoken accent etc.) due to location – which make a Glaswegian, say, distinctive from northern/southern English or a resident of Aberdeen or the Shetland Islands?. Do they really believe they could emerge victorious in the inevitable economic (and other) conflicts which would result from a ‘hard border’. Nationalism is a noisome creed, which should be avoided like the plague.

      1. No, Michael, it’s much simpler. They believe in self determination for their own country. You seem to assume that the only relevant borders are those of the U.K. That is a valid opinion, just as others believe that Scotland is the appropriate nation state.

      2. Michael, your comments are those of a British Nationalist, not an internationalist.
        Why does Labour think the border is at the English Channel?
        Why is Brexit acceptable to internationalists?

    2. As a hypothetical question, let’s say the Brexit negotiations go bad and the UK government decide to use the “negotiating chips” and orders a mass deportation of EU citizens from Scotland.

      Would you still prioritise support for the Union in this situation or would you support independence as a way to protect our fellow citizens?

    3. I’m curious Jim, do you consider Jeremy Corbyn is socialist or even centre left?

      I ask because it seems in large part policies in the leaked Labour manifesto where taken by looking at what the SNP have done in Scotland over the years they’ve been in power & deciding to copy them

      * Free tuition fees
      * An end to hospital parking charges
      * Honouring NHS pay reviews
      * Abolishing the bedroom tax
      * Renewable electricity generation to 60%

      1. Tuition fees were abolished in Scotland by the Labour/Lib Dem coalition in 2001. The SNP has capped nurses’ pay below inflation, and two days ago the Royal College of Nursing pointed out that the SNP has effectively cut £3,400 from a Band 5 nurse. Abolition of the bedroom tax was in the Labour manifesto in 2015, and Labour has had bold targets on renewables for many years.

        1. I know Jeremy’s opinion on tuition fees but I honestly don’t know where Scottish Labour stand as the policy changes so often. Is it something for nothing, a graduate stealth tax or do you genuinely back free tuition now?

          Nobody likes the pay cap, although I remember Labour MP’s repeatedly sitting on their hands when it came to voting against the Tory cuts. However if the Scottish Govt have cut £3k from a band 5 nurses salary, how much have the Labour run Welsh govt cut since they’re on considerably more in Scotland

          I also seem to remember Labour MPs abstaining en masse when they’d a chance to vote against the bedroom tax.

          The SNP govt has set some of the most challenging renewables targets in the world & meets many of them despite the UK govt interference such as pulling the plug on the wind farm subsidy

          1. Scottish Labour’s policy on tuition fees hasn’t changed in many years. Perhaps, instead of just making things up that aren’t based on reality, the next time you decide to make assertions you could check first? Past manifestos are easily accessible online.

          2. It will be impossible for any Scottish party to offer free tuition fees after Brexit if the Conservatives implement their manifesto commitment to prevent international students coming to Scottish universities.

        2. As usual Duncan is not telling you the whole truth regarding tuition fees.

          The lab/lib coalition did cancel tuition fee’s in 2001 but replaced them with a graduate endowment fee instead, which was to be paid when a student graduated.

          So instead of paying a yearly fee they replaced it with an end of degree course fee, its just the usual Duncan double speak.

          Note: He has also forgotten to mention it was labour that introduced the original bedroom tax.

          1. The graduate endowment paid for bursaries to students from poorer backgrounds. It did not pay for tuition. Tuition fees were abolished by the Lab/Lib coalition in 2001, following the Cubie Report.

          2. But as usual you failed to mention any of that.

            You also failed to mention it was the SNP in 2007 that got rid of your backdoor tuition fees.

          3. No, once again the Labour/Lib Dem coalition got rid of tuition fees in 2001. In 2008 the SNP got rid of the Graduate Endowment which paid for bursaries for poorer students, not for tuition. And what happened next? The SNP cut bursaries for poorer students to be able to pay for free tuition for rich and poor. And today fewer students from poorer backgrounds in Scotland attend university than do the equivalent in the rest of the UK. Maybe asking those who could afford it to pay towards the costs of those who could not was not such a bad idea after all.

    4. Thankfully, in essence – self-determination and the status of national independence isn’t about any political party. Independence is actually the overwhelming global normative status. A normal independent Scottish democracy would offer a much enhanced ability to choose its future and political governance (unlike the grotesque democratic deficit Scotland is regularly subjected to under the Westmonster system). Scottish Labour is utterly blinded by SNP BAD! hysteria – hence the diabolical position you are in now. I, and many others once voted Labour (LOL!).

  6. Paul how did Scottish Labour get in such a state well the past is well known the Scottish Labour MPs did nothing for years and took the electorate granted holding no constituency surgery’s being lazy jumping on a train to Westminster and propping up the bars and as we know the old saying if you stuck a red rosette on a lamppost it would get voted in as the Scottish labour MP and the votes were weighed not counted. Then the Tony Blair era all the MPs UK wide were and are careerists parachuted into constituency’s that they had never been too had no local links usually Ex Oxbridge graduates and the likes of people who have never had a real job and as we know the ex manual working trade union rep path had been closed forever so we see that there is no Scottish Labour Party, and as you point out it is a branch office and it will not even discuss the issue of whether its members can support a Scottish Independence referendum. Correct me if I am wrong Paul but did the UK labour Party and the Scottish Branch Office have official supporters on both sides of the referendum leave and remain remember Gisela Stuart so why cant the Branch Office let its members take a side either Yes/No called its called democracy. Can I conclude on another note I am in central London and twice in one week I overheard some young female Londoners extolling the virtues of Nicola Sturgeon they love her down here the words I overheard were shes charismatic, caring, compassionate and a great leader I have even heard of people who want to vote for SNP especially in Soho and City of London Barbican Estate area they love Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP down here so its happy days.

  7. Like nearly half of the Scottish population I was a Labour voter and I was also an active campaigner for Better Together. I remember how delighted I was after the indyref when No won.

    Over the last year I’ve become more and more horrified by the extreme right takeover of the UK. The business secretary wants to draw up a list of foreigners who will be used as “bargaining chips” presumably if they don’t get what they want this means the threat of mass deportations. I work beside EU immigrants who are extremely upset by this.

    We have the health secretary saying we need to “send home” immigrants who work in the NHS, including the Scottish NHS.

    The Prime Minister is an record as wanting to rip up Europe’s Human Rights Convention. She’s also committed to cutting Scotland’s immigration below 10,000 per year including students which will devastate our universities and wreck our food, drink and tourism sectors. Our finance sector is going to be locked out of its biggest market by losing its passport.

    Michael Howard and the right way press have actually threatened war on Spain.

    Meanwhile the Barnett formula is being phased out with the new financial settlement meaning Scotland has to rely on its own income tax and VAT revenues so we’ve lost the risk sharing which along with the EU membership was one of the big reasons I voted No in the first place.

    In the face of all of this Scottish Labour’s position is to attack the SNP for standing up for Scots and instead to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Tories and Ukip. Their pledge on the constitution was federalism which I see today hasn’t even made it into the Labour manifesto let alone having any chance of implementation.

    The French Socialists have gone to 6% in the last election. That’s where Scottish Labour is heading unless there’s some big changes.

  8. Ted read your comment with interest. When campaigning in the ward I live in Irvine South it includes Dreghorn Nicolas home town the comments being expressed about her were not complimentary . This includes comments from SNP voters. She is seen as spending to mutch time on Indy Refs Brexit etc and not enough time on local issues.
    In our ward the roads were practically shut down due to water repairs. Surgeries unable to cope with long ques . Busses not running to time because of the roadworks . Flooded streets due to burst pipes caused by the workmen when they were there. The local paper reporting people unable to leave their homes because workmen put barricades up without warning and started digging trenches in front of their homes. I saw residents arguing with workmen because they put barricades round cars parked outside houses. Bus stops closed down.
    Easter weekend no workmen so the locals removed the barricades and put the bus tops back in operation .
    Whats this got to do with Nicola nothing and everything . When people speak of the NATS they say Nicola
    When with all that going on in her home area and that’s just some of it what did our FM do in a local election campaign she went to the USA.
    Right or wrong I knew that would be seen as an all expenses paid holiday paid for by us . Then she was interviewed in the USA and used the phrase the folks back home. This was on the day a street was flooded in Dreghorn her home town by workmen on water duty well they found it. As a member of the Labour campaign team it did not matter what I thought its what the people thought. Nicola got the blame and it might have cost her dad Robin a seat on NAC
    Ted I don’t want this seen as a blame Nicola rant I treat the comments section on the blogs as a discussion forum . I like to see other peoples views . I know the SNP got the same public feedback about that week.
    The computer virus and I am not blaming Nicola for that although anyone reading this feel free to do so
    2 weeks ago there was a big conference in London. Super Yauhts were the supposed targets. The conference was told the expert had taken over a ship . He should how the crew found out what was happening was when an officer tried to send an email. A notice appeared saying he could get control off the ships navigations engines phones computer communications and cctv systems back if a bit coin ransom was paid
    To prove it was real he wiped the ships cctv system .This was an exercise the owner knew about not the crew.
    It was done from the ship anchored next to the target using a Laptop it took 30 mins to get control.
    I hope dear editor you print this its not part of what the blog is about but I think interesting

  9. David I am glad that you have got that off your chest that is to say an unpredictable burst pipe that caused flooding and at the same time gave you the raging hump, well my dear fellow I don’t think that you can blame that on the SNP I suggest that you contact the management of the utilities company at the earliest opportunity with a view to giving them a severe ear bashing it will probably make you feel better. Good Luck.

  10. Thank you Ted for your comment. OF course I know the FM is not responsible for what went wrong. The point I was trying to make is she is getting blamed for everything. The good news is the said roadworks have moved on towards her mum and dads street

    1. David touche in all the serious doom and gloom of politics your wee message made me laugh and I think that the Scottish Labour Party will need you to keep their spirits up come the general election results good luck

  11. Ted its always good to laugh . I watched the ITV leaders debate that was an even bigger laugh. And yes I thought Nicola was head and shoulders above the rest and yes I think Jeremy should have shown up

  12. Where do you start with this one?
    Seems like Empire Loyalism tinged with social democracy.
    George Square 1919 up the workers and the shameful lets kill people who look different Broomielaw Riots 1919 all in the one month or is it one week, all carried out by the same leaders.
    British jobs for British workers.
    Said in 1919 and 90 years later by Gordon Brown.
    Fighting for and getting devolution or working with the Tories in Better Together.
    A minimum wage for the poorest to something for nothing society.
    Sad to see the state of the old party.
    And i still blame the leadership.

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