The Scottish Election Study helps explode some of the myths surrounding Labour’s defeat, PAUL DEVLIN points out


Although May 5 is just over seven weeks ago, the Scottish Election Study 2011 does help us to gain some perspective on the results.

Not surprisingly, there are a number of things we need to be concerned about, not least the fact that amongst voters defined as working class (both by psephologists and by themselves) the SNP were comfortably ahead. Other groups that are (were?) seen as traditionally Labour such as the Catholic vote also voted for the SNP in greater numbers than for Labour.

The reasons for this? The SNP were seen as a competent government and a united party who ran a positive campaign, as well as one which keeps its promises (no laughing about class sizes from you teachers at the back), perhaps demonstrating how their declaration of 84 out of 94 election pledges from 2007 having been met played with voters, especially when they could blame opposition parties (ie, mainly Labour) for the failures of the other ten, including minimum pricing.

One canard that was dismissed by the survey was the notion that our vote held-up, with Liberal Democrat voters defecting en masse to the SNP. In fact, less than half of the former LibDem vote went to the SNP, while we actually gained 22 per cent of Lib-Dem voters from 2007. Moreover, fewer than a third of our voters from the 2010 general election switched to the SNP. Nevertheless, it is this last group of voters we need to persuade to vote Labour in 2016. I am sure I am not alone in sensing in the last few days of the campaign people switching from us to the SNP (up to 80,000 voters according to YouGov Polling; just over a 1000 voters in each constituency, enough to explain the SNP winning seats such as Shettleston and Cathcart).

The final set of statistics comes down to the constitution: only 24 per cent favour independence with 38 per cent in favour of the status quo. Interestingly, 38 per cent are also in favour of more powers for the Scottish Parliament. My fear has long been that despite the new powers proposed by the Calman Commission and which largely make up the Scotland Bill, we are no longer seen as the party that supports and initiates a process of devolving powers to the Scottish Parliament. As Jim Murphy recently pointed out, to a large extent, voters appear to see both ourselves and the SNP as social democratic parties, with one wrapped in the patriotic flag (this perceived closeness in terms of policy is also borne out by the Scottish Election Study).

The party that delivered a Scottish Parliament with tax-varying powers (a power the SNP let slide without bothering to tell anyone) should be at the forefront of the debate about how we increase the powers of the Parliament in order to improve the lives of the people in Scotland. We need to rid ourselves of the appearance of somehow appearing less Scottish or less patriotic; in fact events of the last few weeks seem to suggest that it is a political imperative.

Paul Devlin is a Labour Party activist in Glasgow South CLP.

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26 thoughts on “What really happened last month

  1. I agree. The shocking thing is that nearly 400,000 Labour voters (who voted for us in 2010) either did not vote (turnout was down about 20% on the Uk General Election), or voted SNP. We must look carefully at why that happened, and what we can do to get them back.

  2. I fear we are becoming a party of Northern England (plus Wales).

    We are fighting and losing on two fronts, e.g. Labour is actually weaker in South East England than the Tories are in Scotland.

    How we can become a truly British national party representing all parts of the UK is real big problem I can’t see the solution to.

  3. The electorate is becoming very sophisticated in the way that they are voting and I think that this is borne out from the research that has been conducted. It does appear that the electorate want Labour to represent them at Westminster but not so much as Holyrood. As this is case we have to adapt our strategy to take this into account by providing the electorate with the confidence to vote for Labour at both Parliaments (and not forgetting the Local council elections next year).

  4. What is so stark about the Election Study (albeit , much of the detail is still to emerge) is the fact that the six or seven week election campaign really had no impact on the result. That isn’t to say no one made their mind up during that time. The reason so many people made up their mind to support the SNP was the stark fact that the SNP government had a + 36% approval rating and our MSPs as a “government in waiting” had a -12% rating- despite being in opposition. In other words as soon as the public focused on the choice at a Scottish Parliament election , there was only one choice and frankly it wouldn’t have mattered what we said or did in the six weeks before polling day, the game was up. We simply weren’t a credible alternative and this was something that happened (or rather didn’t happen) over a four year period- or indeed probably longer with the decline and falling credibility starting under the previous Labour administration.

    There has been a lot of so-called analysis since polling day- often to suit people’s own agendas. Those on the so-called right claiming we failed to appeal to middle-class voters and those on the so-called left claiming we lost some of our core vote. Seems clear to me they are both correct! The last time the Labour Party truly recognised that we need a broad coalition to win back power that takes us beyond our comfort zone was in 1997. In Scotland, we have a long long way to go before we recognise that only a broad appeal will win us back power at the Scottish parliament election.

    However, I will avoid the trap the author of this article falls into and that is making assumptions before the full study is revealed. For example, one key issue is where did the 19% who voted Lib Dem in Scotland in 2010 go- not necessarily where the 11% who voted Lib Dem in 2007 went. The later figure is being used by some to suggest that somehow we did ok with ex Lib Dems, when its clear that the vast majority of people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 moved to the SNP.

    And to say that fewer than a third of our voters in 2010 switched to SNP suggests that just less than a third of a million voters is somehow a small number!

    1. Hi Jason – apologies that I’m only managing to reply to you now.
      The point I was trying to make was that the study shows that there many reasons for our defeat (and the scale of it) and we simply couldn’t ascribe it to Lib-Dem voters switching to the SNP, or indeed people who voted for Labour in 2010 voting SNP in 2011. As you say, there are a number of subtle complexities in the figures, with the +36%/-12% ratings a stark illustration of how credible each party was as a potential government.
      Re the Lib-Dem vote, I agree that the destination of their 19% in 2010 is important (especially given their result in Inverclyde last week), however I was only pointing out that their 2007 vote did not transfer ‘en masse’ to the SNP. I do agree with your point that we need to do better with people who previously voted Lib-Dem. In regard to your final point, I in no way meant to suggest that 300,000 is a small number, again I was pointing out that the percentage of those switching from us in 2010 to the SNP in 2011 was perhaps not as high as might have been expected given the result in May. In fact, I was trying to suggest that perhaps a significant number of them may have done so in the last few days of the campaign.

  5. Scottish Labour for right or wrong were seen to follow the London Labour line regardless of whether or not it would benefit the people of Scotland.
    Its always going to be easier for Alex to push for more and more regardless of any consequence him and his lot do actually wish to break up the Union.

    As for tax varying Labour wouldn’t touch it with a barge poll perhaps a direct link between what the snp spend and what the Scottish people pay might take the shine of Alex Salmond.

  6. Oh lordy, where can I begin with this post…

    “The SNP were seen as a competent government and a united party who ran a positive campaign, as well as one which keeps its promises (no laughing about class sizes from you teachers at the back)” – well prehaps if the McConnell administration had no kneecapped every council in the country by insisting that the school regeneration programme is funded through PFI, then education spending would not see billions wiped off their budgets before a penny is spent on pupils. The last tax year saw £800 million go towards servicing the PFI debt. How many teachers does that buy?

    “especially when they could blame opposition parties (ie, mainly Labour) for the failures of the other ten, including minimum pricing.” – So, tell me exactly what the Labour reason for opposition to minimum pricing was. Oh, that’s right, it was your opposition to the supermarkets gaining more money through alcohol sales. There are at least three good reasons why Minimum Pricing will fail, none of which was put forward by the rather wooden shadow cabinet (see here for my own post

    “My fear has long been that despite the new powers proposed by the Calman Commission and which largely make up the Scotland Bill, we are no longer seen as the party that supports and initiates a process of devolving powers to the Scottish Parliament.” – well prehaps you can start by explaining why we should stick with a tired and discredited institution which may be nearing its sell by date. No matter what I or anyone else thinks of her, you should have backed Wendy Alexander’s call to bring it on as it’s clear that the SNP are a little put off the referendum while the polls still point to a no vote. It’s also a thought that not very much thought has actually gone into Independence considering the surprise that the Monarchy and our (proposed) place in Europe became issues.

    “The party that delivered a Scottish Parliament with tax-varying powers (a power the SNP let slide without bothering to tell anyone) should be at the forefront of the debate about how we increase the powers of the Parliament” – so why is there so many caviats and disincentives to the use of those tax varying powers both in the Scotland Act (1998) and the current Calman inspired act?

    The truth is that the Labour vote has been in decline in Holyrood elections since 1999. The votes who deserted you in 2003 have not returned. Prehaps if you address the issues highlighted above, you may make a start.

    1. Surely the SNP realised when they promised smaller class sizes in 2007 that there were these PFI things which needed paying? Or are you suggesting that they made that promise with the deliberate intention of not keeping it?

      Why cant you comnment on the post, instead of using it as a platform for a whole different discussion?

      1. Er, I did comment on the post. See those ” ” things, they are quotation marks where I quoted from the post and responded to them.

        I’m sure the SNP were aware of the “PFI things”, but remember that the reason that PFI is so attractive to polititians is that most of the cost is “off sheet”. Gordon Brown fought to keep PFI re-payments off sheet, otherwise the deficit figures would be much worse than they are.

        1. So the point being that the SNP couldnt keep its promise about teachers because of the PFI payments was wrong? Perhaps you’d care to give us the real reason, instead of making one up to make some point not connected with the original article?

          1. John.

            Prehaps you would like to explain why the last Labour government fought to keep PFI re-payment figures “off sheet” (ie a secret from the public) and off the debt figures? It wouldn’t be the first time that an incoming government has found nasty surprises lurking in amongst the books (or as Danny Alexander put it “sewn some kippers in the curtains”).

  7. The vote is the vote – like it or not you have to determine why!.

    I still feel a true Scottish Labour mantle is required and at times on some topics clear water will develop. The new labour makeover was to attract the “southern middle class” vote but it alienated the North (England and Scotland.)

    I do think we spend too much time on negative campaigns instead of selling the core values and how they will be implemented.

    1. No political party has ever been successful by using a core vote strategy. A party needs to appeal to more than just it’s core vote.

      In the 80’s Labour’s problem was that it had no traction outside of the “heartlands”. The genius of New Labour was to realise that the working class are not the only people in the country. If any political party wants to govern it has to do so for all the people not just the faithful.

      What Scottish Labour needs is it’s own New Labour moment. To ask ourselves why don’t we appeal to the North of Scotland? How do we start to appeal to them?

      In short we need to appeal to the many not just the few.

  8. There may not be a majority (now) for independence but there is a growing demand for more powers for the Scottish Parliament (the reason should be obvious).

    Labour haven’t grasped that – I don’t know why as it would clearly give you a relevance that you didn’t have on May 5th.

  9. Labour lost because it did not deserve to win. I say that not as an attempt to gloat, but sometimes the obvious has to be stated clearly. The above article and analysis only demonstrates how it lost not why.
    At Holyrood the Labour vote has been falling every election since 1999. It has already been recognised by many that voters vote differently at Holyrood and Westminster elections. Labour seem to have been unable to recognise these facts, and worse if recognised seem to be unable to act on them.
    The SNP won because they were seen as being a competent government that had done “no bad”. This was further highlighted by Labour too often getting themselves on the wrong side of an argument, here I am thinking about things like minimal pricing, knife crime or the Tesco Tax. Yes I know there are reasons why these policies require to be scrutinised very closely, but to hear Labour defending big supermarkets from an additional £40m tax was almost surreal, and I am sure must, for some, have left them shaking their heads as they no longer recognised the Labour Party, that traditionally they had voted for.
    How to change all this? is it about structures, is it about rules, is it about selection processes, is it about policy, is it about presentation. Yes to all of these.
    Perhaps a starting point would be to explore a properly devolved Party, very closely affiliated at UK Labour, but separate and a proper Scottish Labour Party. However I suspect that this is unlikely to happen and we will get largely presentational changes but not real long term change.

  10. Is it any wonder that people see Labour as obstructing rather than initiating change. By panicking and forming a unionist block to initiate Calman, Labour gave the impression that none of it would have ever happened if the SNP hadn’t won in 2007 and initiated their National Conversation. Calman was seen by the press and everyone else from the start seen as a unionist blocking exercise, and Labour was seen as obsessed with blocking independence at all costs.

    So Labour’s image is now seen as grudging in its approach to more powers, Calman itself is seen by most as a cynical attempt to impose a system that doesn’t give much control to any Scottish government but makes it take more of the flack for economic decisions. This kind of maneuvering to outflank the SNP rather than having a positive position of fighting for more powers makes Labour appear to be nay-sayers, more interested in shoring up the UK than fighting Scotland’s corner.

    The bleedingly obvious conclusion is that the only way Labour can address this is by having a separate Scottish Party.

    1. Despite agreeing with much of what you say, I have to take issue with you saying “Calman is seen by most as a cynical attempt to impose a system that doesnt give much control to any Scottish Government”.

      I would suggest that 95% of the population of Scotland has never heard of Calman, or his commision. Of those who have heard of it who arnt in the Holyrood bubble of politics, many would have said it was about giving more powers to Scotland. If you had said “Calman is seen by most of the SNP as a cynical attempt….” then you would have been more accurate 🙂

      Part of the problem was the SNP’s lack of willingless to engage with Calman. It seems that now that more powers is seen by many nationalists as a stepping stone to independence, yet in 2007 they didnt want to argue for those additional powers in a forum that had the potential to deliver them (the Uk Governmnet in 2010 being either Labour or Tory – both supporters of Calman). Whinging about the lack of support for the National Conversation (which had such meaningful questions as “Do you still want to watch the BBC in an independent Scotland” and “Would you prefer to have a Scottish team at the Olympics”) was childish – it was always going to be the case that the other 3 parties would not look at independence on its own.

      What was needed in 2007 was a genuine all-party commision to look at all the options, and to come up with sensible proposals for the future of the Scottish Parliament. That it didnt is the fault of all sides, and not just one. Maybe then, it would have suggested more than it did?

      1. You can’t have an all-party commission if you refuse to even discuss one party’s point of view.

        1. Did I say that an all-party commision should refuse to discuss one party’s point of view?

          No. In fact I said the exact opposite. The reason why the national conversation was so derided (apart from some of the irrelevant things it wanted to talk about) was that it was only looking at things from one point of view – independence or nothing. The point I made was that the Calman commision could have been better if it had been all party and looked at ALL options, including independence and came up with a set of proposals which everyone could sign up to. I happen to think that would not have been independence, but would have been more than what it eventually did reocmmend.

      2. I am interested in what role you think the SNP could have played in the Calman context? Because the SNP’s position on what powers they want to see devolved from Westminster to Holyrood is pretty straightforward. All of them. That is our contribution in a nutshell and every single person who participated in Calman knew that perfectly well.

        However while supporting the complete transfer of powers from Westminster to Holyrood the SNP clearly recognised that there were those who wanted more powers but who wanted to stop short of independence. And the SNP offered to engage with that point of view to the extent of including a question on it on the ballot paper. That offer was rejected.

        So now we are in the position where the Scottish people have given the SNP a mandate to hold a referendum. It is still open to those who support the “devo max” option to suggest a) what it means and b) what description of devo max and what question they would like to be included on the ballot paper.

        So it is up to you to find your position on that. What powers do you want to be transferred to Holyrood and what powers do you want to be reserved to Westminster? If there is no answer to that, then the very limited transfer of powers contained in the Scotland Bill becomes “devo max” i.e. the maximum amount of devolution that the unionist parties are prepared to concede. And the referendum will be on that version of devo max versus independence rather than on a fuller transfer of powers versus a complete transfer of powers.

        So it is now up to you to engage with the SNP on that and to do so as soon as is practicable because they are not going to wait forever.

        1. Although this is purely hypothetical, my point was that a better version of the Scotland bill could have come from the involvement of the SNP with the Calman commision. Politics is the art of the possible someone once said, and it involves compromise and discussion and agreement. Except you are suggesting that the SNP’s position would have been “we want it all or we’re going to cry foul”. Hardly constructive. You can hardly complain about the contents of the Scotland bill if you didnt want to take part in creating it, can you?

          1. For John Ruddy: Calman himself ruled out even considering independence, declaring unambiguosly that the union was paramount.

            How on earth could the SNP have been part of his commission?

          2. Do I have to spell it out in words of one syllable? Or just speak really slowly?

            He should have considered every option! And then the SNP should have agreed to support his final proposals whatever they said – as should the other parties. It would have produced something better which the whole of Scotland could unite behind. Instead you had one lot going off in a huff and saying “our way or no way” and another lot saying the same.

            But you’re probably deliberately mis-interpreting what I have been trying to say because you believe in the independence or nothing, instead of coming up with something good for the whole of Scotland.

  11. I pretty much agree with much of that, but, even if the general public don’t know much about the details of Calman, Labour still has the problem, as the post above indicates, that its rhetoric and actions often makes it appear generally cautious and grudging, regardless of the merits of what it does. It’s also wrong to claim there aren’t widespread misgivings about the Calman tax proposals,
    and not just amongst nationalists.

    Of course the issue over SNP involvement in what everyone and his dog was characterising as a unionist front to stymie the SNP, is just the latest in a long history of such claims and counterclaims, including the SNPs in-and-out of the Constitutional Convention.

    Labour biggest problem has been that it’s tended to react to the threat of the SNP rather than have a clear idea about what kind of decentralised Britain it wants. My impression is that part of the problem is that there is little or no appetite for this partly because many of the issues it throws up appear insoluble, especially the West Lothian Question and demands for an English Parliament.

    1. yes, Labour needs to come to a conclusion about what vision we have for Scotland, and set it out. We must then be prepared to campaign for that vision, and gain support for it across the whole of Scotland.

      A grudging acceptance of the status quo, or a backward looking retrenchment is not going to cut the mustard.

  12. One contributory factor in recent SNP success derives from their ability to spell out their headline messages to the electorate in a way the voters can grasp. Without going into details the voters see on TV a First Minister who appears to cow his opponents. Outwith parliament the Labour message is complex and often appears peripheral. The last thing Labour needs at this juncture is another irrelevant, internecine struggle on Scottish Labour’s status vis a vis the party in the rest of the UK.

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