Those of you who thought we could ignore Scotland after the No vote in September’s referendum and go back to the idea that politics exists largely within the Westminster village were mistaken. The Scots are still dominating the political news agenda. Largely as a result of the disarray that Scottish Labour have found themselves in, over the past week.
This whole narrative has various applications to the AS politics course.
Firstly in summary- what has been going on.
1) Johann Lamont the Leader of Scottish Labour (she led the MSPs and the MPs) resigned last Friday, some commentators have suggested that she resigned before she was pushed. Johann Lamont’s resignation per se wasn’t a major problem. However, her resignation was accompanied by a stinging attack on Ed Miliband and the Labour leadership citing that she felt that he treated Scottish Labour as a ‘branch office’.
2) This prompted a flurry of speculation as to who could replace Johann Lamont with various candidates including Gordon Brown being suggested. Brown ruled himself out of the race.
3) So far three candidates have put themselves forward for the post (the leadership election is scheduled for December). The candidates are Jim Murphy MP (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development) and two MSP Neil Findlay and Sarah Boyack.
4) STV commissioned a poll yesterday asking Scottish voters how they would vote in a General Election. Despite their defeat in the referendum the SNP would secure 52% and Labour’s support would collapse to 23%. Now as you know votes don’t equal seats under FPTP. But it is predicated that this would translate into 54 seats for the SNP (they currently have 9), Labour’s support would collapse from 41 MPs to only 4, the Lib Dems would secure 1 MP and the Conservatives would be wiped out.
Now this has numerous applications to our study of Unit 1 and Unit 2.
Firstly Labour look set to undertake a period of fratricide. Jim Murphy and Neil Findlay are the front runners in this election and they represent a dichotomy in the Labour party. MP v MSP, Blairite v left winger. This isn’t just a battle for the leadership this is a battle for what it means to be Labour in Scotland. Jim Murphy comes from a relatively impoverished Glaswegian background but rose through the ranks as a Blairite, he sits on the right of the Labour Party and believes that to stop the rot of Labour’s falling support in Scotland there must not be ‘clear red water’ between Westminster and Holyrood e.g. Scottish Labour must not drift to the left. Despite being seen as a Westminster politician Murphy is popular in his homeland and his one man 100 town campaign tour for the ‘no’ campaign during the referendum won him many fans. In contrast Neil Findlay MSP (and Shadow Health Secretary in the Scottish Parliament) come from the left of the party. Findlay had wanted Brown to stand but following the former PMs decision not to contest the election Findlay has put himself forward. Findlay is a member for the Campaign for Socialism groups within Labour and it is likely that he will gain the backing of the Trade Unions (who have a third of the voting power in December’s election). This looks set to be a classic internal Labour battle. Left v Right, Old Labour v New Labour, Brownite v Blairite but with the added dimension of Scotland v Westminster, MP v MSP thrown in. It could however, potentially irrevocably damage the Labour Party. Not only in Scotland but also beyond. Ed Miliband will not want the fissures and cleavages that still bubble under the surface of the Labour Party to be exposed so graphically and so publicly only 5 months before a general election.
If Labour do collapse in Scotland as per the STV poll this also raises important points.
Firstly, Labour tend to win General Elections because of their support in Scotland. Labour would have been in power with workable majorities on only 3 occasions (1945, 1997 and 2001) in the twentieth century without their support base in Scotland. If they are wiped out here it is unlikely that they will be able to muster a majority at Westminster even if they are fractionally ahead in the poll of the popular vote across the UK. Part of the reason FPTP favours Labour at present is Scotland. The seats are smaller and the Scots are overrepresented- both of these factors serve to compound the FPTP electoral bias that favours Labour.
Secondly, it puts a different complexion on the West Lothian Question- Labour’s rump of c. 40 Scottish MPs are a key reason why the Conservatives want the question solved, the same principle would stand with a left wing SNP dominating but it might change Ed Miliband’s views on the subject…
Thirdly, it raises interesting questions about the SNP. The SNP were defeated in the referendum, by a bigger margin than many pollsters had predicted, they lost their charismatic, talismanic lead (Alex Salmond) and yet the whole experience seems to have benefitted them. It is likely Nicola Sturgeon will take the party further to the left, a move that some have questioned (it is as Downs and his bell curve would suggest) received wisdom that elections are won in the centre ground) but this left wing rhetoric appears to be welcomed by Scots who have started to take the SNP seriously not only at Holyrood but also at Westminster
Finally, it brings to the fore issues concerning the changing party system. Britain can clearly no longer claim to be a two party system. But I will discuss this further in my next post.
If you want to read more about the current state of Scottish politics I would have a look at the following: