By Noman Tahir
Back in 1995, when the Tories were busy peddling the politics of fear about the possible establishment of a Scottish Parliament, Lord George Robertson infamously claimed that: “devolution will kill nationalism stone dead”.
Fast-forward sixteen years and his words have come back to haunt Scottish Labour, with the party’s worst nightmare turning into a stark reality. The seismic shift brought about by the elections last week has obliterated the political landscape in Scotland.
Even the Scottish Parliament’s complex voting system, which was designed to prevent the SNP from obtaining an outright majority, could not stop Alex Salmond’s party from gaining 69 out of the 129 available seats. Now, with a nationalist MSP elected as Presiding Officer and the opposition parties in tatters, Alex Salmond is Holyrood’s Don Corleone.
The emphatic nature of last week’s results poses a couple of intriguing questions.
First and foremost, what next for the Labour Party in Scotland? When Ed Miliband described the Scottish election as a vital moment in Labour’s rebuilding across the United Kingdom, even he could not have envisaged receiving such an unadulterated electoral battering north of the border. Within as late a timescale as March, opinion polls indicated that Iain Gray, Labour’s candidate for First Minister, was on course to rout the election. But during the eight weeks prior to polling day, Scottish Labour produced what can only be described as a car crash of a campaign – with no direction, little appeal and much negativity.
Looking ahead, Labour’s new batch of 37 parliamentarians includes 15 untried politicians. Big-hitters such as Finance spokesperson Andy Kerr, ex-leader Wendy Alexander and former Health Minister Tom McCabe are no longer in Holyrood.
The solitary light flickering at the end of this dark tunnel is that only twelve months ago Labour won 41 of the 59 Scottish seats for the UK Parliament. Labour is still a force in Scottish politics. However, the party must learn the lessons from this flawed campaign and start listening carefully to what people are saying on the doorsteps.
With a new Scottish leader due to be elected in the autumn, Labour has to refine its message and build a campaign machine as smooth and well oiled as the SNP’s skilled set-up. Ed Miliband’s party can no longer simply talk the talk in Scotland. And no longer can Miliband rely on the ubiquitous donkey in a red rosette to gallop home north of the border. A root and branch review must be followed up with a root and branch overhaul to prevent Labour from heading towards a generation in the Scottish political doldrums. The Scottish Conservatives can testify as to how unpleasant an experience that is.
Meanwhile, the second big question, regarding the future of the United Kingdom, is going to dominate Scottish politics over the coming years – especially as the SNP attempts to make Westminster dance to a Scottish jig: are the majority of Scots currently in favour of Scottish independence? Simply put, no. However, with rumours suggesting that an independence referendum could be scheduled around the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn (and in advance of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow), who would bet against Alex Salmond’s political nous? I certainly wouldn’t.
Noman Tahir, @NomanTahir, previously worked for Alex Salmond in the House of Commons. He currently works as a consultant at a leading global public relations firm.
Photo by: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
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