On Thursday 5th May 2016 voters will go to the polls for the fifth Holyrood election, with Scottish Labour having won two and lost two. The Scottish Labour Party, with 38 out of 129 seats, is starting from its worst position since 1999.
With the election process for the new Leader of the Scottish Labour Party in full swing, it is appropriate to have a discussion about what Scottish Labour needs to do to attract support in order to win in 2016. In a 2011 SPICE report, Professor John Curtice highlights that Labour’s vote fell away most heavily in areas with more working class voters and in areas with high levels of social deprivation. However, what I think is important to remember is that working class people are working class people, regardless of where we live. A working class family in Cowdenbeath should be just as likely to support Labour as a working class family in Clackmannanshire. More importantly, with additional members elected to Holyrood via the proportional, D’Hont method, we need to appreciate that a Labour vote on the regional list in a safe SNP seat, can be worth exactly the same as a regional vote in a safe Labour constituency.
The Scottish Fabians, in their “Rebuilding a winning coalition for 2016”, discussion paper and “Beermat strategy” discussions, highlight that drop off in Labour support on the second vote in 2011, was in excess of 10 per cent in some places. However, an improvement of just over 1 per cent in Labour’s list vote from the SNP, would have prevented an overall SNP majority. We in the Scottish Labour Party have perhaps been stuck in the mindset of traditional, first past the post, Westminster elections. However, what we need to do is persuade every working class voter to use at least one of their votes for Labour, regardless of where they live.
So what is the solution?
I believe it is Neil Findlay MSP. Anyone who read his Morning Star article last month calling for Labour to outflank the SNP from the Left, discovered a list of radical, yet practical policies that would not only put clear red water between Scottish Labour and the SNP but more importantly, make a real difference to the lives of working people in Scotland. Raising the minimum wage to the living wage; a national house-building programme; re-democratising local government, creating quality apprenticeships; creating new college places; full employment; and building a charter of workers’ rights; producing an industrial policy that promotes manufacturing and new sustainable jobs would not just appeal to voters in particular constituencies but to would have broad, practical appeal to working people all across Scotland.
When it comes to gaining additional Labour voters Neil Findlay would also be fantastic. If there is one thing I learnt from the independence referendum, it was that optimism and positivity resonate well with voters, even if they do not know the policy detail. What could be more positive than a radical socialist programme? However, Neil is also very critical of Tony Blair’s New Labour Government and as a result, he can use the same approach as the SNP do with former Labour voters and empathise with them regarding how much they let us all down. In addition with this, Neil’s long history of working with the trade unions provides another route for support at the ballot box.
I certainly do not like top-down organisational change, however, we have to accept that national opinion and leadership matters. Although not explicitly stated on the ballot paper, working people will be voting for a party and a leader. I think we would want to vote for Neil Findlay’s, worker’s, Scottish Labour Party.
Scott Nicholson, Scottish Labour SEC member