Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Extincta eorum inutilis

In today's poll for IpsosMORI/Scottish Television today, Scottish Labour face utter annihilation. 

It is the third poll this week to show the National party on a majority of the vote, something last achieved by the old Unionist party in the 1955 Westminster election.

The voting intentions are:

National 54%
Scottish Labour 20%
Conservative/Unionist 17%
Liberal 5%
Green 2%
Others 2%

with a projection (assuming a uniform national swing which is unlikely to occur) of seats being:

National 59
Others    0

The headline figure isn't the important thing, though: the important thing is what, for Scottish Labour's fifty or so remaining volunteers in Glasgow, must be a scrotum-tighteningly close gap between the two main Unionist parties. It's now down to just 3% - a margin of error difference. 

Let's take a look at the Conservatives' performance in modern elections.

In 2010, they scored 17% of the vote. In 2005, they got 16%. In 2001, they got 16%. In 1997, they got 18%. That's an average of 17% of the vote - exactly what they're projected to get in this election. And their average number of seats is one.

It's clear, therefore, that about 17% of the vote is the Tories' bedrock figure, the lowest they can get. In the absence of another centre-right party, it can be safely assumed they will always get this. 

In 1992, they got 25% of the vote. Where did that 8% go? 

Well, it isn't a massive stretch to make an assumption that when Neil Kinnock handed over to Tony Blair, and a socialist Labour party became a quasi-conservative New Labour party, 8% of pro-Europe Conservative voters in Scotland moved to Labour. The right wing of Labour and the left wing of the Conservatives overlap quite comfortably, and to a much greater extent than either of them would like to believe.

Now, here's the thing. If the Tories can tempt those voters back, they leap ahead of Scottish Labour and become the largest Unionist party. 

When Scottish Labour made possibly the worst calculation in realpolitik terms by any major political party in European history in reacting to being outflanked on the left by appointing a Blairite right-winger as Branch Manager; reacting to being perceived as a Unionist-only party by appointing a hardline Loyalist to be the public face of the party, they doomed themselves on two fronts: the Left (which did include pro-Union elements and who are now turned off of potentially voting Scottish Labour by a hard-right leadership), and the Yes vote (which included centre-Left and soft-Right elements and who are now turned off of potentially voting Scottish Labour by an extremist Unionist leadership).

So they face a perfect storm. The groups which might have been expected to swing to Scottish Labour in a Chirac-style "clothes peg election" to save the country from the Tories are repulsed by them.

And many people who might have voted for Scottish Labour if only there was a reason to do so won't, because Scottish Labour's single-issue campaign is "vote Scottish Labour to stop a Tory government", and people just don't believe that. They don't believe it because they know that as long as Constituency X returns an MP committed to keeping the Conservatives out, it doesn't matter if it's a red or yellow MP - it's not a blue one (not in Anne MacTaggart terms) and that's all that matters. 

But fundamentally, they don't believe that voting for Scottish Labour stops Conservatism. It might stop a Conservative Party government, but not a conservative government. And increasingly, they seem to be coming to the understanding that only by having Ed Miliband, a remarkable man who could make an excellent prime minister, reliant on the votes of the centre-left National party MPs in much the same way as John Major was pulled to the right by the far-right of his Conservative MPs, can we have a government which is more socially just and socially responsible. The electorate, at heart, have seen a Scottish Labour party campaign alongside the Conservative party for two years for the right of the latter to rule Scotland - even should it have zero MPs here - and wonder quite how that tallies with "voting Labour to stop the Tories". And they wonder how a party endorsed by Norman Tebbit and the repulsive, batrachian David Coburn can quite represent the decent working-class majority. They'll figure that voting for the National party will stop the Tories just as well as voting Scottish Labour would - but without that taint of betrayal. 

People simply don't like Jim Murphy, they don't trust Jim Murphy, and they won't vote for Jim Murphy - but worse than that, for Labour: not only are they not voting Scottish Labour, the Scottish Labour brand itself has become toxic. The reaction of the public to Scottish Labour in this election will be familiar to anyone who saw the reaction to the Tories in Scotland in the 1997 election. 

The real danger for Scottish Labour at this election is that if they come third - and that now can't be ruled out - people who cast their votes for the Union and the Union alone will look to the Conservatives to protect the Union, not Scottish Labour. They will instinctively vote for the largest Unionist party - as they have always done. It doesn't matter to them if it's Scottish Labour or the Conservatives, the Union is all that matters in their hearts and in their souls. Scottish Labour's embrace of tactical voting, with people like Michael Kelly and Robert McNeill - still Scottish Labour members - urging Scottish Labour supporters to vote Liberal and Conservative without any indication that the party might object to, or discipline, them, has potentially locked the party into a spiral of extinction.

Because if Scottish Labour isn't for centre-left policies, what is it for?

And if it's not the largest Unionist party, what is it for?

In the Canadian Federal election of 1993, the Progressive Conservative party went from being the government with 149 seats, to having 2 seats. They scored 16% of the vote. That is uncomfortably close to where Scottish Labour is today - at 20% and collapsing. 

If the Labour party is a moral crusade or it is nothing, then it is nothing. In Scotland, it ceased to be a moral crusade a generation ago. Perhaps GE15 is Indyref for slow learners. Perhaps this might be the last election in which we have the opportunity to vote for a Scottish Labour candidate. 

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