Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Red Shoots Of Recovery

For a change of tack, I thought it would be good to hear about the recent General Election from an insiders point of view.  So first up, we have a guest post from Lauren Gilmour from Scottish Labour.

Lauren is a Labour Party member and activist, and exiled Buddie living in Glasgow, who has a degree in Politics from UWS.  Lauren's post is about how Labour can kickstart it's recovery in Scotland.

What a difference two years make… 

We didn’t see that one coming. Even as the exit polls, proven to be very wrong at the last election, came in predicting a hung parliament, we didn’t see it coming.

We’ll be taking a look more closely at the campaign Labour ran in the general election both across the country, in Scotland and in the West of Scotland.

It wasn’t always going to be this way. Labour went into this campaign with dismal poll ratings of 25%. They were predicted to fall under 200 seats in an election loss similar to 1931. But Corbyn had a trick up his sleeve – to run the general campaign in the same, positive, upbeat way he ran his two previous leadership election campaigns, which both delivered stonking victories.

Gradually this worked. We saw Corbyn in his element – proposing not opposing. Ironically, Corbyn’s campaign events attracted more and more media attention as they grew due to a focus on the broadcast media, rather than the print media. Journalists who would push a pro-Labour line were also identified in a strategy similar to Tony Blair’s 1997 strategy.

In contrast, Theresa May’s campaign was limited to the reluctant party faithful and very sympathetic journalists who did little to challenge her. Labour election rallies were open to whoever wanted to go. Corbyn grew more and more comfortable, speaking and rallying the crowds. He moved from speaking behind a podium to being able to make off the cuff speeches with just a small black notebook to prompt him. The internet meme machine was also in full force during the election, while they weren’t alone in delivering a good result, they certainly helped to mobilise the youth vote – thought to be around 70%. The youth vote was also responsible for winning in places like Canterbury who have had a Tory MP since 1918. There were some truly historic victories during the evening of the 8th of June.

In Scotland, there was a noticeable shift in attitude towards the Labour Party. Lets face it, things couldn’t have gotten any worse after the 2015 election humiliation and finishing third behind the Tories in last year’s Scottish parliament elections. Scottish Labour was buoyed by a Corbyn boost, he appeared three times in Scotland during the six week campaign culminating in an early morning, pre-work rally the day before the general election. In 2015, Labour activists were subjected to things like being chased with chainsaws and having election events picketed by extreme nationalist fringe groups. Towns and cities were plastered with stickers saying “red tories out” and doors were slammed in faces.

Now on the doors, people were willing to listen to what we had to say and even switch from the SNP back to Labour because the SNP had been largely absent. The Labour campaign was more visible in a lot of areas and as a result, the SNP vote fractured. SNP voters either did not turn out, voted Labour or Tory.

The biggest surprise of the night was Labour winning six seats back from the SNP in addition to their now safe seat of Edinburgh South. The mood within the party was that we would be having a good night if we managed to retain Edinburgh South and win an additional seat. Some unfortunately missed out like Angela Feeney in Motherwell and Wishaw and Matt Kerr in Glasgow South West who lost by just 60 votes.

Whilst Labour exceeded expectations, there is now a feeling that we could have done better. Scottish Labour’s vote share went down in areas which until 2015, were Labour heartlands including Renfrewshire and Ayrshire. In Paisley and Renfrewshire North the Conservative vote went up by 15.3% and in it’s southern neighbour, the share of the vote went up by 11.8%. Labour in North Ayrshire were knocked into third place by the Tories.

This is in contrast to other deindustrialised areas in Scotland such as Midlothian, East Lothian and Fife who all returned Labour MPs. The experience being on the doors in these areas matched the results at the ballot box. In Midlothian the response was very positive for Labour, but in Ayrshire, not so much.

In east coast former mining areas and in Lanarkshire there is more of an industrial legacy that binds working class people together in a way that it no longer does in the West of Scotland. Particularly in Paisley and Renfrewshire – many of those who worked in the mills here have now passed on and the experiences of mill workers in Paisley exists only in the heads of those with parents or grandparents who worked there. For many in the Lothians and in Lanarkshire it is still a first hand memory.

We also have to recognise that there is more of a tradition of protestant loyalist unionism in the West of Scotland. Where these people used to vote Labour in the knowledge that the union would be safe, they now feel that the Conservative Party are best placed to preserve the union, ironically.

Seats like Inverclyde came within a whisker of going Labour once again and Paisley could once again be winnable. When we look at the campaigns run by Labour candidates in Paisley and Renfrewshire, Inverclyde and East Renfrewshire, they have a very overtly pro-union message primarily. Jobs and the economy come secondary to the union.

What lessons should Scottish Labour learn from this?

We don't have to spend lots of money to deliver victories – resources and money were pumped into East Renfrewshire to buoy Blair McDougall. Sadly, this did nothing to boost Mr McDougall's chances. Conversely, in Glasgow North East, Paul Sweeney's campaign was delivered on a shoestring budget and he won.

Indyref 2 is well and truly off the agenda now. It would serve Scottish Labour well to put it on a back burner, too. It's time for Scottish Labour to be more ambitious and aim for the SNP vote. Supporting the union is not and never was the raison dĂȘtre of the Labour Party.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

331* Days Of May

The tagline for many a left wing and Scottish Nationalist campaign against the Conservatives was “Let June be the end of May”.  While that didn’t quite happen on the 331st day in Downing Street for Theresa May, it’s a day that will be coming thanks to events from 7am last Thursday onwards.

May at her Maidstone count on the morning of 9 June 2017.
Yes, that is one of the candidates behind her.
A lot has been written about how dreadful the Tory campaign was, and how it was driven by a left hand of May’s advisors and a right hand of Australian campaign co-ordinator Lynton Crosby.  I suspect an awful lot more will come out, once May leaves the stage.  However, I wonder if May herself contributed to her downfall.  While we may dislike the slimey failed PR guru that was Cameron, at least he did not hide away to the extent that May did during the campaign.

One other thing strikes me with hindsight about the Tory campaign, the utter arrogance of it all.  Whether it was the thought that they could go into the campaign with undercooked ideas, that refusal to engage with normal voters or even the thought process which led to May subverting the Fixed Terms Act (2011), it all feels like a party where complacency had smashed in the front door and taken over their house.  If not complacency, then perhaps a curse?  Certainly every campaign slogan thought up by Crosby has rebounded in grand style on the Tories.  “Strong & Stable” lasted as long as it took for the so called Dementia Tax to unravel, while the attack line on Corbyn’s alleged IRA links were countered online by May’s own links to the Daesh funding Saudi Arabian regime, whom May signed a trade deal with several months ago.  Now that May is seeking a confidence & supply agreement with a party with it’s own terrorist links, as well as having views that even Daesh might consider backward, then this pretty much immunises Corbyn from further attacks along the IRA line.

The question though is where do the Tories go from here.  At this moment, I suspect that it’s not that hopeless for them.  I don’t think it’s a given that the government will collapse in a couple of months and we could be back at the polling stations again before the leaves turn yellow.  For one thing the Tories are the great survivors of UK politics, having adapted to so many conditions to be the natural party of government for pretty much all of the 20th Century.  For another for all of the outstanding praise levelled at Corbyn & Co, the Tories did end up the largest party on Friday falling 8 seats short.  It’s a situation which will need managing, but is not without precedent.  Even through a four or five year spell.

Most recently, we have seen the SNP, under Alex Salmond wheel & deal their way through their first term.  Many thought that they’d crumble, including Scottish Labour who thought that if the SNP didn’t self destruct then they’d win the following election.  Well, that was before their leader went for a sandwich.  Before that though was the years when Labour were in office with knife edge majorities and having to cobble together deals to stay in office.  Who knew that it would be May bringing back the 1970’s.

Callaghan leaves No 10 for the last time, May 4 1979
In the aftermath of the October 1974 election, Labour emerged with a majority of 3 seats.  That majority soon disappeared, with Labour soon seeking and getting a ‘confidence & supply’ deal with the Liberals.  When that collapsed the Labour government existed on a day to day basis.  It was the years of long days and late nights voting which partly feeds into Scottish Labour’s visceral hatred of the SNP, their “betrayal” over the events when it all came crashing down.  On Wednesday 28th March 1979.

Those two examples show that it’s possible for the Tories to cling on and survive.  For May, things will be different.  I suspect that if the men in grey suits don’t pay May a visit during the summer, then it will be during the October party conference.  I don’t expect her to lead the Tories into next year’s English Local election campaign.  As for how long the Tories cling on for, I suspect we’ll be going to the polls again next Autumn.  And it won’t be for Indyref 2.

* - 331 days, not out, in office on 9 June 2017

Sunday, 11 June 2017

General Election 2017: Tale Of The Tape

About 10 minutes to 6 on Friday Morning, Labour held on to the seat of Southampton Test.  This result made it mathematically impossible for the Conservatives to win an outright majority, confirming a second 'hung parliament' within three elections and confirmed the exit poll announced simultaneously on BBC, ITV and on Sky News as being an accurate forcast of what was to come.  We had to wait until about 9pm on Friday night for the final result, Labour gaining the seat of Kensington after a third re-count.

This gave us a final result of:-

318 (-13)
262 (+32)
35 (-19)/4 (+1)
Liberal Democrats
12 (+4)

Conservatives short by 8 Seats    Turnout – 68.7%

A lot of the commentary has been about May’s failure to build on her inheritance from Cameron, about the poor election campaign and May’s ramrod refusal to engage in televised set piece interviews and debates and of course the incident which started the Tory rot – the manifesto including the so called ‘Dementia tax’.  However it should be pointed out how many votes the Tories still garnered in spite of a bad campaign

A share of 42.5% represents the highest share of the vote for the Conservatives for 25 years, while over 13.5 million votes is also the most votes the Conservatives have attracted since John Major won his election in 1992.  What has thwarted the Conservatives in their attempt to win a landslide has been the performance of Labour, who garnered their highest share of the vote since the second of Blair’s three election wins in 2001 (and is 4.8% higher than the last of their election victories, in 2005).  In terms of votes however, you’d need to go back to the Blair landslide of 1997 for the last time Labour attracted as many votes and the last time they had a net gain of seats.  You’d also need to go back to June 1970 for the last Election where both parties gathered over 12 million votes.

Whilst it is true that Labour have lost this election, they clearly have momentum now.  The Corbyn vision of a fairer, more equalitarian, society has attracted many voters including that constituency which previously did not vote in big numbers – the young.  It was this tempering of the figures in line with precedent which led to pollsters predicting 7%+ leads for the Tories in the days leading up to election day. Quite rightly, some Labour figures are speculating why Labour lost a third election in a row.  Though I suspect that the likes of McTernan, Chris Leslie & co (speculating that a ‘better’ leader would have won) won’t be speculating that they are precisely the reason Corbyn didn’t do better.  If anything cost Labour this election, look no further than McTernan, Dripping Poison, Tom Harris and the other bitter Progress wingers in the Punderatti or in politics who have spent two years talking down and undermining Corbyn.  After all, it’s no coincidence that Corbyn’s poll ratings improved substantially once election impartiality rules kicked in.  It is not now unconceivable that a second General Election with May leading the Tories could see her defeated and Corbyn entering Downing Street.

Of course, May is not the only politician who’s ‘victory’ is somewhat pyrrhic.  Here in Scotland, the SNP retained 35 of the 56 seats won in 2015 which still represents their second best election result ever.  Most of the media have (correctly) focused on both the 21 seats lost, the loss of big hitters like Alex Salmond (below) and Angus Robertson and the 13.4% swing to the Scottish Tories and have drawn the conclusion that this was a strong anti-Indyref 2 vote.  I suspect its a bit more complicated than that.

Scotland Results

35 (-19)
36.9% (-13.1)
13 (+12)
28.6% (+13.7)
7 (+6)
27,1% (+2.8)
Lib Dems
4 (+3)
6.8% (-0.8)

I think the turning point in the SNP’s fortunes can be attributed to the SNP policy on a second Independence referendum being brought forward if there was a “material change” in the circumstances of Scotland, such as “Scotland being dragged out of the EU against it’s will”.  As time goes on, the First Minister’s threat of a second Independence referendum in the aftermath of the EU Referendum looks more and more like two big tactical missteps.  While it is true that the galvanising effect of the Independence Referendum has now seen a coalescing of a pro-UK vote around the Tories, I suspect that the trigger for this result though is more to do with the SNP’s tying a second referendum to membership of the EU.

As I have said previously, to successfully make the case for “material change”, the pro EU vote in Scotland had to be at least 65-66%.  As it fell at 62%, my conclusion is that this did not provide Sturgeon or the SNP with the political space to pursue a second referendum and that the SNP should wait for a "material change" which Scottish voters can identify and strongly disagree with.  Instead, the SNP continued to pursue this policy and as a result have alienated both remain and leave voters.  They alienated Brexit voters, including 36% of their own voters from 2015, by sidelining and ignoring them.  They alienated remain voters by using their votes as a proxy to launch ‘Indyref 2’ – thus offending pro-Union pro-EU voters.  As a result, the most euro sceptic part of Scotland voted out the resoundingly pro-EU SNP and for the more Eurosceptic Tories, hence the defeats for Robertson, Salmond & Whiteford.

The punderatti and the commentators, prompted by Ruth Davidson, rushed to bury Independence and declare Indyref 2 dead.  I don’t think Independence or Indyref 2 is dead, what is clearly damaged beyond repair is the Sturgeon/Salmond grand plan for a referendum before the end of divorce proceedings with the EU.  This election is clear proof of what I’ve been saying since the EU referendum, that a second independence referendum is not winnable this side of Brexit.  If anything, this election result should act as a huge wake up call for the SNP.  For them, they should dial back the talk of a second referendum and have a long look at how they can win a referendum starting with a proper autopsy on the 2014 campaign.  I think there is one other factor at play for the SNP’s drop in vote, a factor completely unrelated to Independence.

The SNP themselves have run a pretty poor campaign, one not highlighting the work their MP’s did but putting their Holyrood team and its leadership front and centre, thus making the difficulties that the SNP government are having regarding health and education a part of the narrative of this election.  Clearly then the poor performance of the SNP government will be something they will now have time to put right before the next Holyrood elections. This also is the second campaign in a row where they have run a New Labour-esque campaign with included inconsistencies, a campaign which quite easily got outflanked by Corbyn’s Labour party. It could be argued that Scottish Labour have made a similar tactical mistake.  That Scottish Labour only picked up six seats is not a signifier of the SNP’s strength but of Scottish Labour’s refusal to campaign on the Corbyn manifesto.  If you look at the results, there are now 6 SNP held seats with majorities under 650 votes (Gethins in North East Fife, Wishart in Perth & North Perthshire, Glasgow South West, Glasgow East, Airdrie & Shotts and Lanark & Hamilton East) and in good place for a number of others.  Whatever ‘Scottish’ Labour types think of Corbyn, the policies he proposes are much more in tune with Scottish thinking than any attempt to ape the Ulster unionists and their Scottish copyists.

The result of this election has come slightly from leftfield, both the Tories thought they’d be on their way to a 70+ majority while the SNP, their social media cheerleaders and...  well... me... simply did not see the level of losses they would suffer.  I wrote a couple of weeks about 1997 and how that election was a gamechanger in the mould of 1945 and 1979.  This election has the feel of being the precursor election, where the pieces are moving into place.  With signs of the country moving leftwards and the SNP losing seats, maybe this is the election where the move away from the cosy right wing consensus at Westminster began.