The Labour Leadership Election Through Scottish Eyes
Once seen as having a firm hold of the electorate in Scotland, the Labour Party have seen their grip slip north of the border in a steady decline over a number of years.
If that fact hadn’t dawned on those within and outside of the party, the general election of 2019 acted as a stark reminder. Winning just one seat in Scotland was viewed as utterly disastrous for a party that has long had a strong affiliation with the country.
This near-wipeout in Scotland proved to be just one of many blows inflicted on the Labour party in the aftermath of the election, with much of the blame falling at the feet of party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Less than 24 hours removed from Labour’s worst election defeat of the post-war era, Corbyn announced his intention to step aside and allow for someone new to lead the party.
Three candidates remain in the race to become the next Labour leader; Sir Keir Starmer, Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey. All three candidates have publicly expressed how crucial winning back Scotland is in the party’s bid to win power at UK level for the first time since 2005.
Starmer, the current frontrunner in the race, has said “we can’t win without Scotland, so we must rebuild in Scotland.”
The shadow Brexit secretary has stated that if the SNP were to win the 2021 Holyrood election, it would have a mandate for a second independence referendum, but he personally believes independence wouldn’t be the “right way forward” for Scotland.
Nandy, who says there is “no route to government that doesn’t run through Scotland”, is the only backbencher left in the race.
The MP for Wigan clashed with Nicola Sturgeon earlier this year, after saying that Labour should “look to Catalonia” in regard to combatting nationalism. The First Minister expressed her displeasure with the comments, but Nandy described the SNP’s take on her words as “wilful misrepresentation.”
Eva Murray, a Labour councillor for Glasgow’s Garscadden and Scotstounhill, explained to me why she feels Nandy is the right candidate to restore Scotland’s trust in Labour.
“We need a leader who won’t undermine our Scottish leadership or policy making – Lisa , to me, is the only candidate I trust to work, respect and support Scottish Labour – she’s already committed to having our leader, Richard Leonard, in her shadow cabinet” she said.
Many would argue that Long-Bailey has been the most forthcoming in showing support for more devolved powers for Scotland, saying she’d like Holyrood to be on “equal footing with Westminster.”
The shadow business secretary remains the only candidate to say she would grant powers to the Scottish parliament to hold a second independence referendum, warning that failing to do so would “drive more our voters into the hands of the SNP.”
During a conversation with Matt Kerr, who is currently running for deputy leader of Scottish Labour, he told me why he feels Long-Bailey’s stance is “spot on” and detailed his confusion at those within the party who are against re-engaging in the independence debate.
“I think it’s absurd. I think it’s indefensible. We’re democrats. We’re democratic socialists. If people want a second referendum, it doesn’t matter if I want independence or not, we shouldn’t be standing in the way of the debate.”
Currently the councillor for Cardonald West, Kerr is blatantly honest about the harsh realities the Labour party must face in order to win back those in Scotland who have become disillusioned with the party.
“We’ve been out of power for 13 years in Scotland, but we’re still seen as the party of the establishment. We’ve become very managerial. We became used to having power. If we’re going to have any chance of recovery in Scotland, we need to break with that decisively”.
As someone from a small mining village in Midlothian, Labour’s slow atrophy has been increasingly apparent in my community as the years have gone by. The general election of 2015 saw Midlothian’s first non-Labour MP since the constituency’s inception in 1955.
In terms of seats won, Labour have failed to outperform the Conservatives in a general election in Scotland since 2010, a fact that would have seemed inconceivable just a decade ago.
Can this leadership election breathe new life into a relationship between party and country that has been gasping for air with no tangible sign of reprieve?
Does Scotland care?
“I think people are paying attention to the outcome of this election, as far as I can see, even if they’re not Labour voters. Even people who aren’t (labour voters) or have been in the past, they’re watching the outcome of this election very keenly” Kerr said.
I don’t think it’s necessary to be a Labour supporter to be invested in this leadership election. It’s important to have a strong opposition, both at Holyrood at Westminster, to hold their respective governments to account.
Labour has long been synonymous with Scotland and it would be naive to think that disenfranchised supporters across the country aren’t crying out for the right leadership to coax them back into the fold.
If Labour has any hopes of regaining power however, they must begin to rebuild the tartan wall, brick by brick, before it’s too late.