Labour Lost because of Scotland. It’s that simple. [Almost]

So, the Labour party is having a post-mortem, leaders are jockeying for position and David Cameron has already cracked out the popcorn. We’re seeing senior Labour MPs with their hitherto invisible partners, while commentators have descended from every sphere of Labour party influence, into the BBC’s temporary studio, to insist that Labour lost because the party vision wasn’t similar enough to theirs.

If you’re Owen Jones, Labour weren’t anti-austerity enough, if you’re Peter Mandelson, they ignored the aspirant middle classes; and while such views seem to be mutually exclusive, they may actually be compatible, with the public’s attitude towards these things clearly fractured by region.

But while Labour may not have been in the best shape to fight the election, they were in good enough shape to make it very close. That they failed to do so is for one reason, and one reason alone.

Scotland.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that Miliband was the best leader Labour could have chosen. Of course he wasn’t. And yes, Mandelson was absolutely right that they ignored the middle classes. And no, they weren’t trusted on the economy as a result of the events of 2007-10.

But that was all true three years ago, when Labour were enjoying a consistent 10 point lead over the Tories. I don’t recall anyone complaining then, about Labour ignoring the aspirant middle classes.

All this talk of the wrong policies, the wrong emphasis, and even the wrong leader, are important discussions for improving Labour’s chances next time, but they obfuscate the only reason why Labour lost this election so badly.

Without Scotland, the Tories certainly would not have won a majority, and it’s very possible that Ed Miliband would be in Downing Street right now, despite all those ignored middle class voters.

The surge of SNP support was, in itself, arithmetically, a hammer blow to Labour’s chances. But almost equally important, was the promulgation of opinion polls in recent months, setting out just how well the SNP were doing.

Lord Ashcroft Poll, 4 March

Lord Ashcroft Poll, 4 March

At the start of this year, we knew the SNP were on the rise, but nobody really knew how their support would hold up. Everyone was expecting a hung parliament, and at that time, Labour were widely expected to make significant electoral gains in England & Wales. It was just a question of how many. Nobody I spoke to in Cardiff North (2010 Tory majority of 194) in March, thought Craig Williams had a chance of holding the seat.

But as the campaign got underway, the polls rolled in, and the SNP vote was holding firm. They were set to win 30, then 40, then maybe even 50 seats, and it became increasingly clear that only a landslide victory in England & Wales, could deliver Labour a majority government. There was no chance of that, and with polls also pointing to a significant reduction in LibDem seats, it was obvious that Ed Miliband’s only realistic chance of making it to no. 10, was with SNP backing.

The Tories saw their opportunity, and this subject soon began to dominate the campaign. Tory warnings of a Lab/SNP Government, with the only alternative being another term for David Cameron, was probably the single most effective campaign message in recent UK electoral history.

It’s perfectly possible that the Tories’ tactic hardened SNP support in Scotland and won them a handful of extra seats – after all, few predicted Labour ending up with just one seat north of the border – but suggestions that David Cameron is somehow responsible for the SNP rise, is absurd. He reacted to the events in Scotland; he didn’t cause them.

Fatally for Labour, the Tory “beware SNP” campaign had far more dramatic effects in middle and southern England & Wales, one of which nobody foresaw.

The small decline in the UKIP vote was largely predictable. Less predictable was the extent to which the anti-SNP message held back the expected tide of Labour gains from Conservatives in marginal seats, the net gain being just one. This was a surprise. Even the most confident Tories were expecting to lose at least a dozen or so seats to Labour; most pundits were predicting between 30-50.

But an even bigger surprise was the effect of the SNP fear factor in the marginal Tory/LibDem seats.

We’d all known, ever since the LibDems flatlined in the polls in Autumn 2010, that they would be punished for putting David Cameron in Downing Street, with many disaffected LibDems turning to the Greens or Labour. Everyone expected Labour to make gains from them, and in very tight marginals in the south, we thought LibDem votes seeping to Labour or the Greens might cost Nick Clegg’s party a few seats to the Tories.

But perhaps the biggest shock, of the many that unfolded on polling night, was the mass migration of voters switching directly from the LibDems to the Tories.

The Tories gained 27 seats from their erstwhile partners, and the reason nobody foresaw this, is because it (self-evidently) wasn’t a backlash for the LibDems’ time in coalition, but a result of thousands of LibDem voters believing David Cameron, when he told them the only way to keep the SNP out of Government was to vote for him. Incredibly, this message cost the LibDems almost as many seats as the coalition backlash.

The 2015 Election without the SNP Effect

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that the SNP surge never happened.

They’d have gained a few seats anyway, from the LibDems, benefitting from the coalition backlash, and perhaps a small swing away from Labour, which was delayed in 2010 as a result of Gordon Brown’s popularity north of the border. Let’s be generous to the SNP and say, even without the recent surge, they may have gained 5 seats from the LDs and 2 from Labour.

Without the SNP fear factor, Labour, the LibDems and UKIP would have all fared a lot better in the south of England and Wales. Labour were hoping to make 50 gains from the Tories. That was perhaps optimistic, but even allowing for the “shy Tories” in the polls, 20 LAB gains is a conservative estimate, with Tory gains from the LDs reduced from 27 to 12. Labour’s gains from the LibDems would likely have been unaffected.

So let’s have a look at the change in 2015 seats, without the SNP sweep.

Projected 2015 seat change with no SNP surge.

Projected 2015 seat change with no SNP surge.

If you remove the overall SNP effect from this election, despite the Tory advantage on leadership and the economy, Ed Miliband gets very close to Downing Street. It’s in the margin for error; he may well have won more seats than the Tories.

Either way, the backlash over Ed Miliband and his campaign, would not be happening to anything like the same extent.

So in a sense, Owen Jones is closer than Mandelson, to being correct. Anti-austerity was a major factor in the SNP surge, and if Labour had campaigned on a similar agenda, the SNP gains, while perhaps inevitable to some degree, may well have been much less calamitous for Labour.

Of course, an anti-austerity ticket might have alienated the south of England, and seen Labour punished to some degree, but it’s hard to imagine it being worse for them in England/Wales than the eventual result. The LibDems, meanwhile, would have ended up with a seat tally much more in line with expectations.

This Labour soul-searching is all well and good, but to re-establish themselves as a major force in 2020, Labour need to ask themselves just two questions. How did we lose Scotland? And is there any way back?

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About edstradling

Documentary Producer who also writes political blogs. You can see my TV stuff at the links below.
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69 Responses to Labour Lost because of Scotland. It’s that simple. [Almost]

  1. Alan Gatt says:

    Interesting. But let me offer you an alternate reason. London.

    Here’s an all-too-easy to make prediction:

    Labour will select a Blairite leader and choose to appeal to the handwringing london media-luvvie chattering classes (which is now their traditional support base). The party for shy Tories.

    This will confirm Labour as a London-first party contending for and appealing mostly to London and SE England constituencies and the Mayoralty. The name of the party will appear to be edgily post-ironic. Cool! Licensed rebellion for the Waitress-shoppers!

    Their formerly-traditional support base areas – the post-industrial zones – will be abandoned. Labour does not know how to speak to the people in these areas, let alone how to listen to them. The Scottish result for Labour demonstrates this phenomenon very well.

    Scotland is not the reason for labour’s failure. It is a symptom of it. You should be watching the party there tearing itself to bits in order to gain insight into the wider party’s deep structural and philosophical problem.

    • John says:

      The lazy use of London makes it hardly worthwhile reading your post. In London, Labour made gains, both from the Tories and the Lib Dems. The swing to Labour in the capital would have made Labour the largest party if it had been repeated across England and Wales.

      So actually, we DO want to pander to London…..

  2. Allistair says:

    Surely if there was an impact on the English vote by the ‘threat’ of how Scotland would vote then the blame for this must be laid at Labour and their failing to explain why there was nothing to fear. in a desperate bid to save Scottish Labour.

    The facts and the House of Commons Arithmetic are simple as to the scale of any impact, never more clearly demonstrated than in the election last week – “What England votes for, the UK gets”.

    Instead of dealing with it, Labour fed this fear. Playing up the SNP and the Scottish ‘impact’ and effectively cutting their own throats.

    The breakdowns of the last few days of Survation polls show Labour’s percentage share staying steady but a big swing from soft UKippers to the Conservatives. Combined with the huge percentage of voters who didn’t vote and who felt no one was reflecting them was the reason Labour lost.

    • Jan C says:

      That sounds about right to me…Just love how everyone blames Scotland for everything. The polls were consistent for Scotland despite all the scare-mongering from other parties. They never wavered and still Labour ignored them, with Jim Murphy stating that Labour would not lose a single seat in Scotland…..unbelievable arrogance! England however, chose to believe the absolute rubbish they were fed from the right-wing press, and voted (or abstained) accordingly…..to blame Scotland for that is just pathetic. Labour no longer speak for the working classes and the working classes have at long last, woken up to that fact in Scotland. Labour will never rebuild their vote in Scotland because they have abandoned their socialist values. it is game over for them

  3. Chris Murray says:

    Well that was… Something. Labour didn’t lose because of Scotland (not least evidenced by the fact that even if every Scot in the land had voted Labour, we’d still be looking at a Tory majority). Labour lost Scotland because for too long it has taken its electorate for granted, and dismissed the SNP as a flash in the pan. Since ’07 the mantra in response to yellow gains has been “they’ll be back” rather than “What have we done wrong?”

    And then there’s the result in England. Labour lost England and as a result, lost the UK. The pathological desire of the Northern most branch office to blame everything from original sin to the collapse of the multiverse on the SNP clouds reasoned decision making.

    Labour could do with ignoring the opposition for a time, and deciding what exactly it wants to stand for because in Scotland it is simply against the SNP, and in England it is against the Tories. These should be side effects of policy; not policy’s guiding light.

    Labour will not win by saying what they are against. They must decide what they are for, and realise they cannot be all things to all people.

    If the Scottish response continues to be, “SNP bad”, they will never win again North of the border and if this tribal blindness infects the party proper as well, it will cripple them in England.

    • edstradling says:

      Not sure that you actually read the whole piece, did you? Just the title, yes?

      • Chris Murray says:

        I never comment on a piece I haven’t read in full, Ed. And whilst I’m always open to the possibility that I might be wrong about something, I suspect if the best you can do at countering my point is to suggest I’m being deliberately disingenuous, I’m probably not.

    • Jean campbrll says:

      Well said Chris Murray

  4. David Houldsworth says:

    Labour has been ‘losing’ Scotland for at least decade and they will be out for many years. In Scotland, Labour (whatever the right and wrongs) is seen as too right wing – their alignment with the Tories during the Scot ref caused many people to examine Labour position/policies more closely and didn’t like what they found.
    In England they seemed to be perceived as too left wing and now look as if they have a mind to return to Blairitism.
    To return to Scotland, if Scottish Labour have any hope of recovery, they will have to completely cut ties with London Labour (esp if they are using the Blair years as their measure of success) and who are also viewed as London centric/elitist/careerist and have lost touch with ordinary people.
    It doesn’t seem that enough time for reflection and analysis has been spent by UK Labour before pretty much deciding which direction they will take – all seems a bit knee jerk. Time will tell.

  5. Steve Clarke says:

    Interesting article, although I think it plays down the effect of UKIP’s surge into Labour votes, which after all was the whole point in the creation, or rather ‘managed redirection’ of UKIP. As for the SNP effect, the polls in Scotland consistently showed that the SNP were poised for a landslide, what everyone expected though was that the large number of uncommitted voters would save Labour from the worst case scenarios, this didn’t happen obviously. The hysterical, anti-Scottish, and lets be honest about it, disgustingly bigotted campaign waged by the Tories in England.definitely had a considerable impact on election result. The Tories had little to lose in Scotland of course, and as could be expected the right-wing media stepped into raise the hysteria level even higher. Just as with Israel though when Netanyahu engaged in out right racism to turn impending defeat into victory, the Tory campaign will have long term consequences and just as Cameron is desperately trying to back peddle now, it’ll do him as much good as Netanyahu’s insincere mea culpa.

    The Union is now in an even worse state than it was prior to the election, and Scotland is not going to forget in a hurry that all the talk of the country being a fundamental part of the UK, being an equal in the democratic process, flew out the window when it mattered. The country is not going to forget the sight of English hysteria at the thought of the Jocks having an actual say in government. Labour could of course have countered the racist nonsense, but when it comes to principled stands Labour is simply not at the party. It prefers instead to cravenly ride the right-wing tabloid tide which often leaves it in a position where its public announcements expose a contradiction between principle and policy. Labour ranted against the SNP’s anti-austerity, anti-Trident policies despite these being exactly what many of its core supporters want to hear from them, it then tried to balance this by making vague progressive sounding vows to placate its traditional support oblivious to how bizarre this looked.

    If Labour need to launch an investigation into why they lost Scotland then it rather says a lot about their disconnect as the reasons are abundantly clear, what isn’t clear though is how it recovers. I’d say that without a break between Scottish Labour and London Labour it can’t. Labour in England, wrongly in my opinion, seems to believe that it has to march to the right in order to become electable, if it does this then it cannot hope to design policies that will appeal to both Scotland and the south of England. The only reason that it managed to hold on to Scotland under Blair was that the SNP werern’t seen as a genuine progressive alternative, that has changed. If Scottish Labour can gain autonomy or independence and forge a muchy looser alliance with London Labour then this at least holds out the prospect of some kind of recovery. Otherwise Labour in Scotland has a very bleak future.

    • James Rodden says:

      Great reply, outstanding even, I would only add that in addition to Labour cutting the ties with London, they need to embrace the possibility of Scotland choosing to be independent.
      edstrading has an enormous understanding of the English political scene but doesn’t imho fully understand what has happened up here, this had been decades in the making, we have been under a right wing cosh for 36 years, now we have had enough. When Blair was elected we all danced with joy but, it didn’t take too long for some of us to realise that we had swapped blue Tories for red Tories, that is when the trickle started. Moving forwards we had devolution and Labour just didn’t factor in how popular the SNP has become or give any thought as to how well they had managed the Country, unfortunately for Labour the Scottish people did appreciate how well the SNP were managing, and here we are.

  6. IainC says:

    I have read some rubbish about Labour’s demise, but this takes the proverbial biscuit. Labour lost the election because they ran the most abysmal campaign imaginable. In Scotland they failed to react at all to the SNP surge by shouting “SNP bad” to every sensible question. Did nobody stop to think about why the SNP were so popular with voters, particularly past Labour ones? In England they completely failed to stand up to Cameron’s school bully tactics, trying to appear “cool” by showing they were just like him really, wanting to be in with the popular kids. They ended up denying everything they once stood for instead of defending it. Until the Labour party stops blaming others and looks inward for the cause, they are finished as a political force, and unless a replacement for them is found, the country is stuffed too.

    • edstradling says:

      Despite your knee-jerk claim that I’m talking rubbish, our views are perfectly compatible. I make no suppositions as to exactly why Labour lost so heavily in Scotland. I don’t live there; I have no idea. All I am saying is the scale of their defeat in Scotland was a massive determining factor of the English and Welsh results.

      • Jean campbrll says:

        Since you don’t live in Scotland maybe worth paying close attention to the excellent analyses fom a variety of folk writing here. We don’t know what labour stands for either in Scotland or England and labour played the project fear card during the referendum just as ruthlessly as the Tories recently. Theyve no grassroots support in Scotland or England

      • edstradling says:

        Jean, I do not comment on the reasons for Labour’s defeat in Scotland. Of course, whatever Labour shortcomings led to the SNP surge, is very important.

        I am merely pointing out that the advance warning of that defeat, caused the scale of their defeat in England & Wales and, as such, the result in Scotland can fairly be said to be the decisive reason for Labour’s defeat overall.

      • jk says:

        ”’the SNP vote was holding firm. They were set to win 30, then 40, then maybe even 50 seats, and it became increasingly clear that only a landslide victory in England & Wales, could deliver Labour a majority government”

        What killed it for Milliband was his comment he would rather see Cameron back in downing street than work with the snp

        Here was Nicola on live TV offering to work with him to gain a majority , problem was Labour could not work the vote nor sell there ideas to England or Wales where 35 % of the people stayed at home

        As for the branch office in Scotland , Scottish Labour still thought they could tell us how to vote forgetting how they acted during the referendum ,they betrayed every scottish labour voter by dancing with the tories and were to stupid to realize

        WE NEVER FORGET

        Cameron played a blinder and scottish labour even being warned ignored their part in the referendum

        More and more young Scots had a deeper look at the political landscape they were living in ,and by god it has been an eye opener , these were not protest votes these were votes for change all the lies and smear of better together came out in the open during and after the referendum .

        And raised it’s ugly head during the election

        labour left the people
        the people didn’t leave labour

  7. You could argue that, once the referendum was “won” last autumn, DC could say and do what he liked in order to annoy the vote north of the border and turn it against Westminster-based parties at no cost real to himself in terms of seats.

    If that’s not TOO paranoid an interpretation of his “master plan”?

    Also, once the press had published the understanding (let’s not yet call it an outright “lie”) that a coalition was the most likely outcome, the vote could have migrated towards the Nationalists on the understanding that they would most likely get some actual cabinet positions in the new government and this was the best way to achieve that.

    Again this was at no risk in terms of Scottish seats to the Conservatives, but could (and did) have the effect of cutting Scottish Labour off at the knees whilst simultaneously playing to the fears of the home counties conservatives (with a small “c”).

    In the end, I don’t believe that Scottish Labour will bounce back any time soon (unless the SNP really screw things up) simply because it’s hard to argue against nationalism in favour of remote government, and they’re unlikely to use the “24% of the voter only leading to 1 seat” argument as that plays into the hands of reformists in England.

  8. Gavin C Barrie says:

    Labour campaigned with the Tories in the Indy referendum and cheered with the Tories when the No result was delivered.

    Fly wi’ crows,get shot wi’ the crows.

  9. Chris Gordon says:

    Some fair insights but overall I don’t buy it. The LibDems were toast without factoring in Scotland at all and as such were never going to be king makers. They lost the left to Labour/Greens by going into gvmt with the Tories; They lost the protest vote to UKIP and others by going into gvmt full stop; and they lost economy prioritising Orange Book liberals terrified of Ed Miliband’s economic ineptitude directly to the Tories as an anti Ed vote (I know this one for sure – I was one of them). Ed Miliband’s perceived total unfitness for high office prevented any significant centrist shift directly from the Tories to Labour. Even if Labour had held half of Scotland there was still no way they were getting anywhere close to the numbers required for government without the SNP propping them up. Without the Scotland factor UKIP would have faired better by not leaking many votes back to the Tories, you’re right, and the Tories may well not have had a majority because of this, but they would still have been comfortably the largest party. Labour would then have been looking at a situation where they had to construct a tiny majority from Lab+SNP+LibDem+Others rump to ‘steal it’ from the Tories. They would then set about implementing a manifesto that England had basically rejected with the support of paid off Scot Nats to whom the majority of the legislation wouldn’t apply (the much mentioned constitutional chaos). Consequence? 2020, Labour party is annihilated in England and UKIP quite possibly become the second largest party (on vote share anyway). They actually did well to lose as big as they did! You close correctly though; they do need Scotland back to get in next time, but they need so much more than the absence of a Scottish threat if they want to win back England sufficiently to form a gvmt.

    • edstradling says:

      Your comments are perfectly sensible except that they fail to acknowledge the effect of the Tory>LD swing on the numbers. LD campaigners heard a lot, late on, that their voters were worried about the SNP. Why else would LibDems switch direct to Tories? A Tory/LD swing voter was hardly going to punish the LibDems for joining the coalition!

      • Steve Clarke says:

        Didn’t a lot of LibDem voters also switch to Labour, 12 of the 22 gains they made on the night came from the LibDems? As for the LibDem vote, how much did this crash through losing the student vote and those of a similar age who were fooled into voting for LibDems in 2010 believing they were somehow different? Its bizarre though that LibDem voters who’d be more terrified of an anti-austerity party from Scotland having some influence on a Labour government, than depriving their own party of a vote and presumably allowing a party they fundamentally oppose to run riot for 5 years.

      • edstradling says:

        Yes, a lot of LDs did switch to Labour. That was expected – LibDem voters deserting them as a punishment for supporting the Tories in Coalition. Any LibDem holding a LD/LAB marginal seat knew they were toast.

        The surprise was the direct Tory>LD switchers in the South West, but the mistake you are making is in assuming their switch was to do with anti-austerity. It wasn’t. It was the fear of allowing the SNP, whose ultimate aim is to break up the UK, to play a part in the Government of the UK.

  10. Hairy Angus says:

    Labour are now faced with a choice, we in Scotland know there is no such thing as Scottish Labour, they don’t exist as a political entity, we have the internet, we are switched on and asking questions .
    The choice for labour is very simple, support Scottish independence to it’s very last fibre or face 25 years of Tory Government ( Boris is coming ) while sitting powerless in the doldrums bemoaning your fate.
    The Tories have played you for dupes, you happily played along with them during the Referendum and even invented “Project fear” you lied, connived, cheated and frightened the people of Scotland while the Tories sat in London and egged you on. You are finished in Scotland for many many years.
    The Tories then played a blinder in the GE by using your very own invention against you “Project Fear” Part II, they made the SNP the baddies and totally stitched you up, you had no choice but to buy into it because to not do so contradicted everything you’d been telling the people of England.
    The Tories will continue to roll out a very strong SNP at every GE for the foreseeable future and Labour are humped time and time again.
    Your choice Labour !

  11. Richard Reekie says:

    Interesting Article, with some points I both agree and disagree with. However I would like to make a point about the Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties potential future in Scotland and Scottish Democracy in relation to the UK’s continued survival. I am a politically active Scot residing in the former constituency of Lib Dem MP Sir Menzies Campbell, and neighboring the former Labour constituency of Gordon Brown. I have never supported the SNP or their Ideology of Scottish Independance. However it saddens me to say it, the majority of Scots don’t forgive or forget, and when a political party does something that the majority of Scots take against, the political party gets a negative viewpoint from the Scottish populace, and so it becomes an electorally dead party in Scotland. Such is the case of The Conservative Party which can now only return 1 MP. This is the result of voters in Scotland taking so vehemently against Thatcherite policies, such as the Poll Tax, and Mine Closures. Scots tend to have long memories, and strong political views which from very young ages many Scottish Children tend to get indoctrinated with. Children end up having the same political Ideology as their parents and as such an anti-party feeling gets passed on to the next generation of voters. This means that once down, a political parties resurrection is virtually impossible. This is a future that sadly both the Liberal Democrats and Labour now share with the Conservative Party as was proved by them also only managing to return 1 MP each. Scots have taken umbridge against the Lib Dems for their coalition with the ever so hated Tories, and Labour for its disconnection from the Scottish electorate and again politically aligning with the Toxic Tories in the referendum debate. The Scottish referendum opened a political can of worms in Scotland that cannot be undone, with the country now split Ideologically on either side of the Yes/NO debate. The level of success of the SNP is down to this particular factor. The 45% who voted yes are all so politically committed to the Ideology of Independence that the majority have all continued their support over to the SNP Party as the party representative of this side of the debate. The 55% who voted no however combined members of the electorate that supported the SNP on all policy except Independence, Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat as well other smaller parties. The Unionist vote in Scotland is so thinly spread that for the Old Westminster Parties victory in a First Past the Post electoral system in Scotland is now nigh on impossible in any constituency. It is a sad day for Scottish Democracy as it means we have become virtually a 1 party state with no significant opposition to stop the SNP from running rampant. Its seems that now the only way for Scotland to return to a healthy state of democracy is for Scotland to adopt a two party system such as America along Northern Irish Unionist and Anti-Unionist lines; disbanding the Old Westminster Parties north of the border in favour of a SUP (Scottish Unionist Party) alternative that can leave behind the toxicity of their former selves and provide a realistic strong Opposition to the SNP. Only in this way can I see Scotland having true democracy again within itself and as part of the United Kingdom. It would be able to return MP’s to Westminster on either side of the debate; thus truly representing Scotland and being able to support in coalition Parties south of the border and see Scotland always be represented in Government and thus strengthening the Union again. Rant Over.

    • Problem with a SUP is that most Scots, including No voters, do not identify as Unionists or “British”. The Scottish Attitudes survey showed a large majority identified as Scottish 1st or only Scottish.
      The No vote was driven by manufactured fearmongering and downright lying from all the Unionist parties. I think it’s safe to say many No voters have seen the light.

    • Bruce L says:

      You’re rather over-employing the hyperbole there, with your “virtual one party state” and “[lacking] true democracy within itself” lines.

      Scotland may be lacking an effective opposition right now, but, other than the existence of FPTP (by which the entire UK is hamstrung) this is hardly the fault of any lack of democracy.

      Democracy is absolutely alive and kicking in Scotland.

  12. Stan says:

    Have you considered that the same reasons Labour lost in Scotland could equally apply to England & Wales? Labour fought such a negative campaign and did so in 2010. Where was the hope, the vision, for a better future? I haven’t voted Labour in a General Election since 2001. In 2005 it was because of the Iraq war; in 2010 they tried to sell themselves as the least worst option to the Tories and I don’t just want a least worst option, I want to feel like my vote is for something positive. Unbelievably they tried the same tactic in 2015 and added to the mix the tactic of denigrating the SNP whose policies are more appealing to left of centre social democrats than the policies of Labour were.

    Labour needs a leader who can have the same appeal as Nicola Sturgeon, someone who is confident to do walkabouts and is able to meet people, talk to them on their level, and is not constantly surrounded by party henchmen and sycophants. Winning back scotland on its own will not be enough, it needs to win back enough support in England too otherwise we’re in for at least another decade of Tory government.

  13. MBC says:

    I’d agree with that analysis, but don’t blame us in Scotland for discovering our mojo and standing up to austerity and voting SNP en masse. Blame the Murdoch press and Cameron for shamelessly playing the Scottophobia card. And blame also the crass English ignorance and prejudice that it played upon that is revealed by this lady who contacted a Scottish newspaper:

    http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/opinion/helen-martin-it-s-all-over-for-bitter-or-worse-1-3769157

    And your Nick Clegg did little to check it as I recall.

  14. Maureen Mangan says:

    I’m getting a bit fed up with bloggers having an unrepresentative title to their essay just so they can say to folk “I think you only read the title and not the whole article”. Everyone has busy lives so stop attention seeking with outrageous titles. Chris Murray may or may not have read your article but he makes some valid points in his reply.

    Others might only read your title and go away (without commenting) with the entirely erroneous idea that it is Scotland’s fault that ed milliband isn’t prime minister. You and I both know this isn’t the case (I knew it already and your article shows that you do too) but you’re promoting a headline which could make others think it is.

  15. MBC says:

    For the benefit of factual accuracy, 1.6 million people voted Yes in Scotland in September 2014 after a two year campaign which galvanised and transformed the country, with many people finding their eyes were opened. 1.45 million then voted SNP last week, on a lower turnout (71% from 85%) and with a smaller electorate, since 16-17 year olds were ineligible to vote in the GE, as were EU nationals. We think that some soft No voters must therefore have come across.

    During the indyref debate after debate occurred in church halls, street stalls, community centres, and blogs, across Scotland. Very little of this was reported in England, so you were unaware of the change in consciousness that was happening. Many voluntary groups sprang up – 350 in all – which were part of a wider Yes movement only tangentially linked to the SNP. There was Asians for Yes, Women for Independence, Africans for Yes, Arabs for Yes, English Scots for Yes, and so on. It had very little to do with nationalism but a lot to do with self-determination and rejection of austerity.

    This same electorate has voted SNP and had made up its mind to do so on September 19th.

  16. Daniel Hall says:

    Not sure why people are getting confused by this article. Anyone who has been in this country over the election campaign surely knows that Scotland and the SNP where the defining issue. It is also clear that the damage inflicted by the SNP was felt two-fold. In Scotland where they were destroyed, quite simply because the SNP message was much more attractive and concise than the Labour message. And in England where the campaign of fear stoked up by the Conservatives (on the back of some dodgy polling it must be said) that a Labour government would need the SNP to get into government. The only thing worse for middle England than being dictated to by Brussels was the idea of being dictated to by Edinburgh. It was a crass technique which puts the Union in even further jeopardy but it was an effective one. All of these assertions don’t negate the fact that Labour where and have been sub-standard for years but the Conservatives are also pretty poor and now must be considered one of the most unpopular government ever to win a majority. So in the presence of two pretty abysmal parties it’s poignant to highlight that the straw that broke, in this case, Labour’s back, was indeed the SNP.

  17. eddie says:

    I see the point you’re trying to make, but the thesis is still flawed. Sure cameron was pushing the snp as a terror that voters in the south should be scared of, but it was labour and miliband in particularcwho allowed that to be a vote winner. Whatever happened to ‘better together’? In scotland, labour were rightly punished for standing shoulder to shoulder with tories last september. But now it’s may and the reality of scotland being part of the union has,to mean scotland gets to vote in uk elections. But miliband is all ‘I want cameron to win rather than scots votes to count’. Better together, eh? Labour lost because miliband rejected all those progressive voters across england who watched our nicola and said ‘we want some of what she’s having’.

  18. Johnny says:

    What you are saying is that the English having swallowed all the fear pills chose to suspend all rational thought and voted for the Tories. Is it Scotland’s fault that the English have not accepted that the UK is finished?

  19. edstradling says:

    Are you honestly surprised that people had concerns, about a party whose ultimate (if no longer immediate) aim is to bring the United Kingdom to an end, having a big hand in the Government of UK?

    • Hairy Angus says:

      But the media have been telling the people of England that we Scots cost a fortune to keep, I’ve been hearing that crap all my life and I’m 54, why on earth would the English want to keep us.
      It would have been a simple spin, “oh look, we’ve rid you of an expensive burden, vote for us cos we’re clever and love you” no way the Tories can counter that cos they’ve used the same negative spin against the Scots since Moses was a bairn

      • edstradling says:

        It can’t come as a surprise that people of the UK (45% of Scots aside) care about more about its continued existence, than they do about issues like that.

      • Hairy Angus says:

        I’m not so sure, wasn’t there a recent poll saying that large %’s of people in other parts of Britain wouldn’t pay so much as £1 to keep Scotland ?

    • What is the positive case for the Union? Why must it be preserved at any cost? I’ve never had a satisfactory answer to that.

      • MBC says:

        I’m not a unionist, but even I can make a positive case for union – collective security of the British archipelago. That and membership of the sterling area.

        And that’s about it.

    • Steve Clarke says:

      To be honest I’m not surprised they had concerns, after all the relentless racist hysteria in the English media can’t be discounted, and what I’ve heard some of the canvassing literature down south didn’t so much cross the line as leap over it. But it ventures into the realm of the irrational for someone who opposed the Tories to then vote Tory, knowing all that would come of that, on the basis of a hypothetical situation. Why not for example go out and ensure Labour had a majority so that no coalition was needed? Of indeed vote LibDem to help them become a more attractive coalition partner than the SNP?

      Trying to restrict the analysis to rational concerns doesn’t quite cut it. What we saw in fact, presuming the SNP fear factor is on the button, is a descent into hysterical bigotry fueled by the kind of disinformation that has no real place in a democratic process. The problem is that well before the rise of the SNP, the anti-Scotitsh bigotry in the right-wing media was well over the top. The referendum campaign witnessed a remarkable cessation, and indeed a complete about face, but normal service was resumed as soon as the coast was clear.

      It is therefore a puzzle as to why these English voters would wish Scotland to remain and why the prospect of a party dedicated to ending the Union would cause them any sleepless nights. I don’t therefore believe that the prospect of ending the Union really came into it, what might have come into it is a resentment that the SNP would seek additional perks for the ‘sponging Jocks’ at the expense of the English purse, and that is indeed the line that was pushed by the aforementioned disinformation campaign.

      So we’re not talking about some noble principled defence of the Union, but rather a pinch-faced, nasty looking tide of bigotry that considered 5 years ot Tory vandalism as less of a threat than some Scotsmen on the make.

      • edstradling says:

        Unfortunately you cannot wish away the English support for the union, whether you understand it or not.

      • Steve Clarke says:

        I don’t want to wish away any English support for the Union as its an irrelevance as far as the future of Scotland is concerned. I’m pointing out that such sentiment is rather limited in its commitment, to the point where the concept is preferred rather than the operational reality. And I’d also be extremely surprised if that commitment hasn’t been seriously weakend by the Tories short-termist opportunism. As it is I think some of the Unionists here will have looked at that campaign and the outcome and started to wonder if we are really better together after all. Time will tell.

  20. I can see where you are going but I think that you could look at it in a slightly different way. Scotland’s polity is different from England’s polity. They are inspired to vote for different things and have different values. Another though experiment could be: imagine there was no SNP but that only Scottish Labour MP’s got to write the UK manifesto and were only concerned about appealing to Scottish voters I think that the results for Labour in England would have been the same or probably worse.

    What has happened to Labour in Scotland this month is a result of UK Labour being an unacceptable party for Scots because it was too right wing. The English voters are not scared of the SNP because they care deeply about the union it is more that they see progressive anti-austerity policies as being dangerous for their needs.

    As a separatist the easy conclusion for me to draw is that a Scottish exit would be the only one to suit all parties. However I think that scrapping the house of lords, a PR system for Westminster coupled with far more devolved powers is probably enough to keep the majority of Scot’s onside. I hope for the former but I can understand why the latter would be better for left leaning folk South of the Wall.

    • edstradling says:

      While I agree that many English voters in the south saw the SNP as too left-wing, those people would never have voted Labour anyway. So your theory doesn’t explain Labour’s failure to gain seats. It may have been a small factor in the fear which drove LibDem & UKIP voters into Tory arms, but I have no doubt that the fear in England/Wales of an anti-union party was far greater than the fear of an anti-austerity party.

      • Steve Clarke says:

        The SNP made it abundantly clear that independence was not a feature of the election campaign nor would it be on the cards afterwards. The Tory press made a great play out of two factors – the SNP commitment to anti-austerity and a claim that they would also seek to increase spending on Scotland at the expense of the English. On the anti-austerity aspect while Labour, fully signed up to free market fundamentalism as it is, was fully committed to the austerity bandwagon the Tories had limited scope to claim that Miliband and co would run out and spend like kids in a sweetshop. The prospect of the SNP being able to force Labour off this anti-austerity agenda gave Tories the opportunity to go to town on the profligate spending scare stories as if austerity has done anything to really heal the economy. So a vote for Labour would mean that the “recovery” would be threatened.

        The other factor as I mentioned was the claim that Scotland would force Labour to splash out on all manner of luxuries for the pampered Scots. We all saw the Tory posters of Salmond stealing the wallet from the back pocket of (presumably) England. The message was quite clear, Scotland is going to blackmail Labour into allowing it to rob England.

        I believe that the above were far, far greater infulences than anything deemed anti-Union.

      • edstradling says:

        Ashcroft polling showed a significant majority UK-wide (65/35 or thereabouts) for anti-austerity. Admittedly that majority will likely have been smaller in the South, where most of the anti-SNP damage was done. But as I’ve said, I have no doubt that you’re wrong about fear of anti-austerity, in itself, being a bigger factor than anti-UK-breakup.

        However, you make an excellent point when it comes to the fear of a LAB/SNP Government having to splash out disproportionately on Scotland. That was almost certainly a very big concern.

  21. David W says:

    Good article and an interesting take on it. I do agree with most of it. I really think Ed M played it wrong by not saying he’d work with progressive parties. It came across as ignoring Scotland and Tories did same. I do think Nationalism won and I see the electorate as being anti Scottish. I mean voting in a party that wants to decimate the country with cuts. Is that really what people wanted? Either idiotic or anti Scottish, you decide!

    • edstradling says:

      I think EdM was in a terribly difficult position. By saying “no deals with the SNP” he risked further damage to the vote in Scotland, if he said “yes, I’ll work with the SNP” he risked a backlash in England and Wales. He couldn’t afford for either of those things to happen. What could he do? And with the polls where they were, the question wasn’t going to go away.

      • Hairy Angus says:

        So instead of showing some balls and standing up for what was right he did nothing ! Now they cast around for someone else to blame while the Tories reprint the same vote labour get SNP message for the next GE.
        Thanks labour, by having no backbone you left it wide open to the Tories.

      • Stan says:

        EdM had already painted himself into a corner by putting Labour at the forefront of better Together. It divided the party in Scotland, cost it a lot of money it couldn’t afford and distracted the party from fighting the Tories in England & Wales. It’s obvious Labour had to shore up its economic credentials but failed to attack the Tory narrative that Labour created the economic crash and failed to highlight that the ConDems had failed in its economic strategy altogether.

        By taking a neutral stance in indyref, and regardless of the result, he could have fought the 2015 election on a “Look what the Tories have done to our country” stance but instead he gifted the SNP thousands of Labour votes and Nicola Sturgeon played a blinder in keeping them. It obviously had a negative impact in England amongst the xenophobic soft Tories which then must beg the question – if the Scots are hated so much in England then why do you want the country to remain a part of the UK?

      • MBC says:

        Well, I hate to refer back to Thatcher, but one thing I did agree with her on, is her saying that when you are backed into a corner the only defence is to attack.

        He should have come out with both guns blazing and defiantly said ‘I will work with all progressive forces on this island on a vote by vote basis to secure the best possible outcomes for all the people of Britain’.

      • Steve Clarke says:

        “He should have come out with both guns blazing and defiantly said ‘I will work with all progressive forces on this island on a vote by vote basis to secure the best possible outcomes for all the people of Britain”

        Labour are simply incapable of this kind of action so terrified are they of the right-wing media. When all the anti-immigration rubbish started to be promoted by the right-wing tabloids, Labour should have taken a principled stance then and countered the obvious drivel with facts. It didn’t though. It instead tried to placate the tabloids and then jumped on the bandwagon leaving the right to dictate the narrative which lent unmerited credibility to the xenophobic rhetoric. It no doubt though that by doing so it would serve the party but instead it simply meant that when UKIP raised its ugly head a good sized section of the Labour support were already willing listeners. So much for that cunning plan.

      • Andrew McGahan says:

        An excellent article and a clear summary of EdM’s position in this additional point.
        The Tories used the SNP “fear factor” well, backed up by a majority right wing press who’s influence should not be underestimated. Against this background, the SNP pushed hard against Labour (their true opposition / enemy during the campaign) to achieve what they desperately needed and wanted – a Tory Westminster government to rail against during the next 5 years that will maximise their chances of independence in the short term (all talk of “once in a generation now forgotten).
        It was a joint win for the SNP and the Conservatives and a huge loss for the rest of us.

      • Steve Clarke says:

        Andrew, its utter nonsense to state that the preferred SNP outcome was a Tory government, the preferred outcome for the SNP was a minority Labour government that would have allowed the SNP to have an influence on government. Until the night of the election the polls had shown this to be on the cards, and I don’t think anyone was expecting the exit poll that was revealed on the Thursday night. The Tories got dirty as they are wont to do, while Labour cringed and dithered (as they are also wont to do) and we saw the result.

        The SNP pushed hard against Labour as it was the main party from which it needed to take seats, but in Scotland it still did not lose focus on the Tories and LibDems. “Scottish” Labour on the other hand seemed to forget that the Tories were in power and devoted their entire campaign against the SNP.

        “It was a joint win for the SNP and the Conservatives and a huge loss for the rest of us.”

        Labour lost Scotland plain and simple, they do not have a god given right to the votes of Scots and if exercising our democratic right to vote for the party of our choice leads ti mass hysteria in the south of England then that is no fault of anyone north of the border. The people of Scotland booted Labour out for many justified reasons, and if there is a serious demand for Scots to cease exercising their right to vote for who they want, to instead select parties that do not send sourthern hearts into a panic then that is going to be interesting to hear. Funnily of course, yet again, that only works in one direction.

  22. English-Scot for Indy says:

    Your title is misleading. Labour lost because the English fear / despise the Scots more than they fear another five years of crippling austerity. What no one has bothered to ask, yet alone answer yet is “Why?”

    The overtly racist Tory campaign which included a Fagan-esque Salmond picking the pockets of the unsuspecting English, terrified them more than anything Farage could dream up about Somali refugees with AIDS stealing hospital beds. It succeeded because it played into pre-existing national prejudices and the well-worn lie about lazy, stingy, feckless, welfare-dependent Scots being propped up by the English tax-payer.

    He’s either monumentally stupid, or Cameron wants Scottish independence even more than SNP supporters do.

    English nationalism isn’t a response to the success of the SNP (as some media pundits aver); if anything, the reverse is true.
    It’s patently absurd to talk about the Scottish hunger to restore national self-determination and the bitter, ugly, contemptuous xenophobia growing in England that handed the Tories their majority, as if they were cut from the same cloth.

    Whilst the history of the union has been anything but glorious, my reasons for voting to break it up have nothing to do with past grievances and everything to do with the fact that my [adopted] nation cannot prosper whilst yoked to another that ignores, belittles, despises and demonises her. I’m more sure of that now than ever before.

  23. Dek Bannan says:

    Very eloquently written, this however does not mean that the content of your article is entirely true, or indeed of any relevance, given that it is mostly supposition.

    Labour lost in Scotland and Labour lost in the rest of the UK, fact. In Scotland they lost for a variety of reasons, all of which are fully documented, their stance with the Tories at the Indyref, their lack of leadership, continual ‘SNPbad’, and the lack of any policies designed for the people of Scotland, etc, etc.
    The rise of the SNP did not happen overnight, whilst the polls got it wrong regarding England and Wales, they did show a high degree of accuracy when it came to Scotland. The writing was always on the wall for Scottish Labour.

    How did ‘he’ lose it in England? Ed Milliband, as at the referendum, again, sided with the Tories regarding their ‘SNPbad’ campaign, an alliance that may or may not have worked, was dead in the water before it had a chance to begin. Millibands continued, “I will never do a deal with the SNP” rhetoric convinced no one, it was clear that he would need the support of the SNP to get any sort of a majority. This was a big mistake.
    Given that the SNP landslide was always going to happen, although not at the level that it did, Millibands course of action made no sense at all and played right into the Tories hands. This blunder was compounded when he made the statement about ‘rather see the Tories in Government’ than work with the SNP.

    Regarding the polls, you mention that Labour had a 10 point lead to begin with, well this differs from the recent admissions from the Labour party itself when they said that their polls showed them consistently 7 points behind all the national polls. So, they knew where they stood, but chose not to take the route that would get them into Government, but a route that would ensure David Cameron returned to No. 10.

    You hypothesize about the result should there have been no ‘SNP surge’, which seems to be the crux of your argument that ‘Labour lost because of Scotland’, as someone else has mentioned to you, you have no idea of the kind of ground level support there has been for the SNP for quite sometime now.
    To suggest that the Lib Dems could retain and additional 5 seats out the 11 they held is ludicrous, what seats do you refer to? The Lib Dems have been on the slippery slope in Scotland since they joined the coalition, then campaigned with the Tories at the referendum, they just about held onto the only seat they now have.
    You also say that ‘without’ the SNP surge, Labour in Scotland could have held onto a further 38 seats, again I will ask, where? The only reason they retained one seat is through tactical voting, as clearly suggested by the vote spread. Now, as I have said before, I am not saying that we all expected the extent of the SNP victory, but Labour to retain 39 of the 41 seats! At best, based on the polls, they may have retained 11 seats.

    This however is all academic, as Labour lost the election in England as a result of a party leader that was weak and also the lack of a strategy to win. Scotland was always a lost cause for Labour, evident since before the campaign started, with this in mind, Milliband should have countered the Tory strategy with positivity. Whilst not directly supporting the SNP for obvious reasons, he should have been in a position to turn things round on the Tories by arguing that it was the Tories who feared the SNP, not him, but he didn’t.

    So, why did Labour lose the election, Tories installing fear of the SNP, yes. Lib Dems backlash, yes. SNP surge, no! If Labour in England had fought a positive campaign and delivered the right number of seats, then Labour + SNP could and should have been in position to form an alliance and put Milliband in No. 10. Labour lost the election through poor leadership and poor decision making.

    • edstradling says:

      I would have thought the term “without the SNP surge” was self-explanatory! I mean what would have happened had the SNP not received a massive boost in popularity over the last few years.

      • Dek Bannan says:

        It was self-explanatory, just not of any relevance to the debate on how/why Labour lost the election. Thanks for posting my response though.

  24. MBC says:

    Why do people in England care so much about the Union?

    Just curious.

    Scottish aspirations are for self-determination. This is largely for reasons of democracy (we want governments we actually voted for) but also for economy, as the macro-economic policies based on financial services pursued by the asset-rich south do nothing for us in the post-industrial north, Highlands, and Islands. Devolution delivers very little – it is like being a middle manager of a subsidiary firm, rather than being CEO of your own. You can shift money and personnel about, you cannot take meaningful executive decisions.

    At present most Scots hope to be able to achieve self-determination within the Union. But English hysteria about Scottish desire for self-determination prevents a grown-up, frank, discussion about what we would like to preserve of our 308 year old political union and what it is possible that we in Scotland could have self-determination over. It would for instance be of little help for us to be able to gather and retain all our revenues and control all our spending if we were not also able to also vary the fiscal rules to suit our own economic circumstances. Responsibility without power is not a situation we would ever want to be in.

  25. Jim says:

    If its all down to Scotland can you explain how Labour suffered similar losses in English council elections?

  26. Pingback: My response to ‘Labour Lost Because Of Scotland’ | dekbannan

  27. Jim says:

    Spot on analysis, anyone with half a brain cell can see how well the Tories manipulated the Scot’s tale wagging the Labour Dog argument. Though I haven’t had the benefit of a University education like the policy wonks and SPADS. They hammered it home time and time again with relentless and ruthless efficiency and in the key marginals where the election would be won and lost.

  28. Neil C says:

    I have read all of the comments on here and the article. All of you have missed one important factor, the Tories were strong on the economy and have been for 5 years, Labour’s biggest mistake (putting Scotland to one side) was electing a leader who was in the Treasury when the crash hit, then for Ed M then to say on national TV that Labour didn’t overspend in the final years of their government, that was the nail in Ed M’s coffin.

    As for the Scottish question, Scotland eyes have been opened, for years we have voted Labour, because Labour was our party, started in Scotland fighting for workers rights, Labour are now a party for London and the neo-liberal idiology, they have forgotten their roots and what they stand for, when you start a party you have a set of principle’s, if you give up on those principle’s, sooner or later your core support will wake up to it.

    Scotland has woken up, we no longer believe a word Lab/Lib/Tories say, independence is coming it’s not a matter of if now, it’s a matter of when.

    One other mistake Labour made in Scotland was electing Jim Murphy as leader, Scotland put our faith in Tony Blair, then he took us into an illegal war, when Scottish Labour needed a new leader they elect a Blairite.

    Labour is finished in Scotland, I agree with a previous comment about a SUP, but doubt the pro-union parties will all get together.

    How can labour win over England? They need to go back to their roots, get back the principle’s that the party was founded on, if asked if they are anti-business, they should answer no were pro-workers.

    They need to ditch anyone that was in the last labour government, new faces for a new party.

    As for Scotland they need to say to the English we will work with any party that hold our principle’s at their heart, if they are part of the UK then we will work with them.

    One thing that has been proven with this election result, England does not want Scotland in the Union, only the politicians do, because the rUK would be a significantly lesser partner in the world organisations without us Scots.

  29. Paul Givan says:

    The jist of your article is correct but I wouldn’t ‘blame’ Scotland or the SNP. Ed could have accepted the hand of friendship from the SNP but chose not to, in the name of ‘unity’. As if support from a party on a similar social democratic was the worst thing in the world. ‘No deals withthe SNP’ he said.

    I wouldn’t blame voters in the marginal seats for thinking things just didn’t stack up with Labour. Combined with policies ranging from the wacky (freezing energy prices), to the overly simplistic (mansion tax) to the vague (controls on immigration) it seemed Labour were lacking in vision. They also took the same ‘fiscaly responsible’ austerity stance as the conservatives but would clearly do it less well.

    Ed was great standing up to the phone hacking News of the World and he was good during PMQ’s. I’m sorry he didn’t do better in England and Wales but he only has himself to blame. I hope the labour party finds itself but I fear their decline has only just begun.

  30. AP says:

    Stop the Jockcalypse in all the broadcasting and print media, is what done it. Can you imagine if the media had said stop the Negrocalypse?

  31. Pingback: Don’t let the Tories steal aspiration – we on the left must claim it « Derby People's Assembly

  32. Mark says:

    Labour lost because Milliband and Balls were incompetents who would never be trusted with the UK’s economy ever again. Labour’s own private polling showed them losing to the Conservatives well before Cameron played the SNP card. Milliband could never have been PM, he would have been a laughing stock. The moment his campaign self-destructed was his appearance on Question Time, saying that Labour didn’t overspend in office last time they were in. Game over.

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