On 5 May the Scottish National Party increased its share of the popular vote by 13%, increased the number of constituency seats it held by 32, and won an absolute majority of 69 seats in the 129-seat Holyrood Parliament.
Labour’s share of the constituency vote (31.7%) was the lowest since 1923. Its share of the list vote (26.3%) was its lowest since 1918. It lost 20 constituency seats, leaving it with MSPs in just 15 out of 73 constituencies.
In Scotland, Labour could not coast to gains on a vague political platform about deploring Tory cuts (as too harsh and too fast) and promising to minimise their impact — because the SNP had already claimed that political space, and with much more vigour and credibility.
The SNP fought the election campaign on the basis of its record in Holyrood: ending prescription charges, freezing the council tax, scrapping tuition fees, scrapping bridge tolls, ending council house sales, and preserving free personal care for the elderly.
When Scottish Labour Party leader Iain Gray was filmed about a fortnight before election day running away from half a dozen anti-cuts protestors, first taking refuge in a fast-food take-away, and then being bundled by his minders into a taxi (destination unknown), the Labour campaign was probably already dead in the water.
At the last minute, in desperation, Labour re-launched its campaign, switching from anti-Toryism to attacking the SNP for its support for an independent Scotland. Polling carried out over the last days of the election campaigning showed that as many as 80,000 Labour voters switched at that time to voting SNP.
Unwilling to try to compete with the SNP seriously on “old Labour” issues, Labour resorted to catchpenny populism.
Labour promised a mandatory prison sentence for anyone caught carrying a knife — as if social problems could be resolved simply by sending more and more young people to jail.
In any case, the policy fell apart in a “Newsnight Scotland” interview. Would a woman who had used a knife to defend herself from domestic violence and had then run into the street still carrying it automatically receive a jail sentence? Answer: No. So a jail sentence for carrying a knife is not going to be mandatory after all? Well, errrr...
Labour also attacked the SNP for its policy of scrapping short prison sentences. Indistinguishable from a true-blue Tory, Labour promised that jail would mean jail.
Labour’s election commitment was that it would not only send more people to jail but also that it would send people to jail for longer.
Those responsible for Labour’s debacle must now be called to account by the party membership and its trade union affiliates. We need a special recall Labour Party conference in the autumn, open to delegations from CLPs, affiliated unions and affiliated societies. It should be a conference, not a rally, and debate motions.
The left in the Party — the Labour Representation Committee — should run its own election-analysis meetings in the major Scottish cities, circulating its own analysis of the reasons for Labour’s defeat, and selecting a candidate who will run for party leader in Scotland on the basis of socialist policies.