Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Labour Struggles to Define Itself

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Labour Struggles to Define Itself

Article excerpt

It wasn't meant to be like this. The referendum was won for the Union. The issue was supposed to be, as David Cameron said a few weeks ago, "settled". And yet every Scotland-wide poll since last September has put the Scottish National Party significantly ahead of the unionist Labour Party. The latest poll, conducted by Michael Ashcroft, predicted Labour would lose up to 36 of its 41 seats north of the border at the general election on 7 May.

It doesn't seem to matter how often Labour mentions the mansion tax or the sop top rate of tax--both of which are Labour (and not SNP) policies: Scottish voters continue to see the SNP as a more convincing vehicle for redistribution and social justice. The nationalists' shift from an abrasive and divisive populism under Alex Salmond to Nicola Sturgeon's ecumenical, centre-left approach has helped them. As has the state of British Labour, Ed Miliband's leadership and a poor opinion of Westminster.

The official line from the Labour Party is to emphasise the need for every vote and every seat in order to form a Labour government. A vote for anyone else, including the SNP, could allow Cameron to remain in Downing Street, it argues. Yet its inability to comment on a deal with the SNP makes its weakness clear. Saying one or the other would cost it dearly--trapped as it is between enemies to the right and left.

Labour is up against a party full of enthusiasm with just short of 100,000 members. The nationalists have money, resources and a feeling that the political wind blows in their favour. Labour, on the other hand, has an antiquated organisation and an ageing membership (it hasn't declared its numbers in four years). On the plus side, Jim Murphy, the leader of Scottish Labour, has in typical New Labour fashion been raising lots of money from party sympathisers.

Murphy has been required to define himself according to terms set by the SNP's success. …

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