24 August 2007

Lessons from the Past

Labour Leader-designate Wendy Alexander believes that Labour lost because it was no longer seen as an 'all-Scotland party'. It's hard to argue with that logic - a look at McConnell's last Cabinet shows that even before the Election, there was a clear centre of power in the party, and the Election results bear it out. Consider: without Aberdeen Central, that last Labour redoubt in the North, the Northernmost part of Scotland to be in a Labour-held Constituency would be in the seat of Dumbarton. For Labour, that has got to be a little disturbing. Let's look at the evidence.

In Glasgow, Labour hold nine of the ten Constituencies, and only lost the tenth to Nicola Sturgeon this year. Surely that's good? Well, for Labour and on paper, yes, but Glasgow is the centre of the Western Labour power base. The next strongest Labour region is the West (which includes Alexander's own Constituency, Paisley North), with eight out of nine. The ninth, again, was only lost this year, but the eighth Labour seat, Strathkelvin and Bearsden, was regained after four years of representation by independent hospital campaigner Dr. Jean Turner. Central Scotland has eight Labour seats out of ten, with Kilmarnock only falling this year, and Falkirk West would have been Labour (certainly in 1999, probably in 2003, and who knows about this year?) had it not been for the row over Dennis Canavan's non-selection as the candidate.

So these three regions accounts for 25 of Labour's 37 Constituencies, and that's before you count the five South of Scotland seats, of which four are in the West of the region (East Lothian sticks out), and three are in the strongholds of Ayrshire (Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley and Cunninghame South) and Lanarkshire (Clydesdale). The only Labour loss in this region was Ayr in the 2000 By-Election. Dumfries, like East Lothian, sticks out a bit.28 seats in Lanarkshire, Glasgow, Ayrshire, Renfrewshire and Dunbartonshire. Nine seats everywhere else. Yikes!

So with two of those nine accounted for, let's try to find the other seven. Four of them are in Lothian: Edinburgh Central, Edinburgh North & Leith, Linlithgow and Midlothian. It wasn't always this way: Edinburgh Pentlands was Labour for the first term of Holyrood, as was Edinburgh South. Edinburgh East & Musselburgh and Livingston fell this year. In this region alone, Labour have lost four Constituencies out of eight since 1999, compared with a net loss of four in the first four regions I mentioned!

Two are in Mid Scotland & Fife: Dunfermline East - Gordon Brown's old Westminster seat - and Kirkcaldy - a large part of his current one. Central Fife, Dunfermline West and Stirling all fell this year; Ochil was lost in 2003. Again, a loss of four Constituencies (this time out of six) since 1999.

The last, a rather lonely speck of red on the map, is Aberdeen Central, and again, it wasn't always this way. Aberdeen North and Dundee East fell to the SNP in 2003. Dundee West went the same way this year - a loss of three out of four seats since 1999.

Then there's Highlands and Islands, which only ever had one Constituency MSP, and lost that this year. A loss of 100%. Ouch!

So Wendy Alexander is right to flag up a problem for her party. But is it going to be easy to solve?

For answers, we turn to the UK Conservatives, who were reduced to a largely Southern English rump in 1997. Since then, we've heard about how the Tories need to re-connect with everyone across Britain. Up to the last Election in 2005, though, success has been... well, elusive:

The Tories have 198 seats. 194 of them are England. The three Northern English regions (North East, North West and Yorkshire & the Humber) have between them just 19 Tory MPs. The two Midland regions (East and West Midlands) have between them 34. The remaining 141 are in Southern regions. The Tories haven't been particularly successful at re-connection there.

But why should they be? While we hear lots of talk about re-connection from the Tories, there's not much evidence of action towards it, though it'll be interesting to see if Annabel Goldie's constructive approach at Holyrood pays off: this is their chance to take an active part in Scottish politics and they can't afford to blow it. However, with that exception of Parliamentary politics (and even that's an accident of Holyrood arithmetic and the lack of a majority Coalition), Conservative talk of re-connection, and being a party of 'all Britain and all Britons' (as Michael Howard put it) is some way off.

The moral: Alexander needs to match her words with action. But there's a problem. Why have the Tories words not been met with actions? The lack of prominent Conservative figures north of The Wash. Even when their Leader was a Yorkshireman, his patch of blue in Richmond was a pretty rare event north of The Wash. So few Tory MPs led to few standard bearers for the Party and that made it harder to re-gain lost footholds. Labour now have that same problem.

And the nine Regional MSPs as yet aren't a help and will not be one as long as Labour prevents candidates from standing both for a Constituency and Regional Lists: when this happens, the Regional MSP can build up a local profile which they can then use to their advantage. Labour have thrown this advantage away, and even if they didn't, what good would it be? Maureen MacMillan only stood in Ross, Skye and Inverness West because somebody had to (and her vote went down, and in fact went down by even more in 2003 when the rule was waived and she stood there). Peter Peacock's health forced him to resign as Education Minister, Rhoda Grant is a retread and David Stewart lost his Westminster seat in 2005. In Mid Scotland and Fife, Richard Simpson is a retread who was notable for calling striking firefighters 'fascist bastards' in 2003, and the other two, John Park and Claire Baker, are new to the Chamber. In the North East, Richard Baker was Jack McConnell's PPS (the word 'toast' springs to mind, for some reason) and Marlyn Glen is in the Campaign for Socialism, which couldn't produce a challenger to Wendy Alexander, so is an isolated figure. George Foulkes, meanwhile, has quit his Committee work to concentrate on his work in the House of Lords and the Intelligence Committee, and slow news days are filled with speculation about how long he's willing to stay at Holyrood. So they are not assets to the Labour cause.

Being an 'all-Scotland' Party will take more than a speech in Inverness. But Wendy's options are now limited: speeches in Inverness may be all she can do for a while.

No comments: