Scottish Labour is bearing all of the hallmarks of being a party in terminal decline
Any assessment of Labour woes must begin with a look at the state of play of their leadership. And if you’re of the Labour persuasion it won’t make for pleasant reading.
The headline figures reveal a picture where the public now see politics as a battle between the strong females. Only problem for Labour is, Kez isn’t one of them. Sturgeon has an impressive +34 approval, followed closely by Davidson with +31. Kez is languishing with a net negative rating, at a miserly -15. Extraordinarily, 2015 Labour voters give Tory leader Ruth Davidson a higher approval rating (+58) than they do their own UK leader Corbyn (-47).
What can this tell us apart from the blindingly obvious about Kez struggling to make any positive impact on the Scottish electorate?
Perhaps we could start with this: the tendency of Labour voters in Scotland to give Ruth a higher (much higher) approval compared to Corbyn (or even Sturgeon) helps explain something fundamental. In 2016 Holyrood GE we saw scores of examples of massive swings from Labour to Conservative in key constituencies; such as Eastwood or any of the border seats). And more broadly we saw a national picture of the centrist middle class soft ‘u’ unionists detach from Labour to Tory. I don’t wish to simplify what happened in Holyrood this year, but it is unarguable that many soft unionists of the middle class came to the conclusion that Ruth, not Scottish Labour, could best speak for them. These are the people sceptical of the SNP after 9 years in power. They were looking for an opposition party capable of actually holding a runaway SNP to account. Ruth appears to have convinced some number of these formerly habitual soft Labour middle class voters to defect to her team.
But the figures disguise something too. They actually hide the rising patchwork of problems for the SNP. While Nicola enjoys such high popularity personally, these leadership ratings don’t tell he whole story. Key policies of hers such as ‘named person scheme’ remain toxic for the majority of voters, and a perception is catching hold that the SNP are struggling to deliver effectively on education (‘curriculum for excellence’ has proven to be badly implemented & more working class kids go to uni in Eng than compared to Scotland). If Sturgeon pushes hard on named person and cannot deliver higher education standards and greater working class access to universities & colleges she may find her popularity comes unstuck. This is speculative on my part to a degree, but Sturgeon finds the possibility threatening enough that she has staked her premiership on delivering higher outcomes in the education portfolio.
But is Labour in a position to remotely capitalise on any future slowing of approval or support for the Nationalists? If Kezia is still their Scottish leader then surely not. And can Labour find a relevance at a UK stage as he largest opposition party to the Tories in Westminster? Not if Corbyn continues to squat in their leaders office they won’t.
Labour are in a clear bind. An unpopular leader both in Scotland and nationally. Held as incompetent by their former middle class voters, and struggling to gain any traction in the media. Add in the obvious reality that they are not in any position to capitalise on any future SNP difficulties – it is hard to see their way back.
Labour in each Holyrood GE has seen its MSP count drop, it is showing all the signs of a party in terminal decline. While the Scots Tories seem to be a party rediscovering a vote base (rural voters, farmers, middle class liberal suburbanites), the Labour party has surely lost one.