With the election of Keir Starmer as leader of Labour, the Party’s fortunes have made a remarkable recovery.
Labour is now overtaking the Tories in the polls and Keir Starmer is well ahead of Boris Johnson. So does this mean Labour will win the next election? It’s not that simple but Labour is certainly a serious contender again.
This is where the Scottish electorate can decide whether or not we have another Tory government. Boris Johnson knows that if Labour recovers in Scotland to the same extent that it has recovered in the rest of the UK then his days in government are likely to be numbered.
I do understand that Richard Leonard wants to win but the evidence in Scotland is clearly saying he can’t.”
The Prime Minister’s handling of Brexit, the Covid-19 crisis and his relationship with the devolved governments have all damaged him badly but that should not mean the whole of the UK’s future should hinge on that.
And, while we may need to revisit some aspects of the British constitution, it certainly should not dominate the political debate either here in Scotland or in the wider UK.
The SNP’s failure to manage education, the NHS and, very importantly, the economy of Scotland are far more important to voters than constitutional issues which the polls show are low on their list of priorities.
The SNP also have some uncomfortable questions to answer on why Scotland has the third-highest death rate from Covid-19 in Europe. The answer is about the management of care homes and patients discharged from hospitals.
Nicola Sturgeon is a competent media operator but media performance should never be a substitute for policies. You can’t run Scotland on soundbites or clever presentation. Hence the problems with education and other key policies.
To ask why the SNP government has failed so badly on these key issues raises the question of why Labour has been unable to recover in the way it would normally have done. This is where Labour has some tough questions to answer about leadership.
In the 2017 General Election in Scotland, Labour had 27% of the vote. In the EU elections it fell drastically to just 9%, reflecting Jeremy Corbyn’s ambivalent policy on Brexit and the negative view of his leadership. In the 2019 election Labour just managed to get 17% of the vote.
This is just not good enough. The question that has to be answered is: why in Scotland are Labour stuck at 14% in the polls, when the rest of the UK has Labour on 35% to 37% and Keir Starmer leading Boris Johnson as the preferred Prime Minister by 34% to 32%?
When pollsters asked the Scottish electorate about Richard Leonard as leader of Labour in Scotland the answers were depressing. Too few had heard of him and his support, including among Party members, was weak.
Now, I know politics is a tough trade but all politicians have a duty to put the country and their own party before their own feelings.
I do understand that Richard Leonard wants to win but the evidence in Scotland is clearly saying he can’t. Leadership matters and right now that matters more than any other interest if the Party is to fight and win in the Holyrood elections next year and in the General Election whenever it comes.
Richard Leonard’s identification with Jeremy Corbyn is a fatal weakness. Corbyn effectively put Boris in Downing Street by failing to listen to the voters. We must not make the same mistake in next year’s Scottish election.
A quick election for the leadership of Labour in Scotland could give them the boost they need to catch up with Labour in the rest of the UK.”
So, do I agree with those who say Leonard should step down? Yes, sadly I do. The future of Scotland and of the UK are at stake. In my judgement we cannot go on with the Tories in charge of Westminster and the SNP in charge at Holyrood. I remember when Scottish education was a world leader – that is now in the past. I remember when the NHS in Scotland was top rate. It isn’t now. And with the coming crisis in the world economy post-Covid-19, we cannot have the Scottish economy continuing to decline – unemployment is set to soar as the economy returns to normal and we emerge from the crisis.
Neither do we want a government in Edinburgh more focused on breaking up the UK in an operation that would be an even bigger mess than leaving the EU without a planned alternative strategy. We need new leadership in Scotland and in the UK as politics returns to normal.
A quick election for the leadership of Labour in Scotland could give them the boost they need to catch up with Labour in the rest of the UK. If that does happen then the message to the Tories and to the SNP would be: watch out! Labour is back in business.
Lord (Clive) Soley was the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party from 1997 to 2001. He served as a Labour MSP from 1979 to 2005. He now lives in the Highlands.