Following on from Danny Phillips’ post yesterday, BERNARD HARKINS shares his thoughts on the way forward for Scottish Labour with some reflections on what went wrong in the 2011 election.


Johann and Anas have just been elected to lead our party, congratulations to them both.

2011 was a tough year for Labour and as the year draws to an end we tend to look back on the past 12 months. For me personally I achieved a lifetime ambition, I was selected to stand for the Labour Party as the candidate for Midlothian North and Musselburgh in the Scottish Parliament elections.

It was both an honour and a privilege to be selected and it was an exciting time.

Ultimately, in the early days of 2011, with Labour holding a strong lead in the polls we could not foresee what would happen in the early hours of May the 6th.

Since that day the party has a undergone months of reflection, rule changes and a leadership contest.

As we approach the start of 2012, with a new leadership in place we now need to move forward as a party.

But looking back one last time, what do I take as the lessons from my own campaign about what the Labour Party needs to do:-

  • Labour must re-connect – As a party we cannot lose sight of the need to be in touch with voters, not only our own supporters but others who may share some of our values, we need to be visible to our supporters and not just at election time;
  • Offer a clear message – There is no point in us reversing or changing our position on major issues weeks before an election, the public will not take us seriously and it undermines our position;
  • A Campaigning Party – Even where we are in power we should not forget that the party needs to campaign on issues to show that we are interested in what is happening in our communities and that we are open to new ideas;
  • A Party that Leads – We should be a party that is willing to lead public opinion even on issues that may not be that popular. Of course we need to appeal to voters, however it is rare for voters to agree 100% with the views of the party they support. But I think they will respect a party and still vote for it if that party stays true to its values.

None of this is rocket science or refreshingly new but based on the experience I gained where a small but dedicated team took voter ID of 2% at the start of a campaign to over 10% by the end. Where on a daily basis we leafleted, knocked on doors and spoke directly to voters in Midlothian North and Musselburgh about the issues that were important to them.

I don’t believe anyone could have worked harder than the team I had during that campaign and they are an example of all that is good about the Labour Party.

Ultimately we did not win, it just wasn’t our time, but as 2011 draws to a close, I want to thank those who invested their time in our campaign and hope that we learn the hard lessons of this year so that we can move forward to a brighter tomorrow under our new leadership.

Bernard Harkins is the Branch Secretary for Musselburgh and District Labour Party and a trade union and community activist. He was also the Labour Party candidate at the Scottish Parliament election 2011 for Midlothian North and Musselburgh. Follow him on Twitter @harkins4holyrd or read his blog.