The “Sturgeon surge” may be over, but this is a strategy nearing completion
Labour Hame editor Duncan Hothersall says the local election results represent the culmination of a decade-old SNP strategy, and Scottish Labour’s survival is critical to the survival of the United Kingdom.
So the results of the local elections are in, and while the overall numbers for Scottish Labour were not quite as bad as feared they are still heartbreaking – for the many committed local champions who lost, and for the millions who have relied upon and benefited from Labour representation in the past.
It’s also true to say that the SNP juggernaut has slowed considerably compared to recent electoral success, partly as the inevitable result of the Single Transferable Vote being used for local elections, which cannot turn a minority of votes into a landslide in the way First Past The Post did in 2015.
But make no mistake, these results are a massive success for the SNP. Not because their seat count has held steady, and not because they will probably lead administrations across the country, although both of those are good news for them. It’s a massive success because the Tories can now be pointed to in local as well as Scottish and UK government as the only alternative to the SNP. And reaching this position has been the SNP’s strategic goal for the last decade.
I have waxed lyrical in the past – more than some have been comfortable with – on the strategic skill of the SNP’s political machine. Especially in the early years of Salmond’s second round of leadership, wonks like Kevin Pringle, Stephen Noon and others were simply head and shoulders above the other parties in their clarity of thinking and efficacy of execution. And the core of their long term strategy was to kill Scottish Labour in order to engineer a binary choice for Scots between the SNP and the Tories.
Indeed the estimable Mr Pringle was unable to resist celebrating this achievement in his Sunday Times column yesterday:
“For the first time ever, politics in Scotland is now primarily a tussle between the SNP and the Conservatives. And that will be underscored in next month’s general election. In this new two-horse race, Labour is third.”
Even more impressive than this success is the fact that it came despite the hump in the road that was the independence referendum in 2014. Make no mistake – 2014 was never part of the strategic plan. The idea was to kill Labour first before putting the big question to the country. A referendum in the 2016 parliament, with Labour sidelined and the Tories as the champions of union, was the original strategic plan.
But faced with a majority in 2011, the SNP became the dog that caught the car, and was forced to put its money where its mouth was. Labour’s continued position of relative strength in 2014 meant that Labour values could underpin the Better Together campaign and Labour figures could spearhead it, and the united front of Labour and the Tories was what defeated independence three years ago.
But remarkably, as we now know, the SNP were able to turn that failure into a success. They recognised that while 45% loses a referendum, it can win any number of elections. And it has done so, aided by Labour’s abject failure to capitalise in the first days and weeks following our success in 2014. It was in October 2014 that the SNP realised Labour once again had planned only for the war, and not for the peace. And the SNP’s strategic strength once more shone through.
So in the electoral cycles since 2014 the SNP has completed its execution of its original Kill Labour strategy with aplomb. The nationalists now find themselves precisely where they always planned to be – the self-proclaimed champions of “Scotland” standing against the Tories happily casting themselves as the champions of the union, and thereby pushing more and more of Scotland’s former Labour vote towards what the SNP will always tell us is the only way the stop the Tories – independence.
With the general election next month we now have to face up to a genuine existential threat to the United Kingdom. If Labour is killed off entirely, a second independence referendum isn’t just winnable for the SNP; it’s a fait accompli.
That’s why it’s vital in on 8 June that where Labour can win, Labour must win. Where solidarity can be demonstrated as another alternative to nationalism alongside traditional Tory unionism, it has to be endorsed, because a successful anti-independence campaign needs to have both those strings to its bow to stand any chance of success.
A resurgent Labour Party in Scotland is essential for the preservation of the union. And all who value the United Kingdom need to recognise this next month.