The key to Scottish Labour’s success was being clearly pro-Union and anti-austerity

24th July, 2017 12:00 pm

Scottish Labour’s recovery at the general election was incredibly welcome to those of us who have been working so hard to regain the trust of voters.

It followed a long period of decline for the party in Westminster, Holyrood and in council chambers across Scotland.

What drove the success of the election campaign was a combination of three key factors:

  • Strength on our opposition to an independence referendum.
  • Consistency of message.
  • A distinctive Scottish voice.

Scottish politics has been dominated by the constitution for too long – it is time we moved on, and focussed on the bread-and-butter issues of health, education and the economy.

It is a familiar refrain that many in my party would wholeheartedly agree with. However, that simple position carries a simple truth. The constitution does dominate politics in Scotland; for many voters the unionist-nationalist divide is pivotal to how they vote.

So that is why our consistency on the constitution has been so important, finally creating the platform for Scottish Labour to be heard on every other issue from tax to fracking; from education to the NHS.

Scottish Labour’s recovery did not begin in June 2017. Scottish Labour’s remarkable result was not a last-minute surge in support at the crux point of the election, but rather a marker of support following months of consistent campaigning. It was a strategy focused at first on May’s local elections, which unexpectedly turned into a general election campaign.

That consistency was exemplified in the work of local activists – particularly our hard-working councillors and council candidates in the autumn and winter.

That consistency was in our message too.

For months, the SNP has faced the strongest possible challenge to its record from Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour.

On health, the record is one of longer waiting times and a staffing crisis. On education, John Swinney’s botched reforms and ten years of cuts are finally catching up with the SNP.

On the economy, Scotland’s sluggish growth has been pinned onto the shoulders of not just Downing Street, but Bute House too.

Make no mistake – the cracks in the SNP are showing, but only because Scottish Labour has been exposing this failure consistently for years.

A pro-UK, anti-austerity message is unique to Scottish Labour.

There is no doubt that the Tories have benefited from the SNP’s fall. However, Ruth Davidson has nothing to offer voters but opposition to independence.

The Tories have a calamitous UK-wide record of their own and it is simply untenable for them to criticise the SNP record on education, health or the economy.

Scottish Labour’s success in convincing voters to tell Nicola Sturgeon to drop her plans for a divisive second referendum has paid dividends.

As a result, this summer we are talking about our vision for the country – in recent weeks alone we have unveiled a new industrial strategy, a five-point plan to tackle working poverty, and a workforce commission for our NHS.

In what has otherwise been a positive summer so far of campaigning by Scottish Labour, we should not be searching for the cloud to match the silver lining.

While others in the party have pointed to Scottish Labour’s individual voice as a negative, I couldn’t disagree more.

The central lesson for the party over the last ten years is that voters expect Scottish Labour to bring a Scottish perspective to Labour values. And that’s precisely what the party has done – and explains why we are now on the path to recovery.

Daniel Johnson is Labour MSP for Edinburgh South. 

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