Labour could win back half the seats the opposition party once held in Scotland at the next general election, analysis by the Fabian Society has found.
In a new report published by the left-wing think tank today, Winning Back the First Red Wall, the Fabian Society examined the votes cast in the local elections earlier this year in which Labour took second place from the Conservative Party as the Scottish Tories suffered their worst electoral result in a decade.
Local elections in Scotland use a system of proportional representation in which voters rank candidates in order of their preference. The analysis found that a significant proportion of voters who chose the SNP and the Greens as their first preference also backed Labour as their second choice.
The report stated: “Our analysis quantifies the size of the opportunity for Labour and demonstrates that, statistically, 25 seats are within its grasp. There is no doubt there is still a mountain to climb but the path to a Labour government is now clear.”
The Fabian Society said that Labour has an opportunity to gain seats north of the border by persuading voters who put the SNP or the Greens as their first choice that Keir Starmer’s party is the only alternative to the Tories in a general election.
Commenting on the report, Scottish Fabians national manager Katherine Sangster said: “The task ahead of Labour should not be underestimated, but a clear pathway to power has emerged and it runs through Scotland.
“Scottish Labour can help Starmer into No 10 but electoral success will not be found in mining the divisions in Scotland but by putting forward a policy programme that speaks to people and their concerns across the UK.
“A significant proportion of SNP voters have shown they are prepared to give Labour their second vote, Scottish Labour need to appeal to these voters with a vision for a progressive Scotland in a reformed UK and be clear that the choice is between a Labour Prime Minister or a Tory one.”
The report argued that under the leadership of Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour has “arrested its decline and made significant progress in the local elections in May” but warned that it is “impossible to win the 25 seats needed for a Labour government without winning votes from the SNP”.
The analysis by the Fabian Society found that if the local election results were replicated in a general election Labour would win three seats in Scotland and be within four points in ten more. Labour secured one seat in 2019.
The think tank argued that to win over independence-minded voters, the Labour Party must offer a “bold alternative not only on what matters to voters – living standards, public services, job security and climate change” but also “convince low- to middle-income voters it has answers to the economic insecurities and failing public services that blight their lives”.
“Labour depends on Scotland to achieve a majority government and Scottish Labour’s future success demands a wide coalition of voters across Scotland towns and cities. The more that UK Labour look like the next government the more the choice becomes clear for ‘soft’ SNP and Green voters who clearly prefer Labour to the Tories,” the report added.
Scottish Labour secured 22 seats in the May 2021 Holyrood election, down two on the 2016 election, including holding two of its constituency seats: Dumbarton; and Edinburgh Southern. The party lost the Lothian constituency seat to the SNP.
Labour won 282 seats in the Scottish local elections this year, up 20. The Conservatives lost 63 seats, falling to 214, the Lib Dems gained 20 seats, largely at the expense of the Tories taking them to 87, while the Scottish Greens recorded their best council elections result, winning 35 seats overall.
The SNP remained dominant, winning control of Dundee Council by a single seat after five years in minority government, and claiming 454 of the 1,227 seats available across Scotland, up 23 on the results in 2017.