The SNP falling apart will not mean voters automatically support Labour

© Terry Murden/

The pithiest take on the whole catastrophe that has befallen the SNP was an early tweet on the scandal which liberated slack-jawed Scots. It simply read: “You are allowed to enjoy this.”

After many years of SNP dominance, and the baleful online machine-gunning of anyone who dared raise their head in opposition, permission was granted to laugh. Labour politicians can hardly believe what is happening in front of their eyes as the nationalist castle built by Alex Salmond, bequeathed to his now nemesis Nicola Sturgeon, begins to crumble like the House of Usher. I need not rehearse the crime scene drama being played out on the airwaves and in the corridors of Holyrood and Westminster as senior SNP figures trip over microphone cables in their haste to tell us how little they knew about what was going on under the Sturgeon/Murrell era.

Ferry fiasco is threatening livelihoods

It’s fun to watch, but my rejoinder is just don’t enjoy it too much. Even if the SNP falls apart, it does not mean Scottish voters automatically transfer to Labour. When I arrived home on the Isle of Lewis, crossing the water as a political candidate after two decades on patrol as a Westminster lobby journalist, I expected the big issue to be ferries. The SNP’s mishandling of the disastrous contract to build two new vessels for the publicly-owned CalMac – five years overdue and £200m over budget – became an international symbol of the failure of populist nationalism in Scotland.

It is an object lesson in SNP politics – promising diamonds, delivering rust. Now the ferry fiasco has developed into major disruption of tourism to the islands. Livelihoods are threatened, not just inconvenienced. Combine that with the marine conservation proposals from the SNP/Green coalition. which would close down whole Gaelic-speaking fishing communities, and then you have a recipe for cold fury. Islanders feel politics is being done to them rather than for them. There is a chime for change, which has come through in polling.

Despite that, the attachment to independence of close to 40% of the electorate is yet to be dented by the demise of the SNP. It is dangerous to assume success or take the voters for granted. Yet, we are not without hope. Right now Labour is in play in up to a dozen seats across Scotland, including Na h-Eileanan an Iar where I write from and where the baleful combination of SNP incompetence and Tory indifference is acutely felt across all public services.

Scottish Labour is heading in the right direction

Two years ago when Anas Sarwar took over the Scottish Labour Party, only 7% of Scots believed Labour would win the next general election. Labour in Scotland was 32% behind the SNP. Now, the gap is down to seven points or less, and over 50% of people think Labour can win the general election.

Anas Sarwar likes to watch his weight, but for every one percentage point of polling support we gain, Labour’s waistline expands exponentially. There is a tipping point which we are approaching. On 31% in Scotland, Labour is competitive in 12 seats; 33%, we are competing in 18 seats; and 35%, we are competing in 24 seats. We are the difference between Keir Starmer requiring a 15-point poll swing and the more reachable but still ambitious nine-point swing across the UK.

Labour’s route to power

The hard slog is to convince people and to set out an alternative vision for the country that shows Labour is the change on offer. You can help from afar: groups like Labour Friends for Scotland are fundraising directly for our efforts. They have a London fundraiser on 20th June and other events will follow. I say bank on us now, phonebank for us in the election and, when the time comes, get on a ferry to campaign with Hebridean sand between your toes.

There is still a long way to go, quite literally in my case. The Western Isles chain, while the smallest constituency in the UK in terms of voters, stretches a distance of 170 miles. It’s like driving from London to Sheffield, but more scenic and with more ferry crossings. But the road through the isles, I keep telling myself, is Labour’s route to power.

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