Where did it all go wrong for Labour in Scotland?

Labour’s attempt to turn the election into a referendum on the coalition was a disaster.

It was a terrible night for Labour in Scotland. The SNP has won a second straight victory and now looks like the natural party of devolved government. The proportional additional member system is designed to prevent any party from winning a majority (a safety valve against independence), but it looks like Alex Salmond could get one. The SNP is predicted to win 68 seats: an overall majority of three and the largest number of seats any party has ever won in the Scottish Parliament.

So, where did it all go wrong for Labour? As recently as March, the party was enjoying a double-digit lead in the polls. What's now clear is that its attempt to turn the election into a referendum on the Westminster coalition was a disastrous misjudgement. Ed Miliband urged the public to use the contest to give Labour "the best chance of stopping it [the coalition] going to the full term". But he badly misread the mood in Scotland after one term of SNP governance. The electorate chose to judge the contest on its own merits and concluded that Salmond would do a better job of standing up for Scottish interests than Iain Gray ("Gray by name, grey by nature"). The charismatic Salmond ran a textbook presidential campaign that give him the edge with swing voters.

The SNP's remarkable poll surge (up 12.3 per cent in the constituency section) is not the product of any increase in anti-Union sentiment. The most recent poll on the subject showed that just 33 per cent would vote in favour of independence, were a referendum to be held. It is precisely for this reason that so many chose to vote for Salmond's party. They were free to endorse his social-democratic policies (no tuition fees, no NHS prescription charges, free personal care for the elderly, free school meals for all five-to-eight-year-olds), safe in the knowledge that they retain a veto over independence. As Roy Hattersley (a Miliband ally) just admitted on the BBC, the SNP won because it offered something "genuinely radical". Salmond, a formidable politician, deftly positioned his party to the left of Labour and repelled the old gibe of "Tartan Tories".

In a leader published a week ago, we warned that failure in Scotland would be a big blow for Miliband's leadership. Labour has been denied what he rightly identified as a platform to set out a "real alternative" to the coalition government. This fact, combined with the inevitable rejection of AV, means that two significant opportunities to undermine the Tories have been missed.

Miliband has become associated with defeat dangerously early in his leadership. The prospect of an emboldened Tory party fighting the next election under first-past-the-post, having redrawn the constituency boundaries in its favour, is not a happy one for Labour.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What the Vote Leave chief honestly thinks about Brexit

Dom Cummings has let rip for the first time since the referendum. 

Johnson and Gove were the prophets of Brexit, but it was Dom Cummings who wrote the scripture. The  Vote Leave campaign director took Eurosceptic MPs who had for decades opined the same obscure views on sovereignty - the concept still means little to most in SW1, never mind outside of it - and co-opted them into a disciplined and data-driven campaign.

He encouraged them to focus on three things: immigration, the NHS and the emotional vocabulary of control. And it worked.

Consequently, the Vote Leave club still adore him. One staffer describes him as “a great man, a genius, truly the most important person in the EU referendum”. And although Cummings regards almost all Conservative MPs as “clowns”, they regard his achievements with a begrudging respect: an unhinged and aggressive figure, but also a remarkably intelligent and incisive campaigner. 

Yet despite winning the biggest mandate in British political history, Cummings’ views on post-referendum Britain are little known. This is mostly his own doing. Unlike Matthew Elliott, the Vote Leave CEO, who has spent his time since the referendum touring TV studios and generally bigging up his own significance, Cummings has been coy. 

But now, as the Tory government begins to consider Brexit in earnest, he has returned to Twitter for the first time since the referendum. And under the username @odysseanproject, he has offered his thoughts in typically unapologetic fashion. Here is what he thinks:

1. It’s a “delusion” to say Britain voted for sovereignty 

Cummings knew well before the referendum that freedom of movement would be voters’ number one concern.  He spent years researching public attitudes towards the EU and was writing about "regaining control of migration" and introducing an "Australian point system" as early as June 2014.  These ideas, tested then on voters in Essex, London and Warwickshire, worked themselves almost without interruption onto the Vote Leave playbook. 

Now he rebukes Brexiteers who say the result had nothing to do with migration and Remoaners who say it was the only factor. "It wasn’t ‘all about immigration’ AND immigration wasn’t a minor / subsidiary issue. Both wrong, truth subtler."

Immigration was the core issue, but it couldn’t have won the referendum alone. He argues it had to be “balanced” with #TakeBackControl, £350m and the NHS. This suggests the eventual result was neither an anti-immigrant populist uprising, nor an attempt to liberate Britain as a sovereign nation from the EU’s clutches. According to Cummings, it was probably somewhere in between. 

2. Nigel Farage almost lost the EU referendum 

Cummings describes Farage as a “vain shallow egomaniac” who consistently undermined the campaign.  

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that Farage helped hoover up working class votes, especially in Labour’s heartlands, Cummings says he and “his embarrassing cabal” were simply a turnoff on the doorstep. “In focus group after focus group,” he continues, “ppl said ‘I want to leave but I don’t want to vote for that tit Farage’”. 

He recounts how Farage insisted upon featuring in the main debates - “me me me me me” - but says if he had been allowed to officially represent the Leave campaign, Remain would have won by 70 per cent.  

3.  Theresa May should ditch the net migration target

The biggest and most complex question facing politicians post-Brexit is how Britain reduces net migration to so-called “sustainable levels” (shorthand for 100,000 or less). 

But according to Cummings, migration policy should be easy: “ditch” net migration.  He says it’s a "crap metric" which reflects Osborne and Cameron’s poor understanding of public psychology. 

Cummings instead proposes restrictions on unskilled labour, “tough rules” on criminals and increased access for highly-skilled migrants. The British public would overwhelmingly back such proposals, he says, and leave Labour “high and dry” politically. If it’s not there already...

4. We should shut down the Department for International Development

Cummings is not the only person to have called for Dfid to be closed - he is joined by its current secretary, Priti Patel - but his reasons haven’t anything to do with "pulling up the drawbridge" in post-Brexit Britain. 

He is an advocate of effective altruism, a philosophy defined by the desire to improve the world in the most efficient way possible, and says Dfid’s aid money would be spent better elsewhere.

His argument is: mothball the department and give most of the money to already effective organisations and charities. Keep behind a portion for high risk, high impact projects, following the model of DARPA (the US military research organisation).  

5. None of his aims for post-Brexit Britain are going to be realised 

Cummings’ expounds his political philosophy in Some thoughts on education and political priorities, a dense and ironically-named 250 page essay.  

Its thrust is as follows: the world is becoming increasingly complex and difficult to predict; our present array of political institutions is unfit to respond to the problems thrown up by that complexity; in order to survive and thrive in the 21st century, we need to be trained in risk analysis, and scientific and mathematical modelling, invest in science and technology, and also restructure our entire political and educational landscape in the process - including withdrawing from the EU. 

This last tweet is fascinating because Cummings acknowledges the changes he envisages aren’t going to take place post-Brexit. After two decades of Eurosceptic activism - starting as chair of the No Campaign, which fought against Britain’s membership of the euro, and ending with this - he is stolidly self-aware.

The Britain he wants isn’t the statist, bureaucratic, anti-immigration Britain being mapped out by Theresa May. But history may conclude that he helped deliver it.