Jim Murphy has a challenge ahead for boosting Scottish Labour's chances. Photo: Getty
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New Scotland poll puts the SNP 17 points ahead of Scottish Labour

Does a "bloodbath" really await Labour, as a new poll gives SNP 43 per cent of the vote share next May, with Scottish Labour's share tumbling to 26 per cent?

Labour has been fighting a battle on a number of different fronts recently, both ideological and otherwise, but its biggest battle is undoubtedly in Scotland.

As membership and support for the SNP rocketed during and following the Scottish independence referendum campaign, it looks like Scottish Labour will be hit hard in seats where the party has been in an increasingly precarious position. Labour's complacency in Scotland began to do some damage to its popularity there long before this year's referendum, and now the party has finally caught up with the challenge for Scottish Labour, there are only five months to go to the general election.

A new poll published in today's Guardian by ICM suggests there is a "bloodbath" ahead for Labour in Scotland, come the general election. It suggests the SNP's vote share will be more than double its 20 per cent share of 2010, hitting 43 per cent of the vote, while Labour's 42 per cent take in 2010 will tumble to just 26 per cent. This would give the SNP a 17-point lead: disastrous for Labour, as its number of Scottish MPs would plummet from 41 to 10.

To add to Scottish Labour's bad news, a recent Survation poll for the Daily Record had 48 per cent of voters saying they would back the SNP, and put Labour at a disastrous 24 per cent. As well as this, the election polling sage and the media's academic of the moment, Professor John Curtice, has analysed the Guardian's latest poll, and written that polling results based on uniform swing could actually be underestimating how hard Labour could be hit by the SNP: ". . . if anything, estimates of how many seats the SNP might win that are derived by assuming that the Scotland-wide movement uncovered by a poll would be replicated in each and every constituency in Scotland could actually underestimate the scale of SNP gains." He warns that Labour's defeat could be greatest in its "safe" heartland seats.

However, as George points out, though the numbers look bad, they are not enough for us to begin writing Scottish Labour's obituary. The Labour MP and former frontbencher Jim Murphy only became leader of Scottish Labour two weeks ago, and it is clear that he is already taking the party in a new direction, outwardly rejecting the idea of taking advice from Ed Miliband and Westminster. The man who won popularity with his passion during his pre-referendum tour of Scotland, speaking from his Irn-Bru boxes around the country in a bid to save the Union, is in the best position to save Scottish Labour as well.

Although winning support back from the SNP cannot be done by one individual alone, Murphy's leadership coupled with the unlikelihood of Scotland treating the general election as a re-run of the in/out referendum – plus a reminder that the recent predictions in the Guardian derive from an online, rather than telephone, poll ("never the golden ticket", as one pollster describes this technique to me) – makes it too early to write off Labour's chances in Scotland.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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After a year of division, a new centre is emerging in Labour

Clive Lewis, Lisa Nandy and Jonathan Reynolds show how factionalism is being transcended. 

On 26 September, Clive Lewis sat onstage at Labour’s conference in Liverpool and puffed out his cheeks in exasperation. He had just been informed that a line in his speech as shadow defence secretary committing the party to Trident renewal had been removed by Jeremy Corbyn’s office. Such was his annoyance that he was said to have later punched a wall in anger ("I punched no walls," he told me when we recently met). 

For Lewis, however, the feud proved to be a blessing. Hitherto hostile MPs hailed his pragmatism and deference to party unity (he is a long-standing opponent of Trident renewal). The former soldier also affirmed Labour’s support for Nato and for collective self-defence. “The values that underpin Nato are social-democratic values: liberty, democracy, freedom of expression,” Lewis, an early Corbyn ally, told me. “Let’s not forget, it was Clement Attlee and the New Deal Democrats who initiated and set up Nato. It’s about being in it to win it. It’s about winning the arguments inside Nato and making sure that it’s a force for good. Some people would say that’s impossible. I say you’ve got to be in it to be able to make those changes.”

In October, Lewis was replaced as shadow defence secretary by Nia Griffith and became shadow business secretary. Many regarded the appointment as a punishment. “Do I think there was an ulterior motive? I’ll never know,” Lewis said. “I’m confident that the reason I was moved – what I was told – is that they wanted me to be able to take on a big portfolio.”

Whatever the truth, Griffith has since said that Labour’s next general election manifesto will include a commitment to Trident renewal and will support multilateral, rather than unilateral, disarmament.

Many MPs had long feared that the divide between them and their leader would prove unbridgeable. Some contemplated standing on bespoke manifestos. Yet with little drama, Corbyn has retreated from a conflict that he could not win. Labour’s conference, at which the largely pro-Trident trade unions hold 50 per cent of the vote on policy and which the leader has vowed to respect, would never have endorsed unilateralism.

“Jeremy Corbyn deserves credit for that,” Lewis said. “Everyone understands that his position hasn’t changed. He still believes in unilateral disarmament . . . But he’s also a democrat, and he’s a pragmatist, despite what people say.”

In policy terms, at least, Labour will contest the next general election as a less divided party than many anticipated. As Corbyn’s team has long emphasised, there is unity around issues such as opposition to spending cuts and support for rail renationalisation. A new centre for Labour, embodied by Lewis, is emerging.

“When I became an MP,” the 45-year-old told me (he was elected in Norwich South in 2015), “to be anti-austerity, to say that cuts don’t work and they’re bad economics, meant you weren’t in touch with reality, and that you had no interest in winning elections. Within the space of 18 months, there’s now a growing consensus that cuts aren’t the way forward and that we need an industrial strategy.”

Theresa May’s support for new grammar schools and “hard Brexit” has given Labour MPs other issues to unite around. After Corbyn’s second landslide leadership victory, many of his opponents have reached the final stage of grief: acceptance. Others, as Lewis noted, are imbued with “an eager enthusiasm to make this work”. Contrary to some predictions, more than half of the 63 frontbenchers who resigned last summer have returned.

An emblematic figure is Jonathan Reynolds. The Liz Kendall supporter, who resigned as shadow transport minister in January 2016, has rejoined the front bench as shadow City minister. Earlier this year, Reynolds backed the introduction of a universal basic income, an idea that is now being explored by John McDonnell’s team (and that Barack Obama has called for “debate” on). In July, Reynolds and Lewis wrote a joint piece in support of proportional representation (PR), warning that without it “a more equal, democratic and sustainable society is less likely”.

Another advocate of PR is Lisa Nandy, the former shadow energy secretary and a friend of Lewis (on 26 October, along with Reynolds, they called for Labour to stand aside in the Richmond by-election to aid the Liberal Democrats). In the view of some, the defining divide in Labour is no longer between left and right but between open and closed. On one side are pluralists such as Lewis, Reynolds and Nandy, while on the other are tribalists such as Ian Lavery (pro-Corbyn) and John Spellar (anti-Corbyn).

The division stretches to the top, with McDonnell in favour and Corbyn opposed. “It’s a work in progress,” Lewis said of his efforts to convert the Labour leader. “There’s a growing movement of MPs who now either support PR or understand the growing necessity for it. They may not be quite there themselves, but they’re moving in that direction.”

At times since Corbyn became leader, the parliamentary party’s divisions have appeared to many to be insurmountable, even as the party in the country has grown and been inspired by Corbyn. Yet a new consensus is being forged in the PLP: anti-austerity, pro-Trident, pro-Nato and, increasingly, committed to political and constitutional reform. If there is any consolation for a becalmed Labour Party, it is that its European counterparts are faring little better. In Spain, France and Germany, an already divided left is further fragmenting.

But Labour is likely to both fight and survive the next general election as a united force. If Lewis can retain his seat in Norwich (he has a potentially vulnerable majority of 7,654), he could one day act as the bridge between the party’s “soft” and “hard” left. After a year of factional skirmishes, the common ground in which Labour’s future will be shaped is emerging.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage