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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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.