Is the sun setting on Labour’s Scottish empire?

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Reports from activists campaigning for other parties in Labour’s traditional heartlands in the old industrial belt of Central Scotland suggest that Labour is in serious difficulty in seats which had previously been considered unassailable.

Although the region is apparently solidly Labour, Labour’s party organisation is hollow in many parts of the Central belt.  Local party branches have atrophied and now have few active members.  Labour activities in these seats are dominated by small cliques and there is rarely any active campaigning for the party.  Campaigning was not felt necessary since Labour could take these constituencies for granted and concentrate its resources and manpower in more closely fought seats.

It was this weakness in Labour organisation which permitted John Mason to wrest the Westminster seat of Glasgow East from Labour during the by-election in 2009.  Labour workers sent into the seat to fight the by-election were shocked to discover that no canvassing lists existed, no attempts had been made to identify local Labour supporters and the party’s local organisation was moribund.  Labour regained the seat during last year’s Westminster General Election.

The SNP candidate in one supposedly safe Labour seat in the West of Scotland agreed to speak to Newsnet but does not wish to be identified as Labour appear unaware that their candidate is struggling.  Labour’s campaigning team in the seat consists of a small number of students from university and college Labour Societies.  Most appear to be from outside the constituency, raising suspicions that Labour has had to bus in activists in an attempt to bolster the lack of manpower in the seats which form the bedrock of the party’s Holyrood and Westminster representation.

The SNP candidate does not want the incumbent Labour party to flood the seat with activists and party workers in an attempt to shore up their crumbling support.  The Labour party machine has been complacent in the area as they have no reason to believe that they are in difficulty.  The SNP candidate wishes to ensure that Labour opponents remain in a state of ignorance.

Speaking off the record to Newsnet the candidate said: “The feeling on the doorstep is very encouraging, people have been voting Labour here for generations and the supoort is crumbling as they have lost heart with Labour who have consistently ignored addressing their needs, fears and aspirations.”

Public dissatisfaction with the Labour party is palpable amongst the party’s voters in the industrial towns and cities of the Central Belt.  The Iraq War and the party’s rightward drift under New Labour alienated many among the working class Scottish electorate, traditionally the backbone of party support.  Labour is felt to be remote and unresponsive and out of touch with local concerns and needs.

As a Scottish politician, Gordon Brown commanded respect, if not affection, amongst many in Labour’s core electoral base, however his replacement Ed Miliband does not strike a chord with the Scottish electorate.  

Labour’s failure to connect with the Scottish public has been compounded by their gaffe-strewn campaign which has seen scorn and ridicule heaped upon Iain Gray, whom the party hopes will replace Alex Salmond as First Minister.  The party’s manifesto pledges have failed to impress local voters, one of whom said: “I used to vote Labour just like my father and his father, now I wouldn’t give them oxygen.”

The SNP candidate added: “In 2007 we had a breakthrough with local councillors being elected and local people see we work differently.  We are approachable and deliver a service and don’t take the voters for granted and they like it.  We are working hard in the community and making links where we have not had a presence before and gaining respect.”

An SNP activist campaigning in the seat said: “We’re getting a fantastic response on the ground.  People are looking at us in the eye while we are out working, talking to us and engaging.  Life-long Labour voters are changing their votes, people who have never voted are promising to vote, and we will hopefully get some young out.”

The activist added: “I’ve never seen anything like this.  I’ve lived here all my life and have campaigned in this area for the SNP during several previous elections.  This time there is a very different feel in the air.  We could be in for a few pleasant surprises when the votes are counted.”