Negativity could see new Scottish Labour leader’s seat go

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by a Newsnet reporter

According to a recently published poll, the Labour party would be facing a near wipe out of constituency MSPs in an election to the Scottish Parliament. 

Amongst those who could lose out is the favourite in the Scottish Labour leadership race, Glasgow Pollok MSP Johann Lamont (pictured).

The Ispos Mori poll, published on 9 December, shows support for the SNP at a record high, with over half of Scots saying that they would give their vote to the party.

At 51%, this is 5 points up on the party’s landslide victory in last May’s Holyrood election and would bring the party an additional 15 MSPs, 13 from Labour and 2 from the Tories.

The poll makes disappointing reading for all the Unionist parties.  However the results of the poll will be most alarming to Labour strategists.  Despite shadow Scotland Secretary Margaret Curran announcing at the party’s special conference in Glasgow at the end of October that the time for reflection was over, signs of a Labour recovery remain as far away as ever.

Labour continues to lose support amongst the Scottish electorate, taking a hit of 6% in the recent poll, a significant drop compared to their poor performance in May.  Support for the party now stands at a mere 26%, confirming the downward trend evident since May.

The new Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has failed to reverse the long decline in the Tories’ fortunes.  The party’s vote share has declined to 12%.  

The Lib Dems continue to limp along in single figures, amidst evidence that they are being blamed by the public for allying themselves with the Conservatives, and leader Willie Rennie’s failure to develop a public profile.

The continuing drop in support for Labour puts almost all of the party’s remaining 15 constituency MSPs at risk.  If the results of the poll were repeated in an election, the party would be left with just two constituency MSPs.  Only leadership candidate Ken MacIntosh, representing Eastwood, and Elaine Murray in Dumfriesshire would hold their seats.     

Johann Lamont narrowly retained her seat in Glasgow Pollok in May.  Although SNP challenger Christopher Stephens increased his party’s vote tally to just a few hundred short of Labour’s in what was once seen as an impregnable Labour stronghold.

Ms Lamont is now widely seen as the front-runner in the Labour leadership contest, the results of which are due to be announced later this week.  Ms Lamont has already secured the backing of the main unions in the complex voting method favoured by the party, and is expected to be a shoe-in for the post.

The second MSP candidate, Ken MacIntosh, suffered an abysmal start to his campaign when party leader Ed Miliband was unable to remember his name.  Mr MacIntosh’s campaign has languished in obscurity ever since.   

The only effective challenger to Ms Lamont was Tom Harris MP.  However the former leading candidate has now effectively thrown in the towel and admitted that the Labour party in Scotland was in “a mess”.  The MP took to Twitter to say that he was not surprised by Labour’s Ipsos MORI poll result of only 26%, and added:

“I do have ideas for recovery but who knows if I will ever have the chance to implement them.”

Mr Harris’s campaign has been dogged by difficulty from the start.  The only Westminster MP to stand for the post, his candidacy exposed the rift in the party between its Westminster and Holyrood factions.  Mr Harris failed to secure the nomination of a single Holyrood MSP.

Labour in Scotland continues to be riven by internal disputes.  Leading figures within the party including Malcolm Chisholm and Henry Mcleish have called on the leadership to rethink its opposition to so-called devo max, but the call has been rebuffed by Margaret Curran and others who apparently believe that the key to Labour recovery is to attack the SNP.  Ms Curran is seen as one of Ms Lamont’s leading supporters amongst Labour’s Westminster MPs.  

The result of the party’s internal battling means that voters have no clear idea what the party stands for.  The party is performing poorly in council by-elections, losing seats it would normally expect to hold comfortably.  On Thursday, Labour lost a previously safe council seat to the SNP in a by-election in Hamilton West and Earnock.  

Meanwhile, the unsavoury saga at Glasgow City Chambers continues with a Labour councillor claiming to have been threatened by his own boss, Labour group leader Gordon Matheson.

Many analysts foresee another electoral cataclysm for the Labour party in Scotland during the local elections in May 2012.  Scandal ridden Glasgow council has been held by Labour for generations, its loss would be a body-blow to the party’s self-esteem and to its idea of itself as the “people’s party”.  

SNP MSP for Glasgow Cathcart James Dornan, who took the seat from Labour in May, put the blame for Labour’s difficulties squarely on the party’s unrelenting negativity and its failure to develop a positive case.  

Mr Dornan said:

“First Tom Harris ruled himself out of Labour’s leadership race in Scotland, and now it emerges that the front-runner, Johann Lamont, would lose her Glasgow Pollok seat to the SNP on the basis of the latest Ipsos MORI poll.  It is high time that Labour woke up and smelt the coffee – they need to ditch their style of politics where opposition for opposition’s sake is served up time and time again.

“The SNP are governing in the interests of the people, and standing up for Scotland against the Tory/Lib Dem cuts from Westminster.  If Labour are serious about being part of the process of moving Scotland forward, then they must at long last provide ideas and positivity.

“Maybe these projected poll results will give the two remaining Labour leadership hopefuls pause for thought – and make them realise that the people of Scotland deserve better and demand more from the main opposition party.”

Mr Dornan’s colleague, SNP MSP for Cunninghame North, Kenneth Gibson echoed the remarks and claimed that Labour only have themselves to blame for being in what Tom Harris described as a “mess”.

MrGibson said: “This sensational poll is a crisis for Labour on the eve of their leadership result.  Labour’s relentless negativity in the run up to the election in May led to their disastrous result, but in the seven months since they have failed to learn the lessons.

“Indeed, their dispiriting leadership campaign has if anything taken Labour to new depths of negativity, and they are paying the price for continuing to talk Scotland down.  Accentuating the negative had cost Labour a further six-point decline from their election meltdown – while the SNP are up five points since winning an overall majority.”

 

Notice: In an earlier addition of this article it was stated that Labour MP Tom Harris had garnered late support from a handful of MSPs at the behest of Labour’s London base.  This was untrue and we have removed the paragraph.  The mistake was as a result of a misunderstanding and Newsnet Scotland would like to apologise for giving a false impression.