“People in Scotland face the same significant problems as working class people in the rest of the UK with the cost-of-living crisis, growing NHS waiting lists, a lack of affordable housing, poor public transport provision, and rising levels of inequality.”
Katy Clark warns how SNP failures aren’t enough to win back traditional Labour voters
For almost a decade, the SNP has been the dominant force in Scottish politics. The 2014 independence referendum delivered a significant shift in the political landscape north of the border, with support for Scottish Labour plummeting and the SNP winning election after election.
Labour lost the trust of many who had traditionally supported the party but who no longer thought that we were on their side. Many traditional Labour voters in working class communities who had supported a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum switched their allegiance to the SNP and Labour was reduced to the third party in Scottish politics. There was no longer a class basis to Labour’s support in Scotland, with working class communities no more likely to support Labour than other parties. For as long as the SNP has continued to enjoy the support of these voters, it has remained the dominant political force in Scotland.
However, it now appears for the first time in years that some of these voters are beginning to lose their faith in an SNP which is increasingly looking tired, divided, incompetent, and devoid of ideas. Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation followed by a fractious SNP leadership contest and the ongoing police investigation into the handling of the party’s finances has led to a decline in the party’s support in recent opinion polls. The Tories in Scotland are unable to make headway given their UK freefall.
Labour still needs to inspire
However, this fall in SNP support doesn’t necessarily represent a permanent shift from the party or an automatic boost in support for Labour.
Yes, traditional Labour voters who backed independence and switched their support to the SNP post-referendum may be looking at our party once again. But if we are to convert that into solid support for Labour, we cannot simply rely on the SNP’s continued disintegration. Labour must have a positive vision for Scotland – one which inspires voters after years of SNP and Tory austerity and mismanagement of our public services.
People in Scotland face the same significant problems as working class people in the rest of the UK with the cost-of-living crisis, growing NHS waiting lists, a lack of affordable housing, poor public transport provision, and rising levels of inequality. The poverty and deprivation associated with deindustrialisation continues to blight large parts of the country. These challenges can’t be addressed solely through better management of public services than that offered by the SNP and the Tories: they require significant policy change and political will.
Some of the party’s recent policy announcements for Scotland are welcome, such as GB Energy and the significant investment it will bring for green jobs and infrastructure across Scotland. However, Scottish Labour continues to be taunted by the ‘Red Tory’ attack line. And whilst social attitudes in Scotland are very similar to the rest of the UK, the political centre of gravity in Scotland is significantly to the left of the Westminster political dialogue.
We must look at progressive taxation for Scotland. Research from the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) has highlighted the extensive taxation powers available to the Scottish Government which could raise up to £1bn in additional revenue per year for public services. These powers include the ability to introduce a wealth tax and land taxes – but the SNP has paid nothing but lip service to the idea of using these powers.
Labour must be bold and commit to delivering a truly progressive taxation system for Scotland, including wealth and land taxes to ensure that the wealthiest pay their fair share towards funding public services and tackling the inequalities in wider society.
A positive vision for Scotland must also deliver an industrial strategy, including a proper ferry procurement strategy which is crucial for island communities and for rebuilding shipbuilding.
An industrial strategy which delivers well-paid, secure, and unionised jobs through the delivery of crucial infrastructure such as green technologies and shipbuilding would not only be positive and transformative for Scotland but would also demonstrate a sharp contrast between Labour and the SNP in terms of the parties’ willingness to use devolved powers to deliver transformative change.
It falls to us as a Labour Party to be the champions of positive and transformative change for Scotland.
- Katy Clark is MSP West Scotland Region, you can follower her on Facebook and X (formerly twitter).
- This article was originally published in the special 50th anniversary edition of Campaign Briefing, Read the full magazine here.