The UK Labour party made a fatal mistake during the Independence Referendum. As a UK party with one set of policies, one ideology across every part of the UK, the Scottish branch of the Labour party had to fight on a platform that was good for the London based Westminster UK Labour party.
At this point it’s worth noting that Scotland is a very different country to England politically. In England, the Tories have a lot of support in enough constituencies to contest every General Election. They’re a contender for government in England. In Scotland, the Tories have around 10% of the electorate, mostly bunched around a few areas. They’re a minority party in Scotland.
This isn’t just about the Tories, it’s about right wing Tory ideology. In England, Labour have moved increasingly to the right to target soft Tory voters in marginals. UKIP have arrived from the far right to contest lots of seats. As a result, both the Tories and Labour have been drawn into a bidding war to combat UKIP. It’s about who can be even more heartless on the poor and vulnerable and who can be more aggressive on immigrants. This is appealing to enough voters in England that all parties chase it. In Scotland it’s a turn off.
Scotland won’t elect a right wing government. We elected Labour when enough of us still thought they were a centre left party, or maybe they were in enough ways at the time. As Labour shifted further to the right, the electorate wanted another centre left party to back. I don’t think you could count the SNP traditionally as centre left, but more of a centre party with some left wing policies around valued public services like the NHS. Any party seeking to win in Scotland has to be at least centre, or centre left. No right wing party stands a chance of winning the mainstream.
The UK Labour party have shown they’re just as keen on privatisation of public services as the Tories, just as keen on austerity as the Tories, and just as keen on Imperial warmongering as the Tories. It’s not about promises or pledges, it’s about how they’ve behaved. It’s about the debates they turn up for in Parliament and how they vote. None of this makes them electable in Scotland.
For a party who burned their reputation and support base in Scotland arguing against independence, independence is the only thing that will save Scottish Labour.
It is only a first step. After that, they can begin to listen to the public. They can examine why the SNP are popular, and devise their own “Scottish solutions for Scottish problems”. They need to start behaving like a responsible political party. It’s one thing to oppose on a policy issue, or to refine legislation to make it better. It’s something completely different to simply oppose it because the SNP propose it.
The only difference a real Labour party has with the SNP is the matter of which Parliament makes legislation. Labour want that to be Westminster, the SNP want it to be Holyrood. Aside from that, you’d think that most of the SNP plans would be backed by Labour, albeit with minor tweaks here and there.
Finally, they need to convince the public that this change is genuine, and not just another stunt. When they’ve shown they’re willing to lie for votes, that’s the hard part. It will take time to be trusted again.
Without all of that, Labour are doomed to oblivion in Scotland, starting with a major shunt down that hill in the 2015 General Election, followed by the 2016 Holyrood Election. There is no other recovery option for Scottish Labour.