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The pick of the hottest takes after Labour's big win.
Here is another of my occasional media roundup posts. I hope it’s of interest. In the run-up to SNP conference, I’ll publish some interesting polling - once again a big thanks to paid subscribers who enable content like that. This remains a hobby for me so every penny from subscribers goes to create content.
From Yes v No to Change v More of the Same
The national significance of Michael Shanks’ victory is beginning to sink in. The Guardian suggests that proof of Labour’s recovery in Scotland allows Kier Starmer to put in place the final puzzle piece of an accelerated return to power:
“In 2019 Labour seemed to be in a “triple lock” keeping it out of power, and looked unlikely to beat any of its conditions: massive swing, advantageous distribution of swing, recovery in Scotland. But in 2023 everything has changed. The national polls show a huge swing, the local elections and the Selby and Ainsty byelection showed a particularly high swing just where it was needed (Tamworth will be another test), and now Rutherglen and Hamilton West demonstrates Labour on the march in Scotland.”
“Repeat your message until you puke,” was the advice of Bill Clinton’s campaign manager James Carville. I suggest an alternative test: repeat your message until Tom Gordon in The Herald takes the piss out of you for your consistency:
“Change is coming. Big change. Lots of change. So much change that by this time next year you’ll be sick of the sound of it. Change, you say? Change the record.”
Labour has found a message that works - for both sets of voters who once identified primarily as Yes and No voters - and they’re sticking to it. Several commentators have identified this as the most important change from this election: for the first time in nearly a decade, Scottish voters are making political choices on a basis other than their constitutional preferences.
Pollster Peter Kellner writes in the Scotsman describing the new centre ground of Scottish politics where a majority of voters are now not motivated primarily by the constitutional question:
“Overall, a picture emerges of a three-way division in the Scottish electorate: 25-30 per cent of fervent nationalists for whom independence matters more than anything else; a similar number of committed unionists; and 40-50 per cent in between: voters with views about Scotland’s constitutional future, but who now care more about day-to-day matters like healthcare, education, jobs and prices.”
Chris Musson in The Sun reckons:
“People want good government. Decent public services. Not constant constitutional warfare.”
A new Redfield and Wilton poll published earlier underlines this change. Fewer than one in five voters chose independence or The Union as among the top three issues that will decide how they vote. Even among 2019 SNP voters only slightly more than one in three picked the constitution in their top three issues. Another poll by Opinium published by Tony Blair’s Institute found that nearly half of SNP voters want to delay reopening the constitution until it is likely that people would vote for independence. Something has changed.
The Times Leader summarises things well:
“Polling suggests that the slick Mr Sarwar beats Sir Keir for popularity on the Scottish doorstep. But Labour as a whole is back in vogue. Only it can displace the Tories in Westminster and that prospect appears to energise Scots more than the goal of independence. Labour may also benefit from the tactical voting of Scots Tories and Liberals anxious to protect the Union. Rutherglen is a swallow, not a spring. But Labour is gaining momentum, and in politics momentum is all.”
Listening to Voters or Talking to Themselves
Ironically, as voters are leaving the independence debate behind and focussing on the economy, public services and so many other things, the SNP’s public post-mortem of their defeat is utterly one-note. The Guardian has a good piece summarising the internal debate between those who think the issue is independence and those who think the issue is independence. You’re left wondering whether a party so addicted to talking to itself can ever hear what voters are now telling them.
Neil MacKay in The Herald summarises the strategic view of those who say now is the time to accentuate the SNP’s nationalism:
“The only real chance of success depends on the SNP doing something rather unpleasant: an appeal to populism. Having failed at governing, all the party has left is independence. Support for independence remains buoyant with roughly half the nation still Yes voters.”
The thinking here, repeated in much of the coverage, is that support for leaving the UK is now significantly higher than support for the SNP. This worldview assumes that independence is a higher motivating factor than the economy or the wish to see a change in the UK government. As above, the polling suggests that the constitution has moved from the foreground to the background of the debate.
Stewart McDonald MP has written in the Scotsman arguing against such an approach:
“If, however, we adopt a quasi-fundamentalist, short-term position that is solely about getting us through the next election with the core vote – abandoning the big and ambitious coalition we’ve built and that has allowed us to dominate Scotland’s centre ground – then it won’t be a strategy we’ve opted for, but an emotional spasm.”
Turning on Each Other
Last time I wrote that the weekend papers would be full of off-the-record briefings as post-result panic becomes disunity and ill-discipline. It is happening already. Conor Matchett’s article in the Scotsman, in particular, is dripping with off-the-record briefings by senior SNP figures.
An extraordinary story in Holyrood Magazine reports that the Deputy Leader of the SNP’s Westminster group Mhairi Black threatened to resign from the SNP on the eve of the byelection after her preferred replacement failed candidate vetting. This leaves voters in Paisley and Renfrewshire South with the possibility of being asked to vote for a candidate who failed vetting, but without being told why we failed vetting.
The Times has what looks like briefing from Stephen Flynn that he is personally uneasy with Yousaf’s independence strategy. Meanwhile, other sources are openly debating whether it is better to ditch Yousaf quickly, in order to give the party the time to recover momentum before the general election.
Sturgeon’s former head of press Fergus Mutch writes in The Sun:
“I don’t think they’ve necessarily faced up to the Labour juggernaut that’s about to rumble right over the top of them.”
Stephen Flynn’s has a piece in The Record with this rather odd line:
“It’ll take some serious thinking and probably some concessions from folk on all sides of the party.”
Might the SNP now be too divided to unite around a winnings strategy even if one could be found?
Follow the Money
In the last edition, I wrote about how a cash-strapped SNP will now have to either spread resources too thinly or face the ill-discipline that comes from acknowledging that some MPs cannot be saved. Robert Hoskins on Twitter raises another resource headache for the SNP. A return to something closer to a 2010 General Election result could result in the SNP losing up to a million pounds in Short Money, the public funding allocated to opposition parties. In the summer there was speculation that the SNP could have folded if its failure to find an auditor resulted in the loss of this money. A poor General Election result may raise this problem all over again.
While she may have left her party impoverished Nicola Sturgeon is doing very nicely. She has just declared a payment of £75,000 for her memoirs. The first of four instalments.
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