Sunday, 8 May 2011

The aftermath

A disappointment over the AV vote to be sure, but still some surprising outcomes from Thursday's elections.

First, the Tories increased the number of their councillors in England and the number of councils which they now control, which given that they are a party in government and already started from quite a high threshold is remarkable.

Even more remarkable is the result in Scotland.

The result in Scotland is principally the fault of the Scottish Labour party. In the last 20 years or so there has been an only partly concealed anti-Englishness about the politics they have espoused, to the point where they became blinded by their own propaganda, and this has now come home to roost. They spent their time running a campaign against "London" and the Tories, and then while busy pulling this straw man apart failed to notice the real enemy at their gates.

This raises a number of strategic dilemmas for the Labour party, both in Scotland and in the UK as a whole. The Tory-English bogeyman may work for Labour in UK elections in Scotland but it plainly doesn't work in Scottish elections, and they are going to have to come up with a new story which is more convincing than "vote SNP and you get independence". As it happens, whilst the odds are against Alex Salmond succeeding at a referendum, he is a very canny operator and success cannot be counted out. It will now be for him to start playing the grievance card in the period leading up to the referendum (which given a majority in the Scottish Parliament he is well placed to do), and hope to do so rather better than the Labour party's pitiful attempts in the past.

The referendum, if and when it comes, in my view will have a significant effect in England as well as in Scotland. It is difficult to predict how people in England will react to the sound and fury of the referendum going on to the north of them given that some of it will be about them. It is difficult to discuss Scotland's role in the Union without also discussing England's role in it, and Labour and the other unionist parties need to give thought to how arguments will play south of the border as well as in Scotland itself. More particularly, the UK Labour party are going to have to provide a new narrative for voters in England if they are going to recover their position there: otherwise those voters may want to remind them that they are no more to be taken for granted than are those in Scotland.

Altogether, we have a very interesting 4 or 5 years ahead of us; and the strategic headaches for Milliband Junior during that period are probably more intractable than the more transient ones at present bearing down on Nick Clegg.

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