Labour's Scottish Suicide And Why We May Get Another Election in 2015

The story of Labour and Scotland is a play in three acts. It started with noble intentions, moved to farce and will end in tragedy.

This was not the outcome Labour envisaged when it embarked on its great devolutionary experiment like some mad scientist let loose in a chemistry laboratory.

The creation of a Scottish Parliament was supposed to have been the completion of the project that would lay to rest the question of independence — the magical formula which sated the appetite of the Nats but allowed the Labour hegemony north of the border to continue.

Instead it started a chain reaction, not just in Scotland but in the other regions and nations, which nobody has any idea how to stop.

Labour now finds itself looking at the SNP with the same horror of a liberal parent who, having indulged their child's wish to smoke and drink, cannot believe their tolerance was rewarded by their teenager turning into a smack head.

Much of the Labour's misfortune in Scotland is of its own making. Dominance bred complacency. Loyal voters were taken for granted and its base left unnourished. The referendum exposed the weakness of a once formidable machine as organisers found to their horror that membership lists were out of date and contact rates almost non-existent in some areas.

But it was not just the organisation that had been allowed to atrophy. There was no attempt to forge a new policy agenda while Labour was able to win simply by posing as the anti-Thatcher party.

This might have been preventable if Labour had been gifted more leaders of the quality of Donald Dewar, the first First Minister. As the SNP started to get its act together under Alex Salmond, Labour chose a succession of leaders who were weird, unworldly or inadequate. This chain of incompetence was finally broken with the arrival of Jim Murphy.

Yet even Mr Murphy's most fervent admirers admit that given the time available, even his formidable skills will not be enough to save Labour from a Tartan thrashing on May 7.

To quote a line from Macbeth: "that which hath made them drunk have made me bold." Alex Salmond and, now Nicola Sturgeon, have grown in confidence while Labour stumbles drunkenly in the face of forces it is struggling to comprehend, yet alone control.

All developed democracies are witnessing a rise in anti-politics sentiment, some are seeing a surge in nationalism, while others face a challenge from anti-austerity movements.

It is to the Nationalists’ great fortune (some would argue credit) that all three elements have come together in Scotland. The SNP is offering a potent brew of anti-Westminster rhetoric, the hope of independence and a cuts-free utopia.

Never mind if this is economically illiterate and political hogwash, there is nothing at the moment in Labour's armoury to counter it, which is why the SNP looks set to hold the balance of power on May 7.

The cruel consequence of the referendum was that by agreeing to help the Tories save the Union - and themselves - Labour ceded its position as the anti-Thatcher party to the Nationalists and has left itself open to the charge it is just another Westminster party.

Last week's Lord Ashcroft poll suggested the SNP could win 54 of the 59 seats in Scotland. Battle-hardened Labour MPs admit there will be "casualties" but point out the polls during the referendum over inflated the nationalist vote and, crucially, the number of don't knows remains very high. Their challenge is to win the undecideds back.

This is why Ed Miliband is so reluctant to rule out a post-election pact with the Nationalists. Labour has no more interest in such a deal than the SNP. For both parties it would be an act of self harm.

The Nationalists would have to support Ed Balls' budgets, thereby losing their ace "anti-austerity" card, while Labour would be signing its own death warrant if it were forced to sanction another independence referendum.

The dilemma for Labour is that, if it rules out a pact categorically, it makes it harder to win back former Labour voters who have switched to the SNP. They need courting, not being told their allegiance is an act of betrayal.

Without showing any gratitude for Labour's role in the referendum, nor any acknowledgement that the Tories are so far the only party to do a deal with the SNP when they propped up Alex Salmond between 2007-11, the Conservatives have tried to exploit Miliband's tortuous position by demanding Labour comes clean on its intentions.

One senior Scottish Labour figure is now convinced there will be a second election this year. Labour will be unable and unwilling to forge an alliance with the SNP, while David Cameron will fall short of the numbers needed for a repeat Coalition with the Lib Dems.

In this scenario, the leader of the largest party's best option will be to say: "I have tried my utmost to form a government, for the sake of stability we must go to the polls again."

Would the fixed term parliament act not prevent that? "In that situation, it would have all the weight of a Water and Sewage Act," one former Cabinet minister told me.

Jason Beattie is the political editor of the Daily Mirror

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About the author

Jason Beattie is the political editor of the Daily Mirror. He has worked in Westminster for 15 years including spells on the Birmingham Post, Scotsman and the London Evening Standard. A hispanophile, he has also written for El Mundo and has a deep interest in Spanish and Catalan history, culture and food.

Follow Jason on Twitter.

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