THE BLOG

What Next for Labour?

19/05/2015 16:38 BST | Updated 19/05/2016 10:59 BST

The general election saw the near-total decimation of Scottish Labour, and was a poor showing for the party UK-wide. Reform is necessary - that much is agreed. But the problem is that no one seems able to agree exactly how to do this.

The generally accepted argument is that Labour is no longer left enough for Scotland. Many turned to the SNP as an austerity alternative, whilst Labour was intent on continuing cuts (albeit to a lesser extent than the Tories) and weirdly accepted that their public sector spending agenda pre-2010 had caused the (global) economic downturn. The stepping down of Jim Murphy as the head of Scottish Labour has been celebrated as a turn for the better. Many members, including MSPs Neil Findlay and Alex Rowley, have urged the party to edge back left now it is free of a 'Blairite' leader. The issue is the party cannot move left without the rest of UK Labour behind it (the truth behind former leader Johann Lamont's branch officer comments) - a prospect which is unlikely given the party is not thought to be right enough in England and Wales.

South of the border, the pro-Blair faction of the party continues to call for further reforms like those which led to the 1997 New Labour landslide. These same people describe Miliband's leadership as an "experiment" with left-wing politics. Personally, I would question their definition of left-wing - the acceptance of austerity demonstrated the party was anything but. That being said, a further shift right seems almost inevitable for Labour as they try to lure voters away from the Conservatives. This could spell suicide for the party, because such a move might be the final straw for the genuine Left in the party.

With this in mind, many in Scottish Labour are calling for its segregation from the main party - presumably with a similar agreement to the Greens whereby collaboration between the parties would still be possible. The inherent danger in this option would be splitting the Labour vote. New Labour has a hold in Scottish Labour, or else Murphy would not have survived the vote of no confidence nor even have been elected as leader in the first place. Therefore, a separate Scottish Labour party would still suffer from a deeply divided membership, or worse, it would cause an offshoot party to be created, further fragmenting the vote.

For these reasons, it is difficult to identify a reasonable strategy for Labour to take - compromise is difficult given the sides of Labour are pulling in opposite directions. A move either way would alienate half of the party - but not moving risks alienating all.

What the party requires is a strong leader - one which voters were actually feel confident in backing in future elections. Whilst neither Miliband nor Murphy were perhaps as terrible as the press would have us believe, neither polled well on voter opinions. Few people could see Miliband as their Prime Minister. But this isn't because of the politics he was calling for, as indicated by analysis of the British Attitude Survey which reveals England and Wales are not as far right as their voting patterns would suggest. In fact, these surveys reveal there to actually be little difference between Scots and their rUK counterparts when it comes to policy support - the difference is rather than the Scottish electorate have two options on the left. This means if one of these becomes unelectable, as Labour did under Murphy and Miliband, there exists an alternative in the form of the SNP. Contrast this with England in particular, where an unelectable Labour means having to rely on the Conservatives - despite not agreeing with much of their manifesto.

To stop a repeat of 2015, Labour must make itself a viable option by electing a leader which people could conceivably see at No. 10. Miliband did not fill this criteria. Hopefully the next leader will, and this will go part way to ensuring England and Wales sway back to the left so Scottish Labour are not forced to split on the grounds that their political attitudes contrast too much with their rUK colleagues.