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Could the Tories Beat Labour in Scotland?

15/12/2015 10:23 GMT | Updated 14/12/2016 10:12 GMT

There's something interesting going on in the opinion polls and, unfortunately for our friends in Scottish Labour, it isn't the battle for the top spot. If the opinion polls are to be believed - and that's with the usual cautionary big 'If' - it's the battle for second place that is proving to be the most intriguing. The last few opinion polls have shown the Tories catching Labour, with many speculating that the Tories may just be about to eclipse Labour for the first time in an election for the Scottish Parliament. For the Labour Party this would be an utter disaster, and for the Tories a pretty dramatic turn around given that they secured another historic low in the Westminster election just a few short months ago.

Political parties always try to set the agenda onto their ground and develop the narrative that they want the public to embrace and run with. For Scottish Labour this has been the SNP government's record of stewardship of public services and in this they have invested a great deal of energy for pretty meagre returns. For all this endeavour, they have failed to span the huge chasm between what they want the Scottish people to feel about our public services and how the public 'actually' experience them. They are also on the point of provoking the Scottish people to distraction with their endless 'SNP bad' whinge.

The Tories in the meantime try and bank on a variety of soft focus issues and fuzzy photo opportunities, trying as much as possible to disassociate themselves from the ideologues at Westminster and their vulnerable and marginal bashing agenda. Their approach, unlike Labour, seems to be to try and provoke the Scottish people as little as possible. The result is that the Tories therefore now seem to rile the Scottish people rather less than the endlessly groaning Labour.

But try as much as they might the focus keeps on coming back to that hardiest of perennials - the constitution, and this is where it starts to get really bad for Labour. It would seem that the Scottish people are still not through with constitutional politics and it is this that still determines the on going fault line in our political debate. This is not good for Labour as they now seem to be outflanked on two fronts in the constitutional wars.

They are still seen to be resiliently and defiantly set against most of their former voters who have now almost totally given up on them in frustration at their ongoing unionist positioning. Labour's lost legion of voters have now been comfortably assimilated into voting SNP believing that we best represent their national ambitions.

But it is what is happening to the twenty odd per cent of Labour voters who still remain with the Scottish Labour project that must start to concern the comrades. There are Labour voters who will never be reconciled to the SNP and most of them can probably be characterised as being unionist-ly inclined and pretty hardcore at that. What they want is an unwavering commitment to the union with no vacillation.

What they observe, though, is a Labour Party making all sorts of overtures to independence supporters saying "it's alright to want indy" in an attempt to win them back. It is these voters who are leaking to the Tories who they see as the true union believers and standard bearers for the UK. Labour now seem to be in a dangerous constitutional no-man's land unsupported by their former independence supporting voters and being deserted by those that want a cast iron unionist discipline.

There is a solution but there is no sign that Labour are yet in a mood to grasp it and that is to go with the flow with most of their (former) voters - a position at some point they will have to get round to adopting. Now they are in just about the worst place possible. And no amount of shouting 'SNP bad' is going to fix that.

Pete Wishart is the SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire

This blog first appeared on Pete's personal blog, and can be read here