The mood was sombre at the Labour Party’s Scottish conference last Saturday, as speakers harked back to the past instead of looking to the future.
The one-day event was organised to vote through rule changes proposed by its new leader, Blairite Jim Murphy.
His plan was to wrap the party in a Saltire flag and revise its aims to “work for the patriotic interest of the Scottish people”.
Labour claimed this was its biggest ever conference in Scotland, although far more people were observing than were able to vote.
And there is bad news all round for Murphy. He was recently attacked by STUC leader Grahame Smith for having “nothing at all to say” about the role of unions.
And new polls show the Scottish National Party (SNP) could win 56 of Scotland’s 59 MPs in May’s general election.
Pollster John Curtice said, “The SNP tide appears to be more or less every bit as strong in No voting Labour areas as it was previously shown to be in Yes voting ones.”
Labour’s support has plummeted since the independence referendum last year. Yet its leaders fail to grasp the profound change in Scotland’s political landscape.
Many working class people voted for independence out of a desire for social justice.
The sight of Labour leaders campaigning so vigorously with the Tories against a Yes vote left huge bitterness. Many now want to see them punished, even if that fuels support for the SNP.
So electing a Westminster establishment politician like Murphy as leader was a disaster. He is part of the problem for Yes voters who hoped for an end to austerity.
Murphy’s “patriotism” rule change was comfortably carried by 69 percent at last Saturday’s conference. It wasn’t clear how all the union affiliates voted but the only speech made against it was from a Unite union delegate.
Labour isn’t losing support to the SNP because of a surge in nationalism but because Nicola Sturgeon’s party has crafted an image of challenging Westminster austerity.
Labour is not seen as an alternative to the Tories while the SNP is—even though it is in favour of austerity.
This view will be compounded by the revelation that Murphy’s chief of staff thinks it was “a good thing” that Margaret Thatcher “did what she did”.
And his support for more privatisation will do little to convince former voters to come back to the party in May.
Big rows are now breaking out about where Labour’s election cash is being spent. One MP is reported as saying Labour should “forget about anywhere west of the Lothians”.
Another Labour hopeful challenging the SNP in Dundee has publicly declined £1,000 from Tony Blair.
It would be premature to write off Labour in Scotland. But there is no doubt its leadership has a credibility problem in working class areas and the unions.
The danger is the left fails to offer a genuine unified alternative, leaving the field open to the SNP, because the ground is shifting fast.