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Reclaim the ‘red wall’ but don’t shun Scotland

By George Esmond
17 February 2021

By George Esmond

In each paper you pick up or political book you browse through, you will find theories and analysis of how Labour lost the red wall seats in 2019 – and the importance of winning them back if the party ever wants to govern again.

This is undoubtedly true. The 33 seats lost across the red wall region – comprising of northern England, the Midlands, and parts of North Wales – is made up of historic and integral Labour voters who felt alienated by a cosmopolitan, middle-class leadership run by the far left-wing faction of the party. But now the party seems to be forging a new path, with the rejection of Corbynism and the introduction of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s sudden-found British patriotism, it could be a pivotal turning point.

Yet Southside, Labour’s HQ, is still neglecting - or not associating nearly enough with - a vital part of our island. One that Blair and Brown controlled for most of New Labour’s premiership. Labour cannot win a Westminster majority without Scotland. The party’s aspirations, to reclaim its heartlands seats, could more than double if they were to overturn the large majority of the Scottish National Party.

The Scottish Labour party has had four leaders in the last six years, an additional five operating as acting leaders, with none able to surpass an approval rating of over 40 per cent or hold the position for more than three years since Lord McConnell.  This hit new lows in the 2019 General Election when the party polled at just 18.6 per cent - its worst result in recent history.

Speaking to The Guardian last year, Labour’s only Scottish MP Ian Murray, said Labour HQ had been far too tentative with their engagement in Scotland, adding: “We need a UK Labour leader who understands identity and is committed to engaging with the Scottish Labour party.”

Therefore, the next Scottish leader needs to be a prominent, effervescent figure that retains a personable relationship with Sir Keir. He or she should be active in all of Labour’s forthcoming policy decisions – promoting Westminster and Holyrood closer together – and helping to revitalise the party in a country that rebuffs Boris Johnson but only reluctantly rejects the union. Gordon Brown, while Chancellor of the Exchequer, helped reinforce the close bond Glaswegians, Edinburghers and Dundonians can have towards the union – knowing his prominent position in the cabinet had the country’s priorities at heart.

It added extra weight to devolution - seen as a genuine move to help give more autonomy to Scotland, rather than the easy form of appeasement it has become to prevent further calls for Independence.

But the fact that Brown is still the chief voice advising the party on Scotland highlights the gaping void yet to be filled by a new name.  And though the current shadow Chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, resides from Aberdeen, her seat and the issues in Oxford East are a far cry from the heterogeneity exhibited by those in the Granite City.

Therefore, Labour has a chance to stomp its authority once more by electing a new leader on February 27 and campaigning fervently for the benefits of the union, a comprehensive plan for federalism, and a Labour government that can deliver for the Scottish people.

The two candidates - MSP for Glasgow Anas Sarwar and MSP for Central Scotland Monica Lennon - both acknowledge the failures of devolution over the last decade. Many of the same problems in healthcare, obesity rates and crime levels have increased over the last decade. They will need be to be larger-than-life in their personality, proposals, and performance in the run-up to the Scottish elections this May, showing that a Labour Party can be Scotland’s solution once more.

And Labour and the Scottish faction should work in closer proximity – dispelling current misanthropic connotations towards one another – portraying a party that creates policies in harmony to instil hope for the Kingdom post-Brexit. 

Forging your path through being a sovereign nation is now a well-evidenced political play to answer a country’s current problems. But a Scottish voice that has the Labour leaders’ ear might be the actual answer voters have longed to see.