Inside politics: Alex Salmond will have to rely on traditional Labour voters if he is to win his independence referendum
A LARGE part of Alex Salmond’s electoral success in the past two Holyrood elections has centred around his ability to attract vast numbers of former Labour votes.
It’s probably true to say many of these sometime Labour supporters lent their votes to the SNP at those elections, with Mr Salmond successfully managing to outflank his Labour opponents on issues such as free prescriptions and opposition to using private finance to fund the building of NHS hospitals.
Labour’s strong electoral performance in Scotland at the 2010 general election showed that, Holyrood polls aside, the SNP can’t assume their success will be replicated in all tests of public opinion. But whatever Mr Salmond’s future success in trying to appeal to “Old Labour”-inclined voters, a direct pitch to that constituency could form a key plank of the First Minister’s strategy in attempting to win support for the independence cause ahead of the 2014 referendum.
The relative success of Ed Miliband’s Labour Party at UK level, with a decent poll lead over the David Cameron’s party, arguably suggests Mr Salmond may struggle to get Scottish voters to back independence largely on the basis of avoiding having policies imposed on them by a Tory-led government.
But even if Mr Miliband appears likely to be elected as prime minister at the time of the 2014 referendum, Mr Salmond will almost certainly appeal over the heads of Labour’s leadership to the party’s voters, by offering them the supposed chance of escaping a Tory-led government for ever by supporting independence.
Mr Salmond’s stark message to Labourites will be that an independent Scotland would never elect a centre-right government and would be a nation where the NHS, education and public services would forever be protected from Thatcherite-style policies. There could well be a receptive audience to this message in traditional Labour strongholds such as Glasgow and Lanarkshire, and the Better Together campaign against independence – led by former chancellor Alistair Darling – would perhaps do well to be take this on board now.
It would be too crude to talk about a large Labour-nationalist constituency in Scotland, but there are undoubtedly those still loyal to Labour and not necessarily attracted to the SNP who haven’t ruled out backing for independence.
Former Scottish Labour chairman Bob Thomson has said if he was “pushed into a corner” with a straight Yes-No question on whether Scotland should remain in the UK, with no option of more powers for Holyrood, he would back independence, warning others in the Labour and trade union movement would do the same.
However, the big question in all this is whether Mr Salmond will be able to win over enough Labour voters to the pro-independence cause to make a big enough difference to the outcome of the referendum.
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