Scottish Labour was undermined by Jeremy Corbyn and now faces fight to survive – Labour MSP

Scottish Labour must make serious changes if it is to avoid becoming a detail of history, writes Scottish Labour MSP Daniel Johnson.

Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home in north London after Labour's defeat in the general election was revealed (Picture: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty)

This is the worst result for Labour in Scotland in over 100 years. The last time our party secured less than 20 per cent in a general election was in 1910.

This stark fact should cause all of us in Scottish Labour alarm. But even more perilous than the position in which we find ourselves is the risk that the UK result prevents scrutiny of the particular issues faced by our party in Scotland.

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Based on the number of seats, there will be a temptation to make comparisons with 2015 where again Ian Murray was left as the sole Labour MP north of the Border. But this result is much worse.

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In 2017 we had seen the tentative green shoots of a revival in Scotland, securing 27 per cent of the vote, seven MPs and many marginals that looked winnable at the next election. That revival looks like it has been killed off before it took root.

Copy-and-paste campaign

There will be a temptation in some quarters to blame the national picture. A UK trend unalterable by any effort in Scotland. But that would be to ignore how much worse the result has been for Scottish Labour and the clear mistakes made in the campaign in Scotland.

Nationally, Labour was punished because of poor perception of Jeremy Corbyn, lack of clarity on Brexit and a manifesto that was a list of spending pledges that looked like telephone numbers. In Scotland, our campaign was a copy and paste of the UK campaign and that compounded the errors made by the UK party.

There is one question that dominates Scottish politics. Defining your position on Scotland’s constitutional future is the starter for ten in Scottish politics; failing to answer means you can’t score any points.

Yet on this, we allowed our position to be overruled and undermined by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. In doing so, not only did we undermine any distinctive leadership of the party in Scotland, the constitutional ambiguity surrounding Brexit was compounded. If lack of clarity on Brexit was toxic at a UK level, ambivalence on Scottish independence has proved lethal in Scotland.

The campaign was in some ways summed up by the paucity of distinctive Scottish policies. Too often our position was to take a UK figure and divide it by ten to provide a Scottish sum of a particular spending pledge. The need for us to have a distinctive message and a distinctive offer in Scotland is a lesson I thought we had learned many elections ago. It would seem it has been forgotten.

Labour has some serious contemplation following this election. But for Scottish Labour this is existential. Failure to reflect on these issues and change will make our party, not just this result, a historical detail.

Daniel Johnson is Scottish Labour MSP for Edinburgh Southern