Analysis: Scottish Labour find themselves between two extremes and with no voice
Richard Leonard was elected at the height of the popularity of Corbynism. His decline has mirrored that of the former Labour leader, but despite more than three years leading the party, Mr Leonard left the leadership an unknown to the public.
Polling by Savanta ComRes for The Scotsman showed that for all but two characteristics the public were asked to apply to Scottish party leaders, don’t knows scored 50 per cent or above.
On favourability, Mr Leonard had 28 per cent of voters saying they didn’t know and a further third saying they viewed him neither favourably or unfavourably.
He has left Scottish Labour at close to the nadir of their popularity nationally – although this week’s poll had them comfortably second to the SNP and ahead of the Tories – but more critically his three years in charge have left a party in the middle of two extremes with no coherent voice.
The party is still yet to grapple fully with the question of where it should stand on independence, leading to those desperate to stop the SNP flirting with or moving over to the Conservatives in 2016.
On trust with domestic issues, however, the party seems to have reached its base level of support.
Labour still manages to maintain an average of between 15 and 20 per cent for voter trust on domestic issues – better than the Conservatives – but they are still leaking votes to the SNP at double the rate SNP supporters are moving to Labour (15 per cent against 7 per cent of 2019 voters) in the regional list.
In the constituency battle, it’s worse. One in five Labour voters in 2019 are planning to vote for the SNP instead, with only 4 per cent going in the other direction.
But Scottish Labour is pulling in more voters than the Scottish Conservatives from other parties and from those who didn’t vote in the general election in 2019, so it may be that a more coherent voice on independence and a stronger domestic presence could lead to a renaissance.
Why? There are signs that Douglas Ross could be suffering from a similar problem to Mr Leonard.
Despite being in the top job for more than five months, the Scottish Conservative leader has an equally low profile – 28 per cent didn’t know when asked about his favourability and 30 per cent said they felt neither favourably or unfavourably.
His party is also at its lowest ebb since pre-2016.
Should the SNP lose their best asset – without doubt that is Nicola Sturgeon – Labour could take full advantage of the Scottish Tories struggles.
After all, around 7 per cent of Tory voters are planning to switch to Labour in the constituency battle and 8 per cent on the regional list.
Going the other way, Mr Ross’ party is taking just one and 3 per cent of Labour’s voters for each vote respectively.
But that success will only come with a strong, clear domestic voice in the midst and on constitutional wranglings.
And, most importantly, a leader the public can pick out of a line-up.
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