Scottish election 2021 results: Scottish Labour hopeful, but will need to box clever in future

There will be an argument that Scottish Labour are the biggest losers in this election and the final numbers are likely to create that impression.

However, when you contextualise the results for the former dominant party of Scottish politics in the position the party was in around Christmas under former leader Richard Leonard, the picture is rosier.

It was unlikely Scottish Labour in any election with any leader would have dropped to 14 per cent overall, but remaining above the 20 per cent mark on the constituency ballot and in the high teens on the regional list will be viewed as progress by the party.

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A mixed election for Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar

Critically, Anas Sarwar is the second most popular leader in Scotland following this election, just three points behind Nicola Sturgeon, according to a Savanta ComRes poll.

The new leader’s style of charm, eloquence and good-humoured debate means he is a slicker and much more dangerous political vehicle for the Scottish Labour message.

Mr Sarwar also made clear throughout the campaign that key in this election was seeing key figures for the next five years elected to Holyrood.

The election of Michael Marra, Katy Clark, Paul Sweeney and Pam Duncan-Glancy will give hope to Labour HQ that the rebuild is well placed to challenge seriously in 2026.

However, the election also proved that Scottish Labour must box clever in future elections and in terms of how it places itself in the political debate in Scotland, the loss of East Lothian and several list seats will hurt.

Putting recovery from Covid-19 first was a message that resonated, but also one replicated by every other party apart from Alex Salmond’s Alba party.

That meant the party was attempting to claim it was the only important issue, not just the most important issue.

In a country where the constitution is the most divisive and overriding political issue, the deliberate decision to avoid focusing on the issue will have lost the party votes to the Scottish Conservatives.

The challenge now is for Labour to redirect the conversation in parliament.

In third place, it is a much harder job, but the party must focus clearly on domestic issues while being clear they have a positive case for the union.

If they can manage that, they may well be set for a better election in 2026.

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