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Labour Figures View SNP Chaos As "Reset Moment"

Labour will hope to make significant gains in Scotland at the next general election (Alamy)

4 min read

Scottish Labour figures have said they view the chaotic fallout from Humza Yousaf’s resignation as a “reset moment” to “throw out” assumptions around core voter groups in Scotland.

The resignation of Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf has begun another episode of political turmoil for Scotland and the Scottish National Party, only 14 months after Nicola Sturgeon stepped down.

With Labour currently polling ahead of the SNP in Scotland, Labour figures are aware the SNP’s troubles present them with a fresh opportunity, claiming that ‘traditional’ voter bases are now being reshaped. 

Labour’s newest MP in Scotland, Michael Shanks, won the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election in October from the SNP – making him the second of only two Labour MPs in the country alongside Ian Murray. He told PoliticsHome that while the issue of Scottish independence was “not going away”, Labour would be looking to appeal to nationalist voters who want to “send a government” to make changes, rather than simply “send a message”.

“[Scottish Labour leader] Anas [Sarwar] has made a really clear offer to people that we're not going to try and persuade you that you should change your position on independence: if that's your position, that's your position,” he said.

“But for now, you need to get a government that represents change. And that's not going to come from the SNP and it's not going to come from the Tories.”

He said that a few years ago, Labour candidates had “a core pool of voters” but that since then, “the shifting sands of people's voting intentions” had changed. In Shanks’ view, this was in part because “people are fed up with the constant obsession with independence”.

“We had people who were literally showing us SNP membership cards that were not going to vote SNP this time, and we've heard those stories from right across Scotland,” he continued.

“[Independence] is not going away, it would be ridiculous to suggest it has. But what has changed is people's interest in it being the top priority.”

Zubir Ahmed, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Glasgow South West, said that he and the wider Labour Party were intending to “message hard” on the impact of the political chaos surrounding the SNP.

“It’s now impacting even the most fervent SNP supporter… and I don't get many fervent SNP supporters anymore when I knock on doors,” he said.

Adding that he “felt bad” for supporters of the Scottish independence movement, he said: “There should be a political movement that speaks for them, and even the SNP is not fulfilling what is supposedly their primary function for existing.

“We're taking that message to them that this time around, we may differ on the constitution in the long term, but in the short term to get to wherever destination we want to get to, we need a strong country.

“We've got a real opportunity after this period of chaos to take that message into their SNP heartlands in central Scotland and in Dundee: These guys are not worthy of your vote, they're not worthy of your opinion and your politics as independence supporters. Vote for us for stability, vote for progress. Let's heal the country.”

Some organisations working with Labour on its election strategy told PoliticsHome they were cautiously optimistic about Labour’s chances in Scotland, but were still quietly concerned about the voter bases of fervent SNP supporters and of Scottish unionist Conservatives that might continue to prevent Labour making huge gains in a general election or in a Holyrood election. 

Kath Sangster, National Director of the Scottish Fabians, said that while some core SNP voters would not change their mind at the ballot box, the route to independence does “not feel immediate to anybody” so voters may be more likely to be tempted by the prospect of voting for Labour candidates who could work more cooperatively with a possible future Westminster Labour government.

“But we should be mindful in Scotland that a national swing against the Tories maybe can't be replicated in Scotland, because you have the unionist supporter base,” she said.

Christabel Cooper, Director of Research for Labour Together, also said that the “absolute core” of the SNP’s much more left-wing ‘progressive’ voter base is “not going anywhere”.

“So it'd be kind of foolish to have Labour be going after them,” she said.

“So I do think it is probably more people who are left wing but not quite as radical as the SNP or the Greens who we will be appealing to. I think that that will be the sort of sweet spot for Scottish Labour to pick up those voters.”

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