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Labour Expects "Chaos" Parallel Between SNP And Tory Party Conferences

Cabinet ministers assembled at Conservative Party Conference (alamy)

6 min read

Chair of the Labour Party Anneliese Dodds has predicted there will be “many parallels” between the SNP’s party conference and the Conservative party conference, as Labour hopes to present itself as the “party of change” for voters across the UK.

As the SNP opens its party conference in Aberdeen today, SNP leader Humza Yousaf has a challenge on his hands to refocus the party on its mission of achieving Scottish independence, and ensure they do not lose a large number of seats in Scotland to Labour at the next general election, which must be called before the end of 2024. 

“I suspect there will be quite a few long faces arriving in Aberdeen,” Dodds told PoliticsHome.

The SNP has faced significant challenges in recent months: in February, then-leader Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation, in March, it emerged that the party’s membership had fallen from 125,000 at the end of 2019 to only 72,000 in 2023, and in April, multiple SNP officials – including Sturgeon and her husband, former CEO of the SNP – were arrested in connection with a police investigation into the party’s finances. They were both released without charge, pending further investigation.

The party has also been divided over the Gender Recognition Bill, which the UK government has blocked from passing and will now involve a legal dispute between the Holyrood and Westminster governments. 

In a further blow earlier this month, the SNP candidate lost the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election to Labour, with Labour leader Keir Starmer pronouncing Labour as the “party of change” in Scotland. The following week SNP MP Lisa Cameron announced that due to “toxic and bullying” behaviour in the party, she is defecting to the Conservative party. First Minister Yousaf is now urging her to resign as an MP.

Dodds, the MP for Oxford East who also holds the role of shadow women and equalities minister, grew up in Aberdeen. She said that the fact an SNP MP had switched support to another party right before conference was a sign of a party in “disarray”.

“Just like the Conservatives, the SNP are in complete disarray… two parties that are in chaos, that are incapable of ultimately delivering,” she continued.

“It's only really the recriminations that are now leading to more of a focus on [SNP conference] rather than actually any exciting or interesting policy that they might be announcing.

“I think there will be many parallels between the SNP conference and the Conservative conference. Obviously, the Conservative conference was dominated by infighting: I think we'll see exactly the same with the SNP, we'll see recriminations, we'll see different groups within the SNP jostling with each other, and we won't see a focus on the real challenges that Scotland is facing.”

Anneliese Dodds
Anneliese Dodds addressed the Labour Womens' Conference last Saturday (Alamy)

At Conservative conference in Manchester at the start of October, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also promised “change”, but divisions arose over the prospect of Home Secretary Suella Braverman being the party's next leader if they lose the next general election, and former prime minister Liz Truss was accused of "Corbynite Toryism" after hosting a disruptive fringe event attended by hundreds of party activists.

Dodds argued that at Labour conference, held last week in Liverpool, the focus was on policy rather than internal rows. By conflating disunity within both the SNP and Conservatives, Labour will hope to present itself as the only alternative vote to change the governments in both Westminster and Holyrood. 

“When we had our Labour conference, we were focused on having that conversation with the public, that really important dialogue about what we want to change in our country,” Dodds said. 

“I think the British public are really yearning for a positive, hopeful, optimistic, ambitious approach from political parties, one which puts their interests first and their concerns first, and not internal party machinations or focus group ideas about what might possibly put some people off voting or make some people believe that the political system can never work.”

Dodds described how she had found many voters in Rutherglen were “fatigued”. 

“The thing that people kept saying to me, genuinely was ‘we can't continue like this’,” she said.

“They could see that there were so many problems in Scotland, but they were above all fatigued with the fact that there was no political response coming either from the SNP and Holyrood or from the Conservatives in Westminster. 

“I did feel that palpable sense of change, people were saying to me, in some cases for the first time, that they were going to vote Labour because they could see that that would be a clear signal that change is possible, and they wanted to be part of that.”

It was only a few years ago that Labour was torn apart by its own internal conflicts under the leaderships of Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn, and in the run-ups to both the 2015 and 2017 general elections, the Tories talked up the prospect of a “coalition of chaos” if Labour was able to form a government with the support of SNP MPs.

coalition of chaos advert
The "coalition of chaos" line was used by the Tories as early as 2015 (Alamy)

Dodds insisted the SNP are now in a “very different place” from Labour.

“When Keir came in as the leader of the Labour Party, he was really explicit that he was determined to turn the Labour Party around,” she said.

“And he has turned the Labour Party around and that has required a lot of grit and determination, and sometimes decisions that people were urging him to shy away from, to put off, but he gripped onto them and he changed the Labour Party.

“I don't see, frankly, the leader of the SNP currently being in that place where he's determined to deliver that change for the country, having gotten his party into line. I don't see that kind of a focus coming from him.”

The next challenge for Labour will be a set of by-elections in Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire this Thursday, which would require swings of 21 per cent and 19 per cent respectively. 

“In both cases, it would require a mountain to be climbed for Labour to win, but it's very obvious in both it's only Labour that can beat the Conservatives,” Dodds said.

She also said she expected the next general election, expected in 2024, to be a “huge mountain” for Labour to climb.

“We would need to have a bigger swing than we had back in 1997 just to get a majority of one seat, so there's a huge amount of work for us to do in that intervening period," she said.

“I think we have that real clarity now around Labour's policy going forward. We will produce a manifesto when we're closer to the election, but we've now got that very clear framework for delivering the change that we think our country needs if we do have that chance to serve.”

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