Could Labour Learn from the SNP?

Image: First Minister  of Scotland

Image: First Minister of Scotland

Whether you think the SNP are a threat to the very foundations of our nation, or the saviours of Scotland, it is undeniable that the SNP ran one of the most successful campaigns of the election. They took all but 3 of the Scottish seats in the House of Commons with 50% of the vote, taking seats with swings as high as 39% from Labour. With Labour still in a state of shock following their national defeat in the General Election, the next few months will prove pivotal as they decide which direction to head in.

The jostling has already begun with a number of potential leadership candidates including Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and more. Chuka Umunna looked to be a strong candidate and called for the party to focus on the middle class, suggesting the party depart from “red Ed’s ” Labour until he pulled out of the race last week. Other voices such as Diane Abbott have pointed to the success of a progressive, anti-trident, anti-austerity party in Scotland and have asked whether there success could be replicated. So what did the SNP do so differently? Could Labour learn from them?

The seeds of SNP success were sown in the independence referendum, the issue managed to energise all demographics of society to engage with politics. Politics and campaigning, for once really meant something. Despite the unionists winning the referendum, the campaign did untold damage to the Labour party in Scotland and helped secure SNP domination. For many, Labour appeared to ‘jump into bed’ with the Conservatives under the banner of Better Together too easily, they confirmed what many suspected, that their politics were too close to the Conservatives.

On a number of issues, from Trident to austerity, whether they are right or wrong, it is difficult to argue that the SNP haven’t distinguished themselves drastically from the other major parties; offering a clear alternative to the ‘Westminster’ parties. Compared to the SNP or the Scottish Green Party, Labour’s message appeared to be nothing more than ‘Tory-lite’.

The second key to their success has been their expansive membership. The SNP have increased their core membership from 25,000 in mid-September 2014 to the latest estimates putting them over the 100,000 mark. A massive increase, in many ways down to the independence referendum, but there is also a point to be made about how the SNP leadership engage with regular members. With the exception of Jim Murphy and his Iron Bru soapbox, party leaders seemed petrified to meet any ordinary Scottish people, instead favouring events solely attended by reliable party members.

Labour were often criticised as running a ‘35%’ strategy, focusing mainly on their core vote, at the expense of the wider electorate. In contrast, the SNP ran a broad campaign, which won over many of those that voted against independence.

Over the next weeks and months, the Labour party will face a choice; take a relatively easy road and move to the right following Blair’s strategy to dominate the middle ground or to take the harder road, to provide voters with a left wing alternative. 33.9% of those eligible did not cast their vote, if Labour could engage even a small percentage of this vote, similar to what the SNP have achieved they have a chance to rebuild themselves as the popular movement they once were.

Labour could reconnect with ordinary people, fill their ranks with ordinary people and bring those abandoned in disengaged political wastelands back into the heart of politics. To do this, they will have to bite their tongue and attempt to mimic their biggest threat; the SNP.


  1. Who edited this? Sentences beginning with ‘and’, apostrophes in the wrong place (for example, ‘red Ed’s).

    Also, the SNP aren’t Labour’s biggest threat. If they’d have got every seat in Scotland, Labour still wouldn’t have won. There’s no need for sensationalism; Labour lost for a variety of reasons, of which the SNP are only one.

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  2. I hope Labour don’t copy the SNP too much, because in government the SNP have been rubbish. They have a dismal record in both healthcare and primary education, to name but two areas. The only thing they are really great at is stirring up jingoism and division. Add that to the general UK-wide disillusionment with the Westminster political class and you have a fairly complete explanation of the SNP’s 50% vote the other week.

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