OPINION - Labour took Scottish voters for granted for years — here's why it was right to do so

Liz Truss canvassing for the Conservative Party ahead of the 2010 general election (PA Archive)
Liz Truss canvassing for the Conservative Party ahead of the 2010 general election (PA Archive)

You hear it every time the Conservatives or Labour lose a swath of seats. Whether farmers, ex-miners or even Scots, the accusation is always the same: the party took the voters for granted. The fact that this is often true misses a quite fundamental point about politics. Parties ought to take voters for granted. Or at least some voters. They would be mad not to.

Labour did it to Remainers in 2017 and consequently almost won the general election. This was made possible by Remain voters happily supporting a party led by a dyed-in-the-wool Eurosceptic who explicitly stated that the referendum result must be respected. Thanks to their insouciance, Labour was able to turn that campaign into one about public services, thereby keeping its coalition together.

On reflection, the advantage Leave voters enjoyed over their Remain brethren wasn’t simply their larger number, but the instinctive understanding that a political party would not prioritise their policy preferences if it believed they would vote for it regardless.

With first-past-the-post there is no point pandering to cohorts that pile up in big cities, when more efficiently spread voting blocs are out there

To win an overall majority, parties must usually secure at least 37 or 38 per cent of the vote. Then the first-past-the-post electoral system comes into play — no point pandering to cohorts that pile up in big cities, when more efficiently spread voting blocs are out there, waiting to be offered all manner of goodies.

Or take the case of Scottish Labour, which suffered a near-death experience in 2015, losing 40 of its 41 seats. Labour had won every election north of the border since 1964. But for the political earthquake that was the 2014 independence referendum, it might have expected to go on dominating there. And why not? The Scottish electorate had demonstrated, over a period of more than half a century, that it was prepared to enthusiastically endorse Labour leaders as diverse as Harold Wilson, Michael Foot and Tony Blair.

But Scotland alone would never be enough for Labour to win an overall majority. Given this reality, and the party’s record, it was perfectly rational to take Scottish votes for granted, leaving space for the party to ruthlessly target more challenging votes in England’s Midlands and South-East.

This is not to say that MPs shouldn’t assiduously tend to their constituencies. The fact that some in Scottish Labour with previously solid majorities had essentially ceased to knock on doors no doubt contributed to the party’s collapse. But that is the job of backbenchers, councillors and ordinary party members, while the leadership focuses on key marginals.

Keir Starmer won’t ever admit to taking London’s voters for granted. But the fact is that in 2019, the capital delivered Labour a landslide victory at the same time as the party nationally went down to its worst defeat since 1935. The voters that will provide the party with its first majority in nearly 20 years live elsewhere, and so that is where the party’s energies will be diverted. It is why Starmer is far more likely to talk about the regeneration of England’s towns and the great cities of the north than he is to promise money for Crossrail 2 or the Bakerloo line extension.

I would be flattered if a frontbencher from either party knocked on my door, but mostly I would be surprised. I live in a constituency where the Labour vote is weighed, rather than counted, and my policy preferences are Financial Fair Play penalties for Manchester City and a commitment to one fiscal event per year. My vote is absolutely for sale, but I’m not anticipating a bidding war.

Murray is one of us - his victories are ours

There’s “life in the old dog yet”, declared Andy Murray, following a three-set and sadly all too rare win in Miami. The two-time Wimbledon and double Olympic gold champion now stands at 62 in the world rankings, bionic hip and all.

And yet, it is hard not to see his victories being as sweet as slam finals. Murray has always been the most relatable of the Big Four (which later became the Big Three) of men’s tennis: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Federer was shifting champagne and Rolexes, Nadal all sweat and muscle, Djokovic quasi anti-vax and weird potions. But Murray was one of us. Wins rarely came easy, even in his pomp.

Murray won against the odds, his game best described by the writer Steve Tignor as an elaborate edifice built to mask the fact that he possessed everything except the one thing you need to dominate — a point-ending forehand.

Jack Kessler is chief leader writer and author of the West End Final newsletter