The morning after. Through my window I see a lampost spattered with red, orange and green and none of those colours will make much of a splash in the new Scottish Parliament. As a Labour supporter I take some comfort from the posters taped to our living room window. Malcolm Chisholm has survived what looks likely to become an SNP landslide.
Oddly, I can’t begrudge the successful party their celebrations. I remember the euphoria of that May morning in 1997 when strangers smiled at one another in the street. Despite a hangover (whisky and then bubbly as one Tory after another toppled) the New Labour dawn felt fresh and exciting.
Doesn’t feel like that this morning to us old Labour losers. The scale of the loss is a shock but not a complete surprise. Canvassing for Malcolm on the doorsteps of North Edinburgh, I heard Labour supporters comment on the appeal of Salmond as First Minister.
I am sure I was not the only one who was voting for Chisholm rather than Labour – not least because the former Minister for Health had the courage and integrity to defy the party line when it was pure bonkers. Labour would have gained respect and possibly public support if it had backed the SNP in their attempt to set a minimum price for alcohol.
The best Labour policy – investing in young unemployed – got lost in the noise about independence. But worst of all, Labour has lost the human touch. There is no vision to inspire, no language to uplift. In contrast Salmond’s party speak as if they believe in Scotland and the people who live in it.
A couple of years ago I heard Margaret Curran give a speech that was uncharacteristically passionate, full of warmth and sympathy for the deprived and marginalised members of her constituency. But she was speaking to a hall full of Labour supporters. In the coffee break I complimented her and asked why she didn’t speak like that to the outside world. Her reply was depressing. She said she knew she was among people who would agree with her. It would be more difficult to engage with the unconverted.
Will this be one of the ‘lessons to be learned’, to use the phrase of the morning? If anyone wants to know why Labour lost so many voters they could do worse than try the Voting Compass quiz which CSPP recommended to ‘undecided’ voters. Out of curiosity the other night I tried it and found if I followed my policy preferences I should be voting Green or SNP. I voted Chisholm.
But what happens to all those policies now? I remember how euphoria became despair. Labour has many lessons to teach the SNP. With luck they will also rediscover how to become an effective opposition. Scotland needs well informed and properly debated policy.