Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
Nicola Sturgeon, regardless of your politics, is an undeniably impressive politician. Putting her record to one side, she has successfully positioned herself and Scotland on a world stage. In 2015, just one year after losing the Scottish independence referendum, the Scottish National Party saw unparalleled success as 40 previously Labour seats swung in support of the SNP. Sturgeon has made Scottish people believe that they have a voice, and deserve more.
Before 2015, the SNP had never held more than 11 seats in Westminster– and that was in 1974. In the years prior to 1970 the SNP had an average of zero MPs and between 1970 and 2010 it was 4.7. For Sturgeon’s SNP to win 56 seats is extraordinary.
Scottish Labour, meanwhile, is in trouble. Labour had been Scotland’s most popular party since 1959, but now hold fewer seats than in their first election contest in 1910. To get the same number seats in the 2015 election as the Conservatives is truly damning, worsened by the fact that the Conservatives currently hold six seats to Labour’s one. All four leaders since 2014 have proven themselves unable to restore Labour’s success; it is imperative that the next one succeeds.
The new Scottish Labour leader knows this. They must convince Scotland that they will have their interests at heart, rather than Sturgeon. But this is going to be difficult.
The SNP began as a protest party, driven by the aim: Scotland out and Scotland first. Sturgeon has pushed this agenda and has convinced Scots that she, not Westminster, has their best interests at heart. Her leadership, combined with Brexit and Conservative failures, has driven support for independence. With Scottish Labour’s presence becoming increasingly occluded from politics, their next leader can no longer rely on their party manifesto – especially not a manifesto dictated by Westminster. They must stand out themselves as a champion for Scotland.
The candidates running are Anas Sarwar and Monica Lennon. Anas Sarwar’s message is unity, and focusing on rebuilding post-pandemic Scotland, rather than arguing over another referendum. Monica Lennon, meanwhile, wants to split from the UK Labour party, and says she will back a second referendum, but continues to be opposed to Scotland leaving.
Sarwar has previously served as Deputy Leader, and is backed by several top Scottish labour figures, while Lennon is credited for leading the period poverty bill. Nevertheless, ultimately neither are as impressive a speaker or as shrewd a politician as Sturgeon.
Anas Sarwar is the likely winner, but history shows Sturgeon dominates him in debate. While I believe Sarwar would be able to work well with Keir Starmer and succeed in re-unifying Labour in Scotland, I am unconvinced about whether he can stand up against Sturgeon and convince Scots that he is their leader.
With the Labour Party currently holding their lowest number of seats since 1935, Starmer similarly has a big job on his hands. For Labour to have a greater chance of winning the next general election, Starmer must work hard to re-convince Scots that Labour is the party for them. Since this is a UK party – the role of Starmer is integral. Ultimately, it will come down to whether the Scottish people believe in the new Scottish Labour leader’s ability to pursue their best interests. With Sturgeon being the great orator, and with her being credited with taking decisive action and good communication throughout the pandemic, it is going to be hard for either candidate to convince the Scottish people to vote Labour.