Scotland voted No, but last night was a bad experience for the Labour Party. Despite all the hype about a well-oiled machine bringing their voters on-side, Lord Ashcroft’s overnight polling shows more than a third of them (37 per cent) ignored their leadership and voted Yes. Compare that to the 95 per cent of Tories who voted No, and the failure to get their writ to run is even more stark. The defeat in Glasgow, supposedly the heart of Scottish Labour, must sting particularly badly.
Ed Miliband has had a shocker personally, too – at best he appears to be a peripheral figure in his own party. At various points, Jim Murphy and Gordon Brown both looked more like the leader of Miliband’s party than he did.
In all likelihood, the SNP will wallop Scottish Labour at the next General and Holyrood Elections. For a start, the SNP are now in a position to brag about the perks they squeezed out of Westminster, even if they did lose the referendum. Even more damagingly, all those Labour voters who ignored party allegiance and voted with Salmond instead have been on a psychological journey which will have weakened their sense of loyalty to their former party. As ex-Tory UKIPers will tell you, breaking with your historic party is hard to do, but even harder to reverse once it’s done.
Cameron’s proposal of English votes on English matters threatens to torture Miliband slowly over the next few months. As his silence on the issue this morning suggests, the Labour leader is incapable of answering it. Support the plan and lose a raft of Labour MPs, reducing Labour’s chance of government. Oppose it and alienate millions of English voters, reducing Labour’s chance of government. The longer the negotiations last, the further Miliband will be stretched on this particular rack – it’ll hurt.
Labour is particularly vulnerable on the question of England – they failed to consider her in the devolution of the late 1990s, and then tried to force absurd regional assemblies on her. As John Denham, the Labour MP and former cabinet minister, puts it on his blog today “devolution with England has been held back by a UK Labour Party not convinced that England needs change as much as Wales and Scotland”.
More generally, the Opposition seem at a loss as to what alternative they should be pushing now the referendum is over. This morning their official Twitter account visited on an unsuspecting world this meaningless declaration: “Change doesn’t end with this vote. It begins.” Rarely in the field of human politics has so little been offered in response to such a major event. Even Obama offered both change and hope. Change alone is value-less – dropping your phone and smashing the screen is “change” of a sort, but it doesn’t make it desirable.