It is well known that, of the 59 seats in Scotland at the 2015 UK General Election, the SNP won 56 and the three main UK parties just one each.
However, in the East of England region (broadly the northern Home Counties plus East Anglia) there were 58 seats contested, of which Labour mustered just four. The Conservatives took 52 – a dominance of a level very close to the SNP’s in Scotland.
In the south of England it was the same story – of 55 seats in the West Country and Cornwall, the Conservatives took 51 to Labour’s four; of the 84 seats on the South Coast and southern Home Counties the Conservatives took 78 to Labour’s four.
Therefore, in the south of England outside London, the Conservatives’ dominance and Labour’s annihilation was almost as complete as the SNP’s in Scotland – three times over!
Scotland is an irrelevance to Labour for three main reasons. Firstly, the seats they lost there actually went to potential partners not to the direct opponent (at UK level). Secondly, there is no historical or comparative electoral evidence to suggest the shift in Scotland is anything other than semi-permanent (in other words, Scotland is now the SNP’s to lose, not Labour’s to gain). Thirdly, it is just 59 seats (52 after prospective constituency changes in 2018), less than a third of the number available in the south of England even excluding London.
The other obvious problem is that, in any case, the message they would need to put forward to have any chance in Glasgow would probably be the opposite of the message required in Gloucestershire. Labour is, in any case, trapped in Scotland – seen to be Unionist only because it needs Scottish seats for a UK majority, something which makes the Scots feel they are being taken for granted and the English feel they are being unrepresented. In other words, it is a pincer movement and Labour needs to pick a side, at least covertly, to avoid being taken out in both directions – and the numbers favour England.
As I wrote last week, there are all kinds of places in the south of England which should be a natural home for Labour. If it can win in run-down East Ham, why can it not win in run-down Hastings? If it can win in social liberal Islington, why can it not win in social liberal Brighton? If it can win in aspirational Ealing, why can it not win in aspirational Reading? If it is gaining seats in Enfield, why is it losing them in Southampton? These are obvious questions, yet the party is so obsessed with Scotland (as well as with destroying its own legacy in government through factional infighting) that it has forgotten even to pose them.
England constitutes 84% of the electorate. A party which aspires to govern the UK will have to – constitutionally as well as electorally – aspire to win in England. That, and nothing else, must be Labour’s prime target.