Labour is to target nearly 200,000 of its former voters who supported independence in the referendum in an attempt to prevent a general election rout at the hands of the Scottish National party.
Jim Murphy, the Scottish Labour leader, has calculated that Ed Miliband’s hopes of securing an overall majority in May’s general election hinge on 190,000 mostly male voters who voted yes after deserting Labour. An ICM poll for the Guardian just before new year suggests that Labour faces a bloodbath in Scotland, threatening scores of key seats and Miliband’s prospects of avoiding a minority government or an alliance with other parties.
The poll put the SNP on 43% and Labour at 26%, confirming a substantial hardening in support for the SNP after it lost September’s referendum, and putting several dozen Scottish seats with hefty Labour majorities at risk. In a speech in Edinburgh on Monday, Murphy will admit that pro-independence voters could determine the outcome of the general election.
He said Labour would heavily court those 190,000 voters this month, with personal letters, phone calls and doorstep canvassing: most were older Labour voters in the Glasgow area, where the yes vote was heaviest but where Labour holds a large majority of Westminster seats.
“They voted yes, largely because they wanted rid of the Tories and wanted change,” Murphy will say. “Now they can decide whether to vote Labour to get rid of the Tories or to vote SNP and keep the status quo. At the general election these will be the most important voters in the UK.”
Labour’s analysis was released as the SNP launched a counter-offensive with newspaper adverts showing opposition benches in the Commons covered in tartan to underscore its hopes of taking a swath of key Labour and Lib Dem seats.
In a letter to the SNP’s 95,000 members, Nicola Sturgeon, party leader and first minister, said its success hinged on retaining the votes of the 190,000 people identified by Labour who backed independence but never normally voted SNP.
Sturgeon again insisted that the UK parties could not be trusted to honour their pledge to quickly deliver substantial new powers to the Scottish parliament – a promise spelt out by former Labour leader Gordon Brown in the closing days of the referendum campaign.
Accusing Labour of persistently “taking Scotland for granted”, Sturgeon’s letter said: “Even if you don’t normally vote SNP at Westminster, lend us your vote this time so that we can hold Westminster to account and make Scotland’s voice heard. An empowered and assertive Scotland threatens the vested interests of the Westminster parties.”
That contest for those key voters will pit the SNP’s record number of party activists, which has nearly quadrupled since the referendum, and its significant campaign war chest, against a Labour party with only a few months to recover its previous position in the polls.
Murphy will claim on Monday that Sturgeon’s pledge that an SNP landslide would benefit Scotland is false. In the 2010 general election, only the Tories under David Cameron benefited from a slump in Labour support.
“Once again it is a strategy that won’t lead to a kaleidoscope-coalition but instead risks delivering another true-blue Tory government,” he is expected to say. “I know that the last thing SNP voters want is a Tory government but David Cameron may end up as their accidental victor if Scots vote SNP in the UK election.”
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