The Welsh first minister, Carwyn Jones, Labour’s most senior politician still in power, has said his party had “no broad appeal” in the May elections, and expressed concern that Scottish Labour will never recover the ground it has lost.
Speaking to the Guardian at the Hay festival, Jones said his party’s performance in Wales “wasn’t good enough” and he expected a radical rethink in time for the 2016 Welsh assembly and Scottish government elections.
Jones said that there was much Scottish Labour had failed to pick up from how Welsh Labour had operated in the late 1990s to counter the threat of Plaid Cymru when the nationalist vote in his country was higher. “Welsh Labour moved toward the ground that was in dispute, areas of devolution where people might vote Plaid,” he said.
“We wanted to leave Plaid with only independence left ... We went after people who were very proudly Welsh, wanted a very strong assembly with real powers but didn’t want independence.
“I don’t think Scottish Labour went after those people in Scotland, and now how do you recover that ground? It is not easy to see.”
Jones said that challenging the SNP on its record in government was the only way forward in the 2016 elections. “We can’t be dragged again into a constitutional argument that frankly, so far, we’ve lost,” he said.
The first minister, who took office in 2009 and increased his party’s share of the vote in 2011, said he now believed the UK was in “serious trouble”. He said there was a lack of momentum in Whitehall to save the union with an imaginative approach to devolved power.
“It lacks vision, it lacks a real understanding of what is really happening in the UK,” he said. “We need to get shot of parliamentary sovereignty, it’s a dead concept, it’s wrong. Canada has pooled sovereignty in the devolved parliaments and assemblies.
“The sticking plaster approach is not working, and we will end up with Scotland out of the UK. To think we can carry on as before is fatal. The UK will not survive.”
Labour “lost the argument on economic competence” at the general election, Jones said. “We have to appeal to the most vulnerable in society, yes, but it doesn’t preclude us from appealing to business. Businesses are not intensely Tory, we have support from business in Wales, because we help business.
“So where was the offer to business, to the self-employed who are not millionaires, but chip shop owners, plasterers, electricians? We had no appeal to them, we had no offer to them.”
Jones said he detected “uncertainty, not hostility” about Ed Miliband as Labour leader but said the party had failed to realise it was such a “serious problem”.
“But if your leader isn’t believable, your message can be brilliant but it won’t be heard,” he said.
Jones said he had not decided who to back as Labour’s next leader, admitting he was not close to any of the candidates. But he said he thought now was the time for Labour to fight it out about the future. “It is a good time to have those arguments in public, now more than any other time,” he said. “There’s no point pretending things were fine when they weren’t, but it’s got to be finished [after September].
“We have an election in May, here in Wales and in Scotland. I want to make it’s done and dusted by then, with no problems still going on that might interfere.”
This article was written by Jessica Elgot, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 26th May 2015 17.25 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010