Will Scottish Labour EVER Gain a Seat from the SNP?

Labour has never won a Scottish Parliament Constituency from the SNP.

In fact, Labour has never gained a Scottish Parliament Constituency from any of the other parties. These facts, I’ve found, tend to startle my comrades in the Scottish Labour Party when they learn them. And quite rightly too when one considers that the SNP now hold 52 out of 73 Scottish Parliament Constituencies. Even if the SNP doesn’t win a single Regional List seat in 2016 hanging onto that 52 would be a bigger win than Jack McConnell achieved in 2003.┬áThe SNP has only ever lost ONE Scottish Parliament Constituency, and that was Galloway and Upper Nithsdale to Alex Fergusson in 2003.

In hindsight, the only real opportunity the Scottish Labour Party has ever had of poaching a seat off of the SNP came in 2003. In that election there was only one SNP held constituency in which Labour were within 10 percentage points of the SNP: Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber, with a majority of just 441 (or 1%). It also bore the dubious distinction of being the only seat at that time to be held by Labour in Westminster but by the SNP at Holyrood. Not only was the Scottish Labour party unable to gain this seat, and not only did the SNP more than double their majority, but the SNP also snatched Ochil, Aberdeen North and Dundee East from Labour despite suffering a net loss of 8 seats overall. Though little significance was attached to these results at the time they foreshadowed the very real difficulty Scottish Labour has in winning seats back once lost to the SNP.

Even if one looks through the doldrums of history to the dark days of the SNP, Labour has only ever won 4 seats back from the SNP: East Dunbartonshire and Clackmannan & East Stirling in ’79, and Dundee East and the Western Isles in ’87. Labour has never won a seat from the SNP in a by-election.

I offer no explanation as to how or why SNP incumbents are hard to shift. The problem, however, doesn’t appear to be that SNP incumbents simply dig-in their heels (though as one former colleague remarked to me recently “the bastards make bloody good MSPs!”) The problem, I fear, is much more deeply rooted in that once Scots break their lifetime habit of voting Labour it’s very difficult to win them back. If this is indeed the case then the new leader of the Scottish Labour Party, whomever they might be, has a far greater mountain to climb than perhaps they realise.