The reasons for Scottish Labour’s obliteration at the hands of the electorate last week are manifold, and most of them were very thoroughly explored in the weekend’s press, for example by Kevin McKenna here and here.
But as is our wont here on Wings, we wanted something a little more empirical to get our teeth into, so a few days before the election we commissioned a poll of 1,013 Scottish voters from Panelbase covering some of the subjects the regional office had campaigned on under its branch manager Jim Murphy.
The results were fascinating.
Murphy’s first policy pronouncements on winning the leadership, supposedly in pursuit of the votes of Glasgow Man, all seemed to be about football, specifically the Offensive Behaviour (Football) Act and the end of the alcohol ban at matches. The sport was the passion of Scotland’s biggest city, ran the apparent reasoning, and it had voted Yes, so something had to be done to win the core Labour heartland back.
The loudest voices of Glasgow football supporters – echoed, as it happens, by pretty much the entire media, which is heavily dependent on selling newspapers to them – are those in opposition to the OBFA. As recently as Saturday the Herald carried a large story bigging up a 4500-signature petition from “Fans Against Criminalisation” against the Act.
(For perspective, that’s less than a third as many signatures as we got a while back for a joke petition inviting Gordon Brown to “Go f**k yourself”.)
So we realised that to understand the issue properly we’d have to find out the football allegiances of our poll group. From previous experience we’d learned it was pointless breaking it down to individual clubs outside the big two anyway (you end up with samples of two St Johnstone fans), so we focused on Glasgow, dividing respondents into four groups: Celtic, “Rangers”, other clubs and people who didn’t like football.
We found that 16% considered themselves fans of “Rangers”, 11% Celtic, 18% another Scottish club, (plus a further 9% who identified with a non-Scottish club), and 48% not interested in football. Unsurprisingly, the “Rangers” fans were the most Unionist, having voted No by almost 2:1, but still split almost evenly between the SNP and Labour (41%-40%), while Celtic fans (57-23), those of other Scottish clubs (56-25) and football-haters (46-21) were all much more likely to back the Nats.
(We should note that we owe “Rangers” fans on Twitter an apology here. In a couple of quickly-deleted tweets this week, we misread the tables and considerably overstated the UKIP backing among Ibrox denizens, although in our defence they are the most UKIP-friendly support in Scotland by a large margin – 7%, compared to 2% for other clubs and 0% for Celtic.)
But their differences almost vanished when it came to the OBFA.
“The Offensive Behaviour (Football) Act 2012 bans the singing of sectarian songs in and around football matches, but some supporters claim it infringes their civil liberties, or that it was intended to victimise their club alone.
Do you support the Act, or do you think it should be abolished?”
Support the Act: 60%
Should be abolished: 14%
Don’t know/don’t care: 26%
Support the Act: 59%
Should be abolished: 29%
Don’t know/don’t care: 13%
Support the Act: 64%
Should be abolished: 25%
Don’t know/don’t care: 11%
OTHER SCOTTISH CLUBS
Support the Act: 76%
Should be abolished: 10%
Don’t know/don’t care: 14%
Support the Act: 54%
Should be abolished: 8%
Don’t know/don’t care: 38%
That’s a colossal margin across the board. Scots as a whole back the Act by a massive 4 to 1. Celtic fans – the voices most often heard complaining about it, and in particular the prohibition on the IRA-praising ditty “Roll Of Honour” – back OBFA by over 2.5 to 1. “Rangers” fans support the Act less than their Celtic counterparts, but still by a thumping 2 to 1.
Supporters outside the Old Firm, meanwhile, want it to stay by a crushing margin of almost 8 to 1, and bewildered onlookers by almost 7 to 1.
So let the debate end here. Every single demographic in Scotland, without exception, including the people targeted and supposedly “victimised” by it, backs the Offensive Behaviour (Football) Act overwhelmingly, despite uniform media criticism and the constant shrieking of persecution-complex loonies. The government is representing and enacting the wishes of the people. Jim Murphy picked a loser.
But what of booze? The Scottish Labour leader made an outwardly-compelling case: that football, still a mainly working-class sport, is uniquely discriminated against. Fans can enjoy a beer at rugby matches, or at any other sport, with only football excluded. Is it really a threat to society, Murphy asked, if Hamilton Accies and St Johnstone fans relax with a lager at half-time?
That position, of course, overlooks the fact that no other sport in Scotland has a long and shameful history of booze-fuelled thuggery, and also that reducing Scotland’s alcohol consumption, even for two hours at a time, is a desirable goal in itself. But we’re not here to reprise all the arguments, we’re here to report the poll data.
“The purchase and consumption of alcohol has been banned inside Scottish football grounds since 1980. Do you think the ban should stay in place, or should it be repealed?”
Keep the ban: 70%
Allow alcohol: 10%
Allow alcohol except at games involving “Rangers” or Celtic: 7%
Don’t know/don’t care: 13%
Keep the ban: 70%
Allow alcohol: 14%
Allow alcohol except at games involving “Rangers” or Celtic: 10%
Don’t know/don’t care: 6%
Keep the ban: 67%
Allow alcohol: 22%
Allow alcohol except at games involving “Rangers” or Celtic: 6%
Don’t know/don’t care: 5%
Keep the ban: 70%
Allow alcohol: 9%
Allow alcohol except at games involving “Rangers” or Celtic: 15%
Don’t know/don’t care: 6%
Keep the ban: 71%
Allow alcohol: 5%
Allow alcohol except at games involving “Rangers” or Celtic: 3%
Don’t know/don’t care: 20%
We’re calling that comprehensive. By massive, massive majorities all the way across the board, the people of Scotland want booze kept away from football. The HIGHEST level of support for Jim Murphy’s proposal was among Celtic fans, but even they wanted alcohol to stay banned at their matches by a thumping 73 to 22.
When the Glasgow Man strategy failed to turn the polls around, Scottish Labour tried some new tacks. The first was the classic “Vote SNP get Tories”, a fatuous tactic based on pretending there was no difference between a majority Labour government and a minority one kept in power by the SNP, and characterised by the desperate and increasingly tortured clinging to the endlessly-debunked “biggest party” line.
But that didn’t work either, because not only were Scots not SCARED of a Labour government that was reliant on the Nats, they actually WANTED it that way. When we presented respondents with a forced choice between the two, the preference was almost 60-40 for an SNP “conscience”:
Obviously that figure was distorted by a huge SNP vote (although, who are the 5% of people who were voting for the Nats but wanted a Labour majority?), but significant minorites even among those voting for the Unionist parties actively wanted the SNP holding the Westminster government’s feet to the fire.
And of course, the point is that SNP voters were the primary target of the attack anyway – people already voting Labour didn’t need to be persuaded away from the Nats. The numbers of Tory and Lib Dem supporters it affected simply weren’t ever going to be enough to make a significant difference, which helps to explain the epic failure of the tactical-voting campaign.
Murphy’s penultimate throw of the dice was the bogeyman of Full Fiscal Autonomy, giving another outing to Labour’s last tried-and-trusted tactic when all else has failed – frightening pensioners. Again, we’re not here to debate the merits or failings of the policy, merely its efficacy as an electoral strategy.
“The SNP propose “full fiscal autonomy” for Scotland, which means the Scottish Government controlling all taxation and spending. The other main parties all oppose it, saying it would lead to a bigger deficit.”
Scotland’s voters back FFA by around 3:2, including around a fifth of those who were planning to vote Labour or Lib Dem. But again, it was really SNP voters that Labour needed to win round, and just 7% of them were convinced by the blood-curdling tales of gargantuan deficits.
The final gambit, of course, was the phantom of a second referendum. But we didn’t bother asking about that because it had already been dealt with in a recent Survation poll for the Daily Record, which the paper misrepresented heinously in print but which actually found that over 80% of Scots DID want another referendum at some point, with almost 60% wanting it within 10 years.
The prospect simply doesn’t terrify the electorate, because democracy rarely does. We suspect that if there were ever to be another referendum people wouldn’t want a three-year campaign again, but voters tend not to object in principle to having direct decision-making powers put into their hands.
Jim Murphy unquestionably inherited a bad position. But under his leadership, the party’s strategic strike rate was 0 from 5. At every single turn, he took a position in opposition to what the people of Scotland wanted. That, not what was perhaps always going to be an irresistible electoral tide, is Murphy’s failure.