Exclusive: Scottish Labour lost support because it abandoned centre ground, warns Tony Blair

Written by Staff reporter on 22 February 2019 in News

The former prime minister used an exclusive interview with Holyrood to urge the party to oppose Brexit and push for maximum devolution within the UK

Image credit: Alister Thorpe

Scottish Labour has lost support in Scotland because it handed control of the political centre ground over to Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives, former Labour leader Tony Blair has warned.

Arguing that the solutions for Scottish Labour to win back power are “obvious”, the former prime minister used an exclusive interview with Holyrood to urge the party to oppose Brexit and push for maximum devolution within the UK.

Speaking to Holyrood editor Mandy Rhodes, Blair argued that opposing Brexit provided Scottish Labour with a “massive opportunity”. He told Holyrood: “I think what the Brexit thing really does offer us is a huge opportunity because, by the way, the vulnerability of Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives is that they are tied to Theresa May. That is a vulnerability, but it’s only a vulnerability you can exploit if you’re prepared to say, ‘We’d stop the thing’. So, you’ve literally got those votes just lying on the table waiting to be taken, you just need to say it.”

Blair, who was Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007, has repeatedly spoken out against Brexit following the 2016 EU referendum, telling Holyrood that he had been “alternating between rage and despair and finally determination that we’ve got to do something to stop it”.

But Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has backed Jeremy Corbyn’s position, with the UK Labour leader pushing for a Brexit deal which includes a permanent customs union, guarantees on workers’ rights and environmental standards, and stronger commitments on security arrangements.

Blair said: “What is the obvious thing for the Labour Party to do in Scotland right now? The absolute obvious thing, it’s just sitting there, like a great big prize. You become the party that believes in the union, but with max devolution within it. You are pro Europe, so you fight Brexit.

“Absolutely, you don’t go along with it. And you’re the party of economic and social reform where, frankly, around public services and other things, the SNP are vulnerable. If you put those three things together, then you could win.

“The question the Labour Party should ask itself in Scotland is how do you get beaten by the Tories? Why is that happening? It’s happening because it’s the politics that Ruth Davidson represents. That’s why it’s happening. You gave up the middle ground.

“That was always the thing, the myth about Scotland, it was seen as this great leftist territory, but it’s always been much more complicated than that. People forget that, I think in the 1950s, actually, you had a majority of Tory MPs in Scotland.

“To me, it’s obvious what Labour should do.  I know, it’s been hard for the Labour Party in Scotland to find its niche and, you know, it is always difficult when a party loses power, it ends up thinking, what are all the things that we did wrong, and that’s a very sensible discussion to have, but if you’ve been in power a long time, you’ve also got to reflect on this, that over time, and after time, you do lose power. So, you’ve got to be careful of misunderstanding and thinking you therefore need to lurch off in a totally new direction because you’ve lost power.”

The full interview will appear in Monday’s issue of Holyrood magazine.

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