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Labour Launches its own No Campaign

May 12, 2013

Labour launched its own No campaign today at a rally in Glasgow. This development had been tipped for some time and is a rather revealing change. The BBC covered the proposal here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-22495174.

Anyone who has seen Better Together on the ground will realise how strange bedfellows weren’t really getting on. I’ve witnessed BT national campaign days when the Labour and Tory activists involved sought to put a distance between themselves at their own stall and divide up to do separate activities. Labour has been concerned about the reluctance of its own activists and trade union supporters to finance BT activities or involve themselves in a cross-party campaign with the two coalition parties that they loathe – and rightly so. Labour hasn’t quite said it doesn’t want to ‘soil its hands’ with an umbrella campaign as Helen Liddell explained in 1979 in relation to Scotland Says Yes,  but it’s a pretty similar development.

What’s going on here is two distinct things, closely connected to party politics and partisan interests. First, there is a need to reactivate the Labour machine in Scotland. Quite simply, the party has shrunk at all levels but any attempt to rebuild it in cooperation with Better Together is hugely problematic as it is hugely off-putting to new members and existing activists. BT may be attracting volunteers on its own of course……the question is where these volunteers go after the referendum? As the volunteer programme has similarities to Labour’s Movement4Change efforts to train community activists, you can bet Labour is desperate to see these new activists enter its own ranks to form the backbone of local campaigning in key seats. Second, there is the legacy effects of Better Together activity in relation to the data generated by BT canvassing. BT is collecting voter data and legally has to share it between the three parties involved – if you have signed the BT forms at your their stalls, there’s a wee bit in the small print about this. However, as Labour has started its own campaign, it can now hog the data for Labour and use it in target seats in 2015 and 2016 – meaning it has clear partisan interests to collect data separately from the other parties for its own purposes, despite the commitment to ‘sharing’ through the BT medium. So, Labour can spend its time signing up folk through canvassing to protect its own Westminster seats or to try to win some from the Lib Dems. How the BT parties deal with this reality in the BT office  – which has Labour and Tory campaigners – or on the ground in constituencies – is going to be fascinating.

And finally, a little bit of observation of Yes and BT campaigning to tie this argument together. Yes on the ground are actually very active, with multiple events across Scotland in many areas pretty much all of the time. Better Together has struggled to match this. It’s efforts have quite rationally concentrated on national campaign weekends about one a month. They don’t need to be so hyperactive as Yes for the simple reason that they are winning! However, even on its most recent campaign weekend in May 2013, a simple count of events on the BT and Yes websites found that Yes events outnumbered BT by about 4-1. If you looked on the BT website for this last weekend you’d find next to no events compared to Yes. However, if you follow twitter you’d find No campaign events organised by Labour in places like Glasgow and Inverness, nor involving BT at all, but simply Labour activists who have already separated themselves off from the other parties they are supposed to be partners with.

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