Labour – a victory but at a cost

Ed Miliband’s Labour is understandably delighted about the result. As well as protecting a traditional homeland within the UK electorate, and defending the party vision of the nation, it has shown it can win a hard-fought campaign in difficult circumstances. But as a leader, Ed Miliband does not come out of the battle significantly enhanced.

The Conservative Prime Minister (and his Lib Dem coalition partners) have much to thank Labour for. Despite a brave showing towards the end of the campaign, Mr Cameron’s almost apologetic tone suggested he recognised his lack of popularity in Scotland meant he would never be able to carry the vote. So he needed the official opposition to do it for him.

This Labour achieved, with red ‘No thanks’ signs and substantial deployment of three Scottish heavyweights. Jim Murphy’s stamina for high street campaigning, Alistair Darling’s sober repetition of effective messages and Gordon Brown’s emotional appeal and weighty delivery all contributed to the win, up against a formidable opponent whose moment had arrived.

Amidst all of this, Ed Miliband may have hoped he could emerge as a statesman for the whole UK, both in bearing and vision. Sadly he fell short on both fronts.

The defining image of Mr Miliband from the campaign turned out to be a bemused looking Labour leader being led through a shopping centre as yes campaigners jeered and jostled. He did little to persuade Scottish voters that he offered a compelling alternative to the current government or the leadership to meet the desires and expectations that made voters flirt with independence.

The absence of a convincing case for political change within the UK was a clear strategic choice. Labour had to defend the status quo: while it might suggest that in 2015 things would get better, it seemed that focussing on the negatives of independence would be the stronger platform. So it proved. But in doing so, the campaign allowed the SNP to suggest it was the only alternative to a homogenous Westminster politics.

Meanwhile in the rest of the UK, the re-appearance on the public stage of Gordon Brown may not be tremendous news for Labour. Although this platform played to Mr Brown’s strengths, emphasising his integrity and personal beliefs, it is still a reminder of the last days of the Labour administration to 2010, an era which Mr Miliband has done what he can to distance his leadership from.

Having secured the win, Labour will hope for a strong say in the new devo max deal, but while they will need to be involved in some form of national consensus, it will be other parties setting the agenda.

So going into the long election campaign, success in the referendum has successfully moved Labour into campaign mode. But in doing so, it has forced Labour into some uncomfortable places and done little to position Ed Miliband as the next Prime Minister. Success in September will be worth few votes in May.

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