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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 March 2008, 12:29 GMT
Labour aims to ring the changes

Andrew Black
Political reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Until May last year, Labour had maintained its position as the dominant force on the Scottish political landscape for decades.
Tony Blair
The UK government used negative terms to describe independence

The SNP's historic election win changed that - the Nationalist victory by the slimmest of margins making the loss for Scottish Labour all the more bitter.

Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander has since admitted voters lost faith in her party's ability to deliver, and wants radical change to regain that trust.

So, where did it go wrong for Scottish Labour?

After eight years in power at Holyrood with the Liberal Democrats, the party entered last year's election campaign amid a public desire for change.

This was the same desire which helped Labour to its landslide UK election victory in 1997, becoming the largest party at Holyrood two years later.

And what could offer more prospect of change than a party aspiring to an independent Scotland?

'One last kicking'

Public concern over the Iraq war and continued questions over Tony Blair's departure as prime minister were also pounced on by the SNP in the battle to govern Scotland.

On the campaign trail, Jack McConnell - still first minister and Scottish Labour leader - placed almost all his eggs in one basket by launching a manifesto concentrating on education.

Warning other government departments they would have to cut their cloth was a risky strategy which ultimately, the election result showed, did not quite pay off.

And then there were the campaign events attended by UK Labour ministers, at which independence was talked about in negative terms, through use of the words "separation" and "divorce".

Rival parties seized on these descriptions, pointing out they had embarked on positive campaigns.

During one visit, Tony Blair, with his days as premier drawing to a close, urged the public to resist giving him one last "kicking", by opting for other parties. Perhaps that gave the voters some ideas.

Several months after the election, which Labour lost by one seat, Wendy Alexander became leader, following Mr McConnell's resignation.

Ballot papers
Labour lost the Holyrood election by one seat

She began her tenure by setting out, at a media event, a series of internal party reforms.

It was not quite the futuristic vision which the public-at-large might have hoped for, but, despite her close relationship with Mr Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, she said she did not expect Labour at Westminster to "trespass" into devolved affairs.

Several months on and Ms Alexander had a second crack, publishing a major policy paper a week ahead of her party's first conference since losing power.

She concluded Scottish Labour would have to reach out to win new supporters, while re-discovering its roots.

The blueprint - which harked back to the SNP's election-winning catchphrase, "it's time for change" - said Labour would have to work as hard, if not harder than in 1997, to secure victory.

Illegal donation

In fact, the words "change", "changes" and "changing" were printed a total of 73 times in the document - appropriately entitled "Change is what we do".

The word "unchanged" appeared once.

Realising her party had to better engage with the independence issue, Ms Alexander garnered the support of the other unionist parties to back a constitutional commission to examine devolution.

It was a shrewd move to gain Scottish Parliament support for the independent body, which the minority Holyrood government was in no position to vote down.

The exercise was essentially to create a body to rival First Minister Alex Salmond's "national conversation", which is looking at the case for independence, although this is denied by the Unionist parties.

Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell's big idea did not pay off at the polls

When it came to voting through the SNP's first budget, the government accepted a Labour amendment calling for an expansion of skills and training.

Question marks were raised when Labour abstained on the final vote which contained their own amendment - albeit not one which would have amended the spending plans themselves.

And of course, just as the party was trying to get back on track, Ms Alexander was hit by an illegal donation to her leadership campaign, received from Jersey-based businessman Paul Green - which broke the rules because he was not a UK voter.

Refusing to resign, she rode out the storm until a criminal prosecution was eventually ruled out, but the incident left her bruised.

In her latest vision for the party, Ms Alexander wrote: "We must be bold, be united and be Labour".

The party will hope that being Labour is enough to win them back power at the next Holyrood election.



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