If you’re a five-a-side-dad or a schoolgate mum, be afraid. Especially if you live in Kilmarnock, Dumfries, Livingston, Alloa or Glenrothes.
For you are about to become Scottish Labour’s favourite voter. The interview in today’s Scotsman with John Park provided insight into Labour’s campaign strategy for the election in May. But to some extent, it’s froth, for the polls have been telling us for months who Labour’s key voter groups are, and canvass data will no doubt be telling a similar story.
If Labour wasn’t targeting its resources at 35 -44 C1/C2 parents, then John Park wouldn’t be doing his job.
However, the burd has some issues with the definitions and the approach. For one thing, five-a-side dads and schoolgate mums are not necessarily two halves of the same couple. The former group is much broader, encompassing practically every breathing Scottish male between the ages of 18 and 50 and in every conceivable income bracket and job type. Are there any blokes who don’t like football and social drinking?! Apart from the ones who like rugby and/or golf instead, of course.
Some of these, in fact a sizeable number, are pretty solid SNP voters, and have been for some years. They are not floating as the Scotsman’s analysis suggests, but while they might previously have seen themselves as aspirational and looking forward to a bright future, in which independence holds no fears, the reality of life and responsibilities as a late 30 something partner and father, with the backdrop of economic and financial uncertainty, might just have dampened their mood. Labour is right to put them in the mix, but would be foolish to rely on them switching.
The problem with targeting schoolgate mums is that they constitute different demographics in different seats and while they are engaged and interested, avid news readers in fact, they don’t always vote. In fact, the ones Labour needs, often don’t bother: persuading them to turn out on 5 May will expend considerable effort and resources.
Labour’s campaign strategy might be better focusing on the squeezed middle, for this is more amorphous and really a state of mind, allowing a much wider net to be cast in the hunt for five-a-side dads and schoolgate mums. All families in middle income territory – which is anything from £18,ooo single to £70,000 joint income – are going to be hit hard by UK government measures.
Add in that they worry about higher council tax, pressures on schools, the loss of local leisure facilities, and crucially, what the future holds for their children, and you can see why they might be preparing to “come home” to Labour. Rightly or wrongly, the SNP has a record to defend as the incumbent government in Scotland; and even though these are aspirational voters, security is likely to be a dominant emotion. It’s where a steady Eddie in charge like Iain Gray becomes a more attractive prospect than the expansive, ambitious statesman of Alex Salmond.
What might give the SNP hope is that on the big, bad “state we are in” issue underpinning the entire election narrative, people do still blame the previous UK Labour Government. That might hit home a whole lot more when Scottish voters, public sector ones in particular, who have been largely protected from the pain being inflicted down south, open their pay packets in April.
Labour’s key difficulty is that these parents are not totally distinguishable from groups much more likely to vote SNP. Polls suggest the race is much tighter in the 44 – 59 age group, and with many more don’t knows. The same applies in AB socio-economic territory.
In very basic geographical terms, these voters live cheek by jowl with their younger, perhaps less well educated, but no less well paid counterparts. It remains to be seen how Labour will reach its target group without inadvertently noising up the SNP’s. And vice versa of course. But crucially, this older age group votes and can be relied upon to turn out in much larger numbers at all elections.
Finally, Labour has to be mindful that it’s not only them trying to woo Liberal Democrat voters. Attempts to persuade voters of how far the Liberal Democrats have travelled politically in recent months, will also remind them that there is a perfectly valid left-of-centre alternative to Labour in the SNP. Who these disaffected voters pitch for will depend on whose narrative has the greatest appeal. Not sure being tough on criminals, against minimum alcohol pricing, pro big retailers and possibly pro a student contribution to higher education will cut it with liberal minded voters frankly.
It’s clear that Scottish Labour has learned from previous mistakes and is joining the SNP in thinking hard about how to pitch its campaign. Does this mean we might get a more thoughtful election as a result? The burd hopes so. If only for the sake of all those poor five-a-side dads and schoolgate mums about to be leafleted and canvassed within an inch of their lives.