Another guest post today, and another look at the reasons Labour lost the election so heavily.  This time, John Mackay is the author.  John was Scottish Labour’s Holyrood candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, and was also his party’s candidate in the 2010 General Election in Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.

First things first, Labour had no chance of winning the Scottish election.  It was all about the scale of defeat. Forget what the polls said a few months ago, it wasn’t a case of which party was going to win; it was by how many.

Two things conspired to give Labour a hammering: SNP money and Labour incompetence.  I’ll touch on the former then concentrate on the latter from my perspective as a Labour candidate.  Scotland’s political media also get an honourable mention.

When a political party has the financial clout the SNP had, it enables them to run a blitz-like, Presidential campaign that builds and builds to saturation point come polling day.  Their strategists ran an excellent campaign to the extent it seemed like many of Scotland’s print, television, radio and online journalists were working within SNP Media HQ as well.

The SNP recognised Iain Gray was largely unknown and managed to easily frame the election as a personality contest.  There was only ever going to be one winner between Alex Salmond and Iain Gray in that sort of competition.  The SNP’s money then made sure of victory.  Yes, Labour contributed to its own defeat and the eventual scale of victory but I’ll get to that.  The Scottish Election in 2011 was won primarily because it was a well-funded Presidential campaign.  That must not be forgotten.

Before I get to my own party’s failings, what has happened to Scotland’s political journalists?  Why weren’t they highlighting the insanity of the SNP’s flagship policies?  Why weren’t they telling the Scottish people about the economic lunacy of five more years of a council tax freeze, continuing free higher education, increased NHS spending, free prescriptions, the lie of no public sector redundancies and 100% of energy being provided by renewables in 2020?  These policies will have Scotland admitting itself to the economic madhouse in a few years.  There will be no need to call for anyone in a white van with a straitjacket.

It will be pointed out that Labour copied, in whole or part, many of these policies.  I agree entirely but the media really should have been more rigorous in questioning both parties spending commitments at a time when the policies listed above simply can’t be paid for.

Whilst I’d have loved Labour’s manifesto to be realistic and to acknowledge the financial constraints that we as a government would have had to work within, the election was all about money and personality.  Even if we’d had the best manifesto ever written it would have had little effect and only slightly reduced our defeat.  There will be those who say that with decent, realistic, alternative policies Labour could have framed the election differently. I disagree.

So why was Iain Gray Scottish Labour’s leader?  And how did we come to run a negative campaign that started by being anti-Tory and Westminster focussed but then changed tack to being anti-independence?

I honestly believe Iain Gray was the best of a decidedly average Labour bunch at Holyrood.  It is this that is at the heart of the party in Scotland’s problems.  Twelve years on from devolution and Scottish Labour is still sending its best people down to Westminster (with very few exceptions).  At the next Scottish election in five years time, Labour has got to get its best MPs to Holyrood.

It’s been said there is no chance the likes of Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander will become MSPs, as they are too ambitious at Westminster.  I hope this is wrong.  If you’re a Labour Party member then your twin ambitions are social equality and social justice.  For elected Scottish Labour members, Holyrood is the place you can most readily influence those causes.

The party also has to ensure it gets its best young talent to Edinburgh.  I hate to say it but the Labour benches in the last Scottish parliament were intellectually bereft.  There were far too many MSPs who were ‘time served’ in other roles within the Labour movement.  One of the few good things to come from losing so many MSPs unexpectedly is that we got rid of much of the deadwood.

Finally: the campaign.  I can only imagine Iain Gray’s strategists decided to go with an anti-Tory, Westminster focussed campaign because it was the one freshest in their memories from last year’s General Election.  Admittedly that was a successful campaign but it was in a different election.  The Scottish electorate is more sophisticated than we gave them credit for and no wonder they were leaving a party in droves that was fighting an election they weren’t even voting in.

To make things worse, Labour decided to change course to an anti-independence strategy with a fortnight to go.  It was the latter campaign that ensured the SNP got their majority as it nailed home the message Labour had been running a negative and irrelevant campaign.  We would still have lost but not by as much and not to an overall majority. Here’s a thought: it was a Scottish election, not a Westminster election nor an independence referendum.  Labour can’t make that mistake again.

Jim Murphy is chairing a review into Scottish Labour and he must see that he is a big part of the solution if he were to be an MSP and the Scottish Labour leader.  Much has been made of a Westminster MP leading that review because it was a Westminster focussed campaign that caused many of Labour’s problems.  That is missing the point though.  It was Labour in Scotland that decided to run a Westminster-focussed campaign, not Labour at Westminster.

The party doesn’t have to do too much to resolve its current problems: Get good MSPs in Holyrood.  Get realistic and credible policies.  And contest the next Scottish election on issues relevant to the Scottish parliament.  It really is that simple.  Oh, and if there’s a transport tycoon out there with a social conscience who wouldn’t mind slipping us a few million quid, that would be handy as well.