A guest from Kirsty Connell, former Labour candidate and Vice Chair of the STUC’s Young Workers’ Committee.

AttleeFrom Caesar’s “Veni, Vidi, Vici” to Obama’s “Yes we can”, via the cry of “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” coined in the French Revolution, the history of the greatest political victories can be traced through looking for those able to distill ideology into mantra.

Capturing the zeitgeist in a pithy phrase isn’t just a mechanism of spin, or simply a clever advertising jingle drawn up to then crawl into voters’ heads and guide their hand in the ballot box. Any idiot can come up with a slogan. But for the one line to work, to be compelling, durable, persuasive, it needs to encapsulate the political narrative of the candidate. To take the ideology, values and attitudes of that politician or party, tie it up with the emotions and beliefs of the voters, and state in very few words what making this choice will mean to you, your family, your country.

It’s disappointing, but unsurprising, that Scottish Labour appears to have dismissed the whole of the above as something they just don’t need to do.  Speaking at the first Leadership hustings, Johann Lamont said: “In the last election we lost our way, we lost our confidence, and we lost Scotland. People tell us we need to find a narrative. We don’t need to find a narrative, we need to remember our story.”

She couldn’t be more wrong. Scottish Labour has never needed more urgently to find and explain its narrative to the voters. Preferably in as few words as possible.

To continue James’ explanation a few posts back of Strøm and Müller’ model of coalition building, there is little in political marketing that I despise more than candidates who openly  sell themselves as “office-seeking”. To me, Tom Harris’ Twitter bio of “Campaigning to be Labour’s next candidate for First Minister” insults voters by assuming the purpose of leading a political party is the office itself, with no reference to the policies or campaigning that need to come first to get you into that office.

And sure, the point can be made that it’s only governments that get to do anything, so winning the office has to come first in order to deliver those policies. But I still think any candidate should do voters the service of telling them what their time in office would look like, what it would do and how it would change things.

Narrative matters in politics. It is not a sexy buzzword bandied about by political consultants selling snake oil. If you don’t have a dialogue with voters to discuss with them who you are, how you got here, and where you’re going, you’re not going to go anywhere.

Scottish Labour can’t hope to sit around as the default, waiting for the Scottish electorate to realise what utter idiots they’ve been putting the SNP in power and so decide it’s high time to come home to Labour.

Lamont was right in one part of her soundbite: Labour did indeed lose its way in 2011, although I think it was lost long before.  But Labour lost its way, its confidence and Scotland because it lost its narrative. Apart from the independence bit, nobody could really say why voting for Scottish Labour would be different from voting for the SNP. Policies were broadly similar, attitudes to the Tory government in Westminster mostly aligned. But Salmond and the SNP have their big picture and they have found the best way to tell everyone what that big picture looks like and means. Scottish Labour were left looking like they were working on a scribble on an envelope of a big bad Tory government and a bigger, badder SNP First Minister.

But like a Rembrandt abandoned in an attic and slightly water damaged, Scottish Labour still has about two-thirds of a big picture. And it can be restored and revitalised.

I still think the party and its members know who it is and knows what the beautiful words written on the back of membership cards mean.  I think Scottish Labour, for all the casting about for scapegoats and excuses for the 2007 and 2011 debacles, does know in its heart how it got to where it is today. So I don’t think any of the three of Scottish Labour’s leadership candidates need to be scared about constructing the third part of the narrative, to tell the voters about where Labour is going to go.

Lamont, Harris and Macintosh just need to start asking what the purpose is. About everything. Is it Scottish Labour’s purpose to be the party of aspiration? Is it Scottish Labour’s purpose to defend the union? To defeat the SNP? To defend working people against the cuts?

Scottish Labour’s purpose could be any, or none, of the above. But its next leader needs to  be clear and coherent about why Scottish Labour exists, stands candidates, and wants to win. It needs a narrative. It’s not good enough to assume the raison d’etre for Scottish Labour is intrinsically known and understood by the electorate. Get that right, and I promise the mantra will just trip off the tongue in 2016.