The Midlands MP, who will be in Perth next week for the Scottish Labour conference along with Jeremy Corbyn – just 24 hours after the by-election results in Stoke and Copeland - also made clear that Labour faced a “long march back” to contention north of the border, which, he indicated could take several years to achieve.
Speaking on the stump in Stoke on Trent Central, which Labour is defending from challenges from Ukip and the Conservatives with a 5,179 majority, Mr Watson denied that the party was facing a similar collapse in the Midlands and northern England, which it had experienced in Scotland.
Loading article content
“I don’t think that, actually. There are obviously different issues in Scotland. My point is we have to do more to do attract support from working class voters and middle class voters and that’s about us being seen to address the issues that concern them with an exciting and compelling policy prospectus and one that is deliverable.”
One issue he raised was that of labour market reform for those in insecure work. “The world of automation is going to create as much insecurity in parts of the labour force as globalisation has done in the last two decades,” he explained.
When asked if Labour could win in 2020 without winning back seats in Scotland, the deputy Labour leader replied: “You can but it’s going to be harder. I don’t want to be in a situation where we don’t win more seats. No one is under any illusion about how tough it’s going to be in Scotland.”
At the last General Election in Scotland, Labour lost 40 of its 41 seats amid an SNP landslide, leaving Labour’s Ian Murray, who represents Edinburgh South, as the sole survivor. However, last summer disagreements with Mr Corbyn resulted in Mr Murray resigning as Shadow Scottish Secretary, a role now taken on by David Anderson, the MP for Blaydon in Tyne and Wear, and who combines the role with that of the Northern Irish portfolio.
Asked if Labour had to recover in Scotland, Mr Watson replied: “We do[but] we have to be realistic. It is going to take us time to rebuild...In Scotland, if we rely on a revival at the next General Election, it won’t be enough. It’s going to be a long march back for us there. No one can predict what we will do at the next General Election.”
When pressed that it sounded as if any revival for Labour in Scotland will not come soon enough to help the party get back into power, the MP for West Bromwich West, who served in Gordon Brown’s Government, said: “You have to be realistic about what the prospects are of winning people’s confidence back in Scotland. I can’t possibly predict how we’re going to do at the next election there. Maybe this is something you should ask Kezia as someone who is leading the revival in Scotland but I just think you should be realistic in politics.
“That was a near-knockout blow we took at the last election and with all humility we have to realise to win people’s trust again is going to take time.”
When it was pointed out that Labour’s fortunes in southern England outside London seemed pretty dire too, Mr Watson said: “When you are 26 points in the polls, the whole of the country looks difficult. I’m not running away from your question. What we have to do is to start with analysing what the issues are, produce the policy remedies and then go out and promote them.”
He added: “We know what we have to do in the Labour Party, it’s mid-term, there is a long march ahead; we’re up for the fight.”