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The Strange Death of Labour Scotland

Gerry Hassan, Eric Shaw

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Analyses the rise and fall of Labour in Scotland and asks: is Labour's decline irreversible?

After being the leading party in Scotland for 50 years, Labour was shocked to lose an election and office to the SNP in the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary elections, and thunderstruck when the SNP won a majority government in the same elections in 2011. This book analyses the last 30 years of Scottish Labour, from the arrival of Thatcherism in 1979 right up to the results of the 2010 Westminster elections and 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections.

Key Features

  • Draws on extensive research including archival sources
  • Includes interviews with some of the key participants in Scottish Labour


List of Tables
Introduction: The Strange Death of ‘Labour Scotland’
1. The ‘Myth’ of ‘Labour Scotland’
Part I: The Context of Scottish Labour: The Opposition Years
2. Fighting for What Really Matters: The Politics of Scottish Labour 1979–87
3. ‘What Do You Do When Democracy Fails You?’ – ‘The Scottish Dimension’ and Thatcherism
4. Northern Discomfort: Scottish Labour, New Labour and the Coming of Blair
Part II: The Context of Scottish Labour: Devolution Days
5. The High Tide of New Labour, New Scotland
6. Scottish Labour and ‘the Early Days of a Better Nation’
7. The Politics of Stability and the Slow Demise of New Labour
8. A Different Political Landscape: Scottish Labour in a Cold Climate
Part III: Scottish Labour in Power
9. How Distinctive is Scottish Labour? The Cases of Education and Health
10. Ideology, Institutions and the Programmatic Trajectory of Scottish Labour
11. The Paradox of Free Personal Care for the Elderly
Part IV: Dynamics of Scottish Labour
12. Still the People’s Party? Scottish Voting Behaviour and the Scottish Party System
13. The Evolution of Scottish Labour
14. The Internal Politics of Scottish Labour
15. Power and Policy-making
16. Power in the Scottish Labour Party: The Case of Candidate Selection
17. The Territorial Dimensions of Labour
Conclusion: The Forward March of Scottish Labour Halted?

About the Author

Dr. Gerry Hassan is Research Fellow in contemporary history at Dundee University. He has written and edited over two dozen books on Scottish and British politics including The Strange Death of Labour Scotland (with Eric Shaw, 2012), Caledonian Dreaming (2014), Independence of the Scottish Mind (2014), Scotland the Bold (2016), and SNP Leaders (edited with James Mitchell, 2016). His latest book is The People’s Flag and the Union Jack: An Alternative History of Britain and the Labour Party (with Eric Shaw, 2019).

Eric Shaw is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Stirling. He is author of Losing Labour's Soul (Routledge, 2007) and Discipline and Discord in the Labour Party (Manchester University Press, 1988).


In this significant book, two scholars with a deep understanding of the Labour Party have explored the 'myth of Labour Scotland'. By 'myth' the authors capture the very real strength of Labour in Scotland but also the equally important existence of a widespread belief in Labour's dominance. They explain why the belief in Scottish Labour hegemony was less real than was often imagined and how devolution, especially its more proportional voting system, exposed the myth. The authors explore how this happened and devolution's impact on the party. The book combines public policy analysis, analysis of Labour's changing electoral base, the impact of New Labour, governing Scotland under devolution and its efforts to address the Scottish Question. This is not only the most up to date book on Labour in Scotland but the most comprehensive analysis of the party. It is required reading for anyone seeking to understand modern Scottish politics.

- Professor James Mitchell, School of Government and Public Policy, University of Strathclyde

This book ... is comprehensive and authoritative, and the authors are to be congratulated for writing the first major study of the Scottish Labour Party. Trying to research Labour's internal organisation is like trying to penetrate a Colombian drug cartel - it's not for the faint-hearted. Gerry Hassan and Eric Shaw have done an excellent job of elucidating and recording the processes that led to Scottish Labour's downfall.

- Iain MacWhirter, The Sunday Herald

This book reminds its readers of the scale and significance of Labour’s contribution to Scottish life over recent decades.

- Douglas Alexander, Shadow Foreign Secretary and Labour MP for Paisley & Renfrewshire South, New Statesman

Gerry Hassan and Eric Shaw have produced a fact-rich, reference-rich work, 'The Strange Death of Labour Scotland', which illuminates contemporary Scottish politics.

- Alex Wood, Edinburgh Review