A leaked internal memo from the Labour party has revealed that data on the “proportion of population who are Catholic” in Scottish constituencies was used as part of the party’s 2019 general election “key seats strategy”.
Whilst Labour refused to comment on the use of Catholic data in their pre-election analysis, the Scottish Labour party told The Herald newspaper in Scotland that the use of such data on Catholics was “out-dated” and “completely irrelevant in modern Scotland”, adding that Scottish Labour would not itself have approved of such methods.
The Labour memo does not explicitly state how a higher Catholic demographic would alter Labour’s election chances and strategy in a given constituency, but the authors explain that it was specifically included in the models “for the purpose of helping to distinguish better between Labour and SNP supporters.”
Catholics in Scotland of Irish descent, once the backbone of the Labour vote in Scotland, are widely acknowledged to have fallen away in recent years from the Labour party and become increasingly supportive of Scottish independence.
Following the SNP’s failed independence referendum, a poll from Lord Ashcroft in 2014 showed that Catholics had been far more likely to support a “Yes” vote for independence than a “No” vote to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Whilst 55 per cent of the general Scottish electorate voted No in the referendum and 45 per cent voted Yes, just 43 per cent of Catholics voted No, with a majority, 57 per cent, voting Yes to leave the United Kingdom. In contrast, just 31 per cent of non-Catholic Christians voted Yes to independence, with 69 per cent voting No.
For constituencies outside of Scotland, Labour’s leaked memo also included data on the percentage Catholic schools in its key list of “Constituency-Level Demographics” but did not explain the reasons behind their inclusion in the analysis. No such data on other faith groups or schools was included.
The authors of the report concluded from their modelling of the data that the SNP would take all seven of Labour’s seats at the general election. Except for Ian Murray’s seat in Edinburgh South, the list proved to be correct. They used their analysis of “marginality and winnability” to argue in the run-up to the election that it was not “efficient” to invest in winning seats over from the SNP.
With the memo itself describing the results of the analysis as “extremely sobering reading”, the SNP jumped on the findings to declare Labour “finished”. The SNP’s Angus MacNeil of Western Isles said in response to the memo: “Labour are finished in Scotland. They are the Morris Minor of politics, people sort of remember them, occasionally fondly, but no one will travel in them again.”
UPDATE: The Herald in Scotland report that Labour has since defended the memo’s use of Catholic data: “All political parties carry out election analysis and modelling based on a wide variety of different data,” said a party spokesman.
“The data on religion used was about entire constituencies from publicly available sources, and was used alongside dozens of other variables. Allegations of sectarianism are unfounded and untrue.”
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