THE political abyss that is the UK Tory government is plain for all to see – including many Tory politicians.

All of this increases the likelihood that the UK General Election – held at some point next year – will see the return of a Labour government.

With Tory and Labour politicians, media and business all thinking this looks virtually inevitable, people need to start understanding the nature of Labour and to go beyond caricatures such as “Red Tories” to comprehend their agenda and their chances of success – including what this means for Scotland.

Despite the implosion of the Tories, Labour face a steep electoral mountain to win. Their electoral defeat in 2019 was their worst in parliamentary terms since 1935, with 163 seats and more than three and a half million votes behind the Tories.

To add to these challenges is the Boundary Commission’s redistribution of seats which aids the Tories and harms Labour. Then there is the Tories’ nakedly partisan voter suppression law demanding photo ID for voters that will disproportionately hit Labour voters and those who are younger, poorer and from black and ethnic minority communities.

All of these point to Labour needing a net gain of 128 seats to have the barest of majorities and a swing of something in the region of 13%; the first of which they have only done twice (1945, 1997) and the second never at all.

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Allowing for this means that a future Labour government may have at the outset little or a slender majority, and talk for now of a landslide of 1945 or 1997 is premature. Yet at the same time, a sea change is going on in UK politics, desperate to punish the Tories, and with maybe enough of a headwind to swing enough numbers to Labour despite the obvious lack of enthusiasm for the party.

Labour, led by Keir Starmer, has started to flesh out its priorities over the past three years. However, this is not far-reaching enough to rise to the UK’s multiple challenges or the hopes of radicals inside and outside the Labour Party – while Corbynistas think the Starmer leadership betrays the promises he made when elected Labour leader.

Labour’s current economic offer shaped by Rachel Reeves – a former Bank of England economist – is informed by Treasury orthodoxy and financial discipline. Similarly, Labour’s democratic offer is over-determined by the constraints of Gordon Brown’s recent commission, the party’s inherent caution and conservatism, and the wish to retain a powerful UK political centre.

Yet across other areas Labour are beginning to set out a distinct offer. On the challenges of renewing the welfare state and supporting people, Labour are looking at how to assist the 8.6 million people currently economically inactive (this much-cited figure by the Tories includes 2.3m students and 1.1m people who have retired) and how they are currently written off both by the benefits system and many employers.

On health, Labour’s Wes Streeting is trying to set out an NHS agenda for England which steers a course between being pro-NHS, while acknowledging that there are vested interests in the system.

None of this might be successful in government, but the party is beginning to seriously think about the challenges and priorities it will face coming in to office after 14 years of Tory rule.

A Labour government will face all of the above and more which will curtail its room for action. But it will also inherit a political landscape where voters for a period will be glad to have seen the back of the Tories that provides a window for Labour. It is also true that a Tory party thrown into opposition may engage in a period of introspection, infighting and the right-wing over-reaching themselves.

One aspect of a future Labour administration is the lack of confidence in social democracy and parties of the centre-left across the developed world. This has been a characteristic of politics for more than four decades since the election of Thatcher in 1979 and Reagan in 1980.

Despite the failure of Thatcherism, Reaganism and neoliberalism on the economy, let alone their social records, the right has made the running in the years since, and everywhere the centre-left has retreated and sees political success as an accommodation with such ideas. This is true of New Labour, the US Democrats, German and Swedish Social Democrats, and the SNP in Scotland.

CAS Mudde, one of the foremost academic authorities on the politics of populism, believes recent decades have seen globally “a consequent ideological vacuum on the centre left”.

This is because he surmises: “The contemporary social democratic parties are led by people who think social democracy is ‘Third Way’ thinking, ie power-oriented pragmatism, and so they follow the ‘mainstream’.”

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He observes that “to change social democratic parties, the left needs to either change the parties’ leaderships or (re-)establish ideological hegemony”. “Long term, only the latter will create significant social democratic success,” he adds.

Easier said than done.

Labour will potentially take office in a climate in which social democracy has been in retreat for decades. The ambition of centre-left parties such as Labour has decreased, and this is not just about the nature of leadership but the changing economy and class divisions alongside the power of markets and finance capitalism.

Challenging this state of affairs is a tall order, particularly in harsh times domestically and internationally. A Labour government would take power without the banker of the 40-50 Scottish seats it used to have, meaning that it has to win bigger in England and Wales.

It also means that the current Starmer leadership do not really understand present-day Scotland as they have scant direct engagement.

Yet Labour in office, even with an SNP majority of seats, will move Scottish politics into a new phase.

The SNP will by next year have been in office for 17 years and Nicola Sturgeon Scotland’s First Minister for a decade. For all the party’s electoral successes and continued dominance, that comes at a political cost – a patchy record in office, and a leadership understandably exhausted.

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The election of Keir Starmer as prime minister will require a different kind of Scottish politics and independence. The post-Sturgeon era of the SNP will be a little bit closer.

A new version of independence and a new generation of politicians has to be encouraged to take the stage and change how politics is done and presented.

Independence has to offer more than it has in recent years. It has to hope to win support by being about more than standing in contrast to whatever Westminster meltdown is going on and thinking it can win by default. Change of such magnitude in established political democracies rarely happens without the case for it being positively won.

One fundamental is recognising the difference between Labour and Tory parties. Saying otherwise, as some independence supporters and the Corbynista left do, puts you on the margins of political debate.

The success of a Labour government – given the broken, unequal and unsustainable nature of the UK – would be a huge positive.

It would aid the lives and opportunities of millions currently blighted by the present Tories. And it would open up new possibilities for political change in Scotland and the UK.

Equally, if Labour fail in office it is highly likely that they will have been defeated by an alliance of virulent right-wing forces including finance capital, xenophobic populism and the strident intolerance of the Tories.

If this happens, it will say much about the irredeemable nature of UK politics and the British state, and would be a transformational moment for the prospects of Scottish independence.

The election of a Labour government after 14 years of Tory misrule will be a watershed moment for Britain and Scotland. It will provide an opening and opportunity for change and a chance for those who want to demolish the ancient, crumbling architecture which shapes the governance of the UK and diminishes the people who live here.

The forces of change, including in Scotland, have to embrace political transformation as a reality and make the case for overthrowing the rotten status quo – economically, socially and democratically.