Isabel Hardman

The Tory strategist behind Scottish Labour’s revamp

The Tory strategist behind Scottish Labour's revamp
Eddie Barnes, right, talking to journalists after Ruth Davidson's resignation in 2019 (Photo by Robert Perry/Getty Images)
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Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar is being advised by a key figure behind ex-Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson’s political brand, Coffee House can reveal.

Eddie Barnes, a former spinner for Davidson when she led the party, has been helping Scottish Labour during the Holyrood campaign with messaging and voter strategy. He helped craft Davidson’s cheery, accessible image as she brought her party back from the brink of extinction in Scotland. It’s not difficult to see his influence in the way Sarwar has led an upbeat and confident campaign with attention-grabbing moments such as this dance class.

Barnes works for Gordon Brown’s pro-Union think tank Our Scottish Future but has also lent his hand to Sarwar’s campaign. While he has kept his involvement with Labour below the radar, the party sees Barnes’s help as a coup for Sarwar. One source says: ‘He wants to save the Union. It’s his number one task.’

It is rather less of a coup for the party Barnes previously worked for. The Conservatives have a much noisier anti-independence message in the Scottish parliamentary elections than Labour, which is trying to appeal to voters who previously backed 'yes'.

When I approached Scottish Labour for a comment, a spokesperson said: ‘Eddie Barnes has known Anas Sarwar for many years and has offered some advice to him during this campaign.’ I understand his involvement goes rather further than ‘some advice’, though. That Barnes is helping Labour suggests that he feels the Tories have reached their high water mark in Scotland and that unionists need to work on boosting Labour instead.