Another guest, this time from Jamie Glackin, Labour activist andÂ SEC Member.
TheÂ election result on 5 May was the most significant in living memory. Much has been said about why but after taking some time to reflect on it I would like to contribute to the catharsis. Firstly, as an active member of the Labour Party, I have to conclude that my party leadership canâ€™t carry all the blame. It was a collective and institutional one that we all share in. We did indeed offer a vision for Scotland, but it turned out to be a pretty dismal one.
Unfortunately, our election campaign fell into the trap of thinking that it knew what the voters wanted: Stuff the Tories, Thatcher hate figure, Independence Bogeyman. As the results show, Scotland had its own ideas: A confident Scotland taking its own place in the world, A fair Scotland that is always on the side of hard work and enterprise, and a caring Scotland that always puts its own people at the front of the line, not the back of it. My argument is that all of this can be achieved without the need for full decapitation. But major surgery is required if we want to save the patient.
The reality is that the Labour Party in Scotland is a slave to two masters. On the one hand, Scotland seems quite happy to supply Labour MPs to Westminster, knowing that that they can best elucidate the views of Scotland, albeit in a compromised manner. This is an example of the pragmatism of the Scottish people. We are realistic enough to know whatâ€™s on offer and to make an informed choice on that basis. So that bit’s alright then for Scottish Labour? Probably not as it happens, but more on that later.
On the other hand, we have never quite got to grips with devolution, and what that means. And in my view, this is where it all goes wrong. Scottish Labour should be there to facilitate the aspirations of a Nation. And the forum to deliver these aspirations is the Scottish Parliament. Not the other way round. As Labour, we consistently attempted to impose our policies on a public that has long since widened its scope on who it thinks can best represent those aspirations. The recent election campaign served as a reminder of why a race to the bottom in Scottish Politics can only ever result in one winner- the one with the record, freshness and vision. And rather than supply a competing vision, we offered Scotland more of the same. So when SNP members go on television and claim we fought a â€˜Negativeâ€™ campaign, I believe that they are right. Labour hasnâ€™t fought a positive one since 1997.
Some would have it therefore that Scottish Labour is institutionally incompetent. I think thatâ€™s harsh and in throwing missiles at John Smith House actually ignores the real issues facing the Party.
We were founded as a party of the people, and somewhere along the line, an institutional malaise set in. Human nature is a bit like that. We changed, slowly but surely, as champions of the underdog and the working classes to being managerial autocrats. Sure, we knew all the vocabulary required to protect our authority, but failed to connect with the values that saw Labour born at all. People have angrily told me that despite casting their votes Labourâ€™s way for generations, that we still have slums, we still have generational worklessness and we still have a broken underclass, mired in alcohol, violence and substance abuse. Yet prosperity has visited other parts of Scottish society to the extent that a chasm now exists between a relatively small demographic. The issues that we face are so deep rooted that cosmetic changes to our institutions, including the Labour Party, canâ€™t even begin to deal with them.
The challenge facing the Labour Party therefore is how to be the party of the Scottish People again. In my view, we can only hope to attempt to do this when we realise that the fundamental questions we have to address concerns the ambitions of a country. Institutionally regarding Scotland as a region of the Labour Party simply doesnâ€™t cut it.
We canâ€™t even start to think about policy failures until we embrace this point. Whilst there will always be convergence on the policies of the left, last weekâ€™s election should leave the Party in no doubt that identity is just as important to the people as policy, if not more so. Indeed, there were many areas of the SNP Manifesto that deserved very close scrutiny. Instead however, they had a free run at a campaign because they knew exactly what they were for and where they were going, to the extent that the policies of the other parties simply didnâ€™t matter. We resorted to tried and tested methods. Vast amounts of doors knocked, thousands if not millions of leaflets distributed, votes counted and in the bag. The SNP had other ideas: a media policy suspiciously short on shortbread tin politics, no lamenting pipers. Only a clear message that regardless of whatâ€™s happening at Westminster, only the SNP were capable of delivering a Parliament capable of elucidating Scotlandâ€™s identity and ambition.
So letâ€™s face facts. Surely the accusation that we are a party ruled by London is correct? Every member of the NEC resides within the M25 (with the exception of the excellent Callum Munro, the Young Labour Rep.) Colleagues from the North of England have raised concerns about this with me since the election of the NEC last year. Iâ€™m not saying for a minute that the current executive are without talent or commitment to the party, but I fear that there is a danger that London-centric â€˜Progressivenessâ€™ becomes the dominating mantra of a party that the rest of the UK just doesnâ€™t get. Whilst I donâ€™t know the mind of Ed Miliband, I canâ€™t help thinking that he believes that Scottish Labour lost a Scottish election simply because we lacked a â€˜Progressive Centre.â€™ Whatever that means.
Surely then there can be only one direction of travel for the Scottish Labour Party? As a party we finally need to grapple with the question of what we are for. We are either the voice of our communities or we are not. We are either the voice of industry, of business, of victims of crime and the police, of the hopeless, of the public sector, of taxpayers, of women, of all classes, or we are not. Scotland is a Nation made up of all of these and much more and its from each intertwined strand that a coherent vision for Scotland comes. And in listening to all of our people and in understanding what a country wants, we define what we are for. So there is no need for the perpetual internal argument about shifting to the left or right. The people tell us where they expect us to be and we live up to that expectation. (This lesson applies in England and Wales too!)
I personally believe that when Alex Salmond talks of the â€˜Inevitabilityâ€™ of Independence, that there might be some truth in that, but not to the extent that some of his party would like. The Scottish People are capable of differentiating the hubris of politicians from the issue at large. And two weeks ago they told all the parties in Scotland the direction that they want to go. I believe that closely resembles the Devolution Max option, where Scotland has total fiscal autonomy and responsibility for its own affairs, save those reserved, by agreement of the Scottish people to the UK Government. Opponents will argue that this proposal is Independence Lite, or a guarantee of the break-up of the United Kingdom.
Well, Iâ€™m sorry but if it werenâ€™t broke why would be trying to fix it? The Union itself has never been a solid state entity anyway. What it is and how it is viewed has always changed, evolved and adapted. My argument therefore is that the Labour Party has to recognise that the people have spoken and now is the time to start being the party of the people again, regardless of where that might lead us.
For the Scottish Labour Party? I can see little option but exactly that. The Scottish Labour Party, and not the Labour Party in Scotland. Governed in Scotland, by a Scottish Executive robustly representing their constituencies, trade unions and socialist societies, reflecting what people are actually telling them. With a leader who is an MSP and a deputy who is a Westminster MP. With constituency parties representing Holyrood Boundaries, not Westminster ones, holding meetings open to everyone, not just party insiders forming supporters clubs.Â In short, a Scottish Party with its own unique identity, pressing for the renewal of itself and its country, always recognising the distinctiveness of Scotland. A party that realises that since 1999, we now have a Parliament that is no longer an infant, but ready to take its first steps into adulthood, and all the responsibility that goes with it.
The nitty gritty stuff, I leave up to you. But make no mistake, unless we seize this opportunity to become the party of the People of Scotland with the vision and the ambition that entails, then we are heading very quickly to irrelevance. Given the SNP dominance at Holyrood, the potential is there for policy to creep slowly but surely to the right. Scottish Labour have to play a role in the new Parliament and in the future to challenge this.
And of the referendum? Well we have to face facts and say that we simply donâ€™t know how the Scottish People will vote. It might be for full Independence. And if thatâ€™s what Scotland wants, then Scotland will surely get it. And if that happens (which it might,) letâ€™s make sure that thereâ€™s a Scottish Labour Party on the other side.
West of Scotland, Mid Scotland & Fife