Posts Tagged Labour

Pete Wishart: The Labour leadership speech you won’t hear

Don’t panic CyberNats!  Pete Wishart MP has not defected – this is his imagining of the kind of speech he’d like to hear the Scottish Labour leadership contenders make:

“Ladies and gentlemen, comrades, members of the press. Today I announce my candidacy for the leadership of the Labour Party of Scotland. These are exciting and challenging times. After that crushing defeat in May, it is time to rebuild and renew, to slay sacred cows and chart a new way ahead.

Yes, we were beaten in May because of poor leadership and badly thought-out policies. But the real reason we were beaten so comprehensively is because of a more fundamental problem, and that is for the past ten years the Labour Party has been at least ten steps behind the ambitions of the Scottish people. We have tried to disparage that ambition, neuter it and hold it back. With me as your leader, we will never be put in that position again.

Instead I want to lead that ambition, to work with its flow, to realise its potential. I want to lead a new Scotland, secure in its own skin and dependent on no-one but ourselves.

This is why comrades, that one of the first things I will do, as your leader, will be to commission a new internal body to look at our historic opposition to Scottish independence. As your leader, I will ask that body to look at how we could become a new voice for independence in Scotland, and how we could have a new 21st century relationship throughout these isles based on equality and mutual respect.

It is time comrades, to put our opposition to independence aside, to look at the national interest, and to work for a new and better future for all the people of Scotland.

It was the Labour Party that delivered the Scottish Parliament. It is the Labour Party that has throughout the decades championed the values of social justice and equality. Comrades, are we seriously saying that we cannot build on these fine founding principles in an independent Scotland? An independent Scotland that could be moulded in the Labour tradition?

The alternative is to have a Tory Government in Westminster continue to govern in Scotland, unwanted by the Scottish people and alien to our values. Are we really saying that it is preferable to have a Tory Government running all these reserved responsibilities rather than have them returned to Scotland and put under the democratic control of the Scottish people in ours, in Scotland’s, Parliament?

The alternative is unthinkable. To be lumped in with the Tories, once again, saying no to Scotland. To invent reasons why the Scots aren’t creative enough to make a success of their independence. We’ve done that before and it does not work. I will not talk down my fellow Scots any longer.

Comrades, our illogical and pathological hatred of the SNP has blinded us to what is right for the people of Scotland. It is now time for that to come to an end, to be on the right side of history and to do the right thing.”

(,,,,and a pig was seen flying past the window…….)

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RIP Red Ed

Labour’s Shadow Cabinet reshuffle is interesting – no, really – because it finally lays to rest the myth of Red Ed.

Previously, the shadow Cabinet was decided by a vote in the party, a bizarre type of beauty contest but it also showed where the party’s heart lay in terms of who it wanted to represent it in Opposition.  Changes to party rules did away with this contest, widely viewed as having hamstrung the party leader.  Well, no more, for this reshuffle ensured he got the chance to start drafting his people in to the Shadow Cabinet, the people he feels most comfortable with working.

A quick run through the winners and losers:  John Denham and John Healey stood down of their own accord, and who are we to doubt the veracity of that claim, especially as the correspondence backs it up.  Gone are Ann McKechin, Angela Eagle is moved sideways, Shaun Woodward also steps down and Meg Hillier vanishes.  A bit of musical chairs – Ivan Lewis and Harriet Harman swap roles at media, culture and sport and international development respectively;  Andy Burnham moves from education to health and the supposed big hitters of Balls, Alexander, Cooper et al stay where they are.

Incomers include returnees Stephen Twigg to education, Caroline Flint to energy and climate change [update:  thanks to commenter who pointed out this is in fact a sideways move but arguably still a promotion, as a more high profile role than previous one at communities and local government?] and Tom Watson to a party role as depute Chair and campaign co-ordinator.  Newbies are Chuka Umunna, Rachel Reeves, Liz Kendall, Margaret Curran and Mike Dugher. And big black marks for the Guardian for ignoring Margaret Curran’s elevation and conversely to the Scottish press for overly focusing on this appointment almost to the exclusion of others.

None too subtly, Ed has put to bed all the supposed monikers of Red, Purple, Blue and returned to what he – and the rest – know best:  New Labour.  Some commentators suggest he has brought in Brown’s bruisers to add a bit of muscle to his front bench, but Tom Watson is actually the only one who can be categorised thus, and his is a backroom role.  Mike Dugher may have been close to Brown but his role previously was in the shadows, not out in the open.

No, Ed has re-introduced a flash of Blairism but is also creating a Cabinet in his own image.  The new folks – Margaret Curran aside, who actually has real government experience and an interesting hinterland to contribute – might ostensibly represent Labour heartland territory but like Ed, they are party appartchiks or are unrepresentative of Labour’s traditions.  Nothing wrong with that, when it is talent that counts, but it finally puts to rest the idea, stubbornly held by some, that Ed Miliband’s election as leader would represent a return to old Labour values and approach.

Rachel Reeves has a banking/business background, Liz Kendall came up through think-tanks to be a ministerial advisor, while Michael Dugher has also served in a number of advisory roles and Chuka Umunna represents all that is hopeful and shiny but is definitely on the right side of the party.  Some of them, then, have very similar backgrounds and trajectories to Ed and other current Shadow Cabinet members.

And it is interesting because despite signals to the contrary – the conference speech, the ditching of public symbols of New Labour – some instincts are hard to ditch.  Ed Miliband is a creature of New Labour whose career was nurtured and weaned at the knee of Blair and Brown.  His party – as evidenced by its vote in the last Shadow Cabinet elections and the response to his recent conference speech – yearn for a turn to the left, to rediscover old roots and values, albeit with a modern twist.

Yet Miliband seeks succour and progress elsewhere. Constructs like the “good society” and the “squeezed middle”, as well as key planks of the plan for growth announced by Balls sit comfortably within the New Labour tent;  their links to old Labour values of fairness, equality and social justice are also evident but actually are more contrived.

Ultimately, it is the neo-liberal policy tendency and culture which is triumphing here, that accepts the basic tenets of a market-driven and oriented society; where home ownership is good, renting bad;  where work is the only route out of poverty;  where the private sector has as big a role to play in service design and delivery as the public;  where performance-driven targets related to crude outputs still reign;  and where wealth is okay, so long as it was earned productively.

Taking all that into account, his choice of shadow Cabinet members becomes less surprising.  He is surrounding himself with like-minded people, people he feels can create the platform he wants to project and offer the electorate, and it ain’t one that is going back to the future.

The idea that Ed Miliband would usher in a new era for the Labour party and construct a social and economic policy platform that cut ties with New Labour’s recent past was clearly fanciful.  New Labour might be being wiped from the public memory banks but its instincts and influence remain.  It’s old Labour that is being buried, along with Red Ed.  RIP.





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Holyrood’s finest hour?

It’s time for the Scottish Parliament to show its mettle.

Tomorrow, Holyrood will debate welfare reform.  Hopefully, the Scottish Government will lay its delayed Legislative Consent Motion (LCM) before the Parliament and everyone will agree to the highly unusual step of appointing three scrutiny committees for the process, one lead and two secondary ones.  This will enable evidence to be laid and heard from the widest possible range of contributors and allow Holyrood to determine whether and how it allows Westminster to legislate on devolved matters contained in the legislation.

Such is the potential impact to Scotland and her people from the measures in the UK government’s welfare reform bill that nothing less will do.  If ever the SNP wanted to pick a fight with Westminster, if ever Labour wanted to return to the hallowed ground of class politics, if ever the Liberal Democrats wanted to point up differences with their English brethren, if ever the Scottish Greens wanted to champion the cause of inequality, if ever the Scottish Conservatives wanted to show that leopards can change their spots, then this issue is it.

I blogged at the ither place that “the scale of change heading down the tracks from the ConDems’ systematic dismantling of the welfare state is almost overwhelming”.  I don’t think I was over-stating the case.  For if the ConDems get their way, nary a household nor family in Scotland will be unaffected by some aspect of the bill.  And not for the good.

Everything is up for grabs and for months, voluntary organisations have been trying and largely failing to influence the process at Westminster.  The old labyrinth of benefits will go, to be replaced by a universal credit.  No bad thing in itself, for everyone has been crying out for fairness, transparency and simplicity in the benefits systems for years.  But it is the application of conditionality, time limits and sanctions for not taking up work or work-related activity – with no exception allowed – and the cutting of income and raising of threshholds making benefits harder to access that will cause increased complexity and real problems for claimants.  Though these measures will, of course, slake the thirst of the right wing media which has helped pave the way for public acceptance of these changes with its damaging, inaccurate and misleading denunciations of people on benefits as workshy fraudsters.  But anyone losing their job – and over two hundred thousand people in Scotland have in recent months – will be affected.

Families with disabled children will be particularly hard hit from changes, as will cancer sufferers and those with complex and longterm mental health problems.  Housing benefit changes appear to benefit no-one.  Lone parents, kinship carers, unemployed young people, people unemployed for more than a year, people seriously injured in an accident, young carers, children, women reaching retirement age, people with multiple and complex disabilities, people with mild and moderate learning disabilities, homeless people, war veterans with health problems, large families, separated parents, families with a young baby and low income families in work – all might find themselves worse off.

This matters because if tens (hundreds?) of thousands of Scots are made poorer and more vulnerable as a result of benefit changes, the pressure on services like health, social work, education, housing – and on charities that work with vulnerable people – will rise, at a time when funding for such services is being stretched and cut.  Real hardship could result.

Moreover, the bill cuts across whole swathes of devolved issues and even interferes with the independence of Scots family law, through the child maintenance reforms.  The devolution of certain parts of the welfare state, including council tax benefit, parts of the social fund and the new benefit Personal Independence Payments for disabled people, will create additional work for the Scottish Government and potentially add new burdens to the public and voluntary sector, without, of course, Westminster providing appropriate funding to help smooth the way.

And everything that involves a concession or a benefit-related discount or access, such as fuel poverty measures, or is in fact, a devolved benefit, as free school meals and clothing grant vouchers are, will require to be reformed, again creating additional work for the Scottish Government and where new regulations are required, for the Scottish Parliament too.

To date, the Conservatives have not been listening:  concerns about the impact of measures and attempts to amend provisions have been ignored.  The shape of the bill has changed little since its introduction in the Spring, with the Conservatives aided and abetted in their selective deafness by the Liberal Democrats.  At committee stage in the House of Commons, scarcely a murmur never mind a protest could be heard from Lib Dem members:  that will be the civilising influence at work again, then.

And the political point is this:  Scotland did not vote for this UK Government.  These changes are being imposed with missionary zeal on a population which did not ask for them, and would not want them if it had a choice.

Changing the shape and impact of the bill’s measures is proving impossible through the front door, so it’s time to try the back.  Holyrood can do something here.  It can do its best to change the worst aspects of the bill in which it has a devolved interest.  If it was feeling particularly brave, it could try to stop the bill in its tracks and refuse to consent to allow Westminster to legislate on the matters that properly belong to its jurisdiction.

Wednesday signals the start of the process that might end in an unprecedented denouement and a constitutional crisis:  already many voluntary sector organisations are calling on MSPs to refuse the LCM.  No one knows what might happen if Holyrood said no thank you, not this time.  But that is for the end of the process.  In the meantime, the Scottish Parliament must devote all its available energes and resources to poring over every aspect of this bill, so it can make an informed decision.  Time is short – the bill is now at its Lords stages, which the UK Government has also gerrymandered by creating a grand committee which makes it harder to amend the bill, and will be done and dusted by Christmas – and minds must focus.

It’s time for Holyrood to show the Scottish people what it is made of.  It’s time for the parties to lay aside childish things and act in concert, in the public good.  It’s time to abandon tribal loyalties and politics.  Work together, create a consensus, speak up and speak out.  Then stand together and stand up for Scotland.

Holyrood, your country needs you:  this could be your finest hour.



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EXCLUSIVE: Tom Harris, calling all parties to the unionist cause

In yet another exclusive guestpost for Better Nation, Labour leadership contender, Tom Harris MP, responds to Pete Wishart’s call with one of his own – and he doesn’t pull his punches. 

What are the chances of an all-party campaign for “No to Independence”?

Well practically zilch, if we are to listen to Pete Wishart, writing on this site on Friday.

It would seem that he and the SNP have set themselves up in a bizarre contest to be the keenest defenders of separatism, and in that defence they will be steadfast. But why have they allowed themselves to be so entrenched on the nationalist side of the debate, and is there any prospect whatsoever of them even entertaining the notion of Scotland continuing as part of the UK…?

You get the idea. Such is the arrogance of the SNP post their impressive Holyrood victory in May, that they are filled with scorn for anyone so dim-witted as to disagree with the central driving force within Pete’s own party.

Labour, writes Pete in that patronising tone that might have well been patented by the SNP, has a “proud tradition” when it comes to constitutional change. Well, that’s nice of him, eh? Scottish Labour Action was an excellent example of “free thinking” on Scotland’s constitutional future, he writes, patting Wendy Alexander and Jack McConnell on the head and offering them a lump of sugar. So why the poverty of thinking on the issue now?

Well, Pete, I have the answer to that one: it’s because SLA achieved their aim. Remember that? Remember when the Scottish Parliament was opened in 1999? Come on, it must at least ring a bell!

In calling for Labour Party members to support a pro-independence campaign, Pete ignores the fact that there are many, many more SNP voters who support the Union than there are Labour voters who support independence. And yes, Pete, you’re right that no-one joined the Labour Party to protect the Union; they’re a bit more concerned about the economy, poverty, inequality and progress – you know, important stuff. None of these issues is at the top of SNP members’ list of priorities – without their obsession on constitutional issues, they have no guiding mission.

That’s the difference between the politics of identity and the politics of progress.

Labour and all the other unionist parties, says Pete, risk irrelevance in a “new Independent Scotland” (although he doesn’t quite explain what is “new” about turning the political clock back 300 years, but I’ll let that one go) by not getting on board the independence bus now.

Do you see what he’s doing here? In the week that the SNP government were obliged to talk about what they’re most uncomfortable talking about – budgets, services, the economy – Pete wants us all to move back on to the nationalists’ ground – the constitution. Just as the media and much of Scottish business are beginning to suspect that the future being shaped by Alex Salmond isn’t quite as rosy as they had been led to believe, Pete wants us all to close our eyes, click our heels together three times and imagine that he was right all along to talk about the “inevitability” of independence. I wonder why?

To Pete (and, I assume, his attitude is entirely typical of his fellow SNP members), everyone of all parties and of none accepts that independence is as right as it is inevitable, but that only the SNP are honest enough to admit it.  Nationalists are true and honourable, unionists are dishonourable and base.  We’re all nationalists, if only we were brave enough to look inside ourselves and admit it.

The alternative – that some Scots genuinely believe that we’re better off in the UK than out of it – isn’t even considered by him as a possible alternative.

Memo to Pete: you’re wrong. Prepare for a fight.

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EXCLUSIVE from Pete Wishart MP: Calling all parties to the independence cause

On the eve of the UK Labour party conference, Pete Wishart MP writes exclusively for Better Nation, calling all parties – and Labour in particular – to the independence cause.  Pete is SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire and is currently the SNP’s Westminster spokesperson for the constitution, home affairs, culture, media and sport and international development. 

What’s the chances of an all party campaign for “Yes to Independence”?  Well practically zilch, if we were to listen to the various spokespeople from the Scottish branches of the UK parties.  It would seem that they have collectively set themselves up in a bizarre contest to be the keenest defenders of the Union, and in that defence they will be steadfast. But why have they allowed themselves to be so entrenched on the Union side of the debate, and is there any prospect whatsoever of them even entertaining the notion of an Independent Scotland?

Let’s forget about the Tories just now, even with the contradictory prospect of an independent Scottish “Tory” party in a dependent Scotland, they will be the principle Union cheer leaders.  And what about the Liberals?  Well, they seem to be almost schizophrenic in their approach to the coming referendum with full home rule one minute then this curious Moore/Alexander “muscular unionism” the next.

No, I think it is to Labour that we must primarily look for some sort of encouragement in a meaningful cross party constitutional debate.

There is absolutely no doubt that many in Labour care passionately about the Union, but as Kenny Farquhason recently correctly pointed out, people don’t sign up to the Labour party to defend the Union! They tend to join for much loftier motives like achieving social justice or progressing equality issues. Surely, from the most unreconstructed old socialist to the most convinced right wing Blairite, it would have to be agreed that these fine intentions could be achieved in an independent Scotland?

There are signs, though, that perhaps a more relaxed perspective on progressive constitutional change is starting to emerge.  Former Labour First Minister, Henry McLeish, now advocates a devo max model of full fiscal autonomy – even George Foulkes made an interesting intervention on the same side a few months ago.  Furthermore, if you rake through the new Labour think-blog, Labour Hame, you can find any number of interesting contributions by some of their more progressive and forward thinkers.  There is a debate emerging in the Labour party and that must be welcomed.

And Labour has a proud tradition on constitutional change. In the 80s, Scottish Labour Action was an excellent example of free thinking on Scotland’s constitutional future. Compare the dynamism of SLA with the poverty of thinking on the Calman Commission and we see what Labour is missing in its internal constitutional debate.

Who knows, there may even be a group within Labour’s constituency that might be prepared to join a cross party campaign for independence?  I know that might sound almost deluded given what their politicians say, but remember in last year’s constitutional referendum (for AV) Labour had for and against campaigns, so why not in this referendum? Certainly a pro-devo max group must now be likely given the contributions from some of Labour’s senior figures.

The alternative is to be lumped in with the Tories, under the leadership of Billy Connolly, or some other Unionist celebrity, in a destructive “no” campaign. Investing so heavily in a doomed “no” campaign would see them increasingly irrelevant in a new, Independent Scotland.  Having a foot in more than one camp would allow the Labour Party to walk away from the referendum result in a much better place.

And what are they arguing against?  What is clear is that the Labour position against Independence has moved on but is still in need of further revision.  The “too wee too poor” arguments seem to have been nuanced recently, having been replaced by a sort of “better together” generality. But other than their intense dislike of us in the SNP, and an almost endearing attachment to the unitary UK state, I genuinely don’t know why Labour are so determined to oppose Independence.

We are in the process of shaping our nation for the century ahead and it deserves a better response than we have had thus far from the Labour Party.  Labour should at least have some sort of meaningful debate about their constitutional options before throwing themselves into a “no” campaign so readily and so enthusiastically.

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