They key to winning voters back is not to change our party structures but to put to the electorate the party’s positive vision of Scotland as a devolved nation within the UK, argues MIKE ROBB. 


Is it only me who is more and more frustrated by where we seem to be going?

The SNP won a huge vote of confidence from the Scottish electorate this year; confidence in their policies and confidence in their style of government.   We are kidding ourselves if we think this was because Scottish Labour somehow “got it wrong” or that we lost just because we ran a poor campaign.  We don’t have a natural right to represent the majority of Scottish voters.  The sooner we start to recognise that the better.

That’s why I am frustrated by the current focus on leadership election rules, organisation and party structures.  Most of which means absolutely nothing to most Scots and, worst still, makes our grand but inward looking arguments seem ever more irrelevant to the lives and aspirations of ordinary people.

The SNP out spent, out organised and out campaigned us, and continue to do so.   To deal with that, we need to do way more re-organise the constituency party deck chairs.  We need a policy programme that enthuses people in Scotland about what Labour will do for them.

Whether we like it or not, we are heading towards an independence referendum. We need to work out what we want to achieve from that.  Are we just winning a majority “no” vote, or are we brave enough to use the coming debate to make the case for own vision of a confident and self reliant 21st century Scotland?  Do we think devolution has gone far enough or do we want to make a Labour case for more?  If Scotland votes for independence, what will people want an Independent Scottish Labour Party to do for them?

For me, our current approach of coming up with ever more complex arguments of why independence won’t work is pointless.  Finely put arguments about the costs of UK defence, EU membership and who can best fund renewable energy investments will of course exercise the minds and blogs of the political classes.   But they won’t change the mind of a single SNP supporter and risk coming across as endlessly negative to uncommitted voters who just want to see a positive future for themselves and their families.  Ditto attacks on the personality and style of the SNP government.

Scottish Labour needs to develop its vision of a devolved, confident Scotland and make its case for a vote against independence with a positive alternative.  An integrated part of the UK and Europe but with its own distinctive social and political culture which best reflects our mutual and cooperative traditions.  Personally, I think we should be arguing the case for ‘devolution max’ with left of centre policies that work in a Scottish context and are based on much more control of the economic levers.  We need to recognise the strengths of being part of the UK, but not be afraid to argue for distinctive, Scottish politics.    Politics that the rest of the UK might look at and say “can we have some of that too  please?”

That’s all just a wee bit harder than agreeing to change CLP structures.  But it’s what we need to do and it’s what I want to hear about from our leadership candidates.

Mike Robb is a Labour Party activist from Edinburgh, now based in Inverness.  He makes a living as an IT consultancy owner, advising fast growing SMEs around the UK on IT Strategy. He tweets as @mgrobb