How Scottish Labour wins an election it will lose
Paul Bisland, a teacher and a Labour member from Glasgow, says though we face defeat in May we can win by seeing our principles and policies put into action.
When Kezia Dugdale said recently on the BBC that Labour will come second in the Scottish Parliament elections, it was a moment of clarity from the leadership. Whilst some will be disappointed that the party are not expecting to seriously challenge the SNP for the Government gig, I was pleased to see that the lessons of the last decade or so were starting to sink in. The realisation that Labour need to change and to do more to earn the trust and votes of the Scottish voting public was refreshing, as was the acceptance that this is an election that won’t be won.
Except it can be.
Not in the conventional sense, of course. The SNP will likely be the majority government after the election. But in the sense that politics is about ideals, principles and shaping the country in which we live, in which Labour still has a lot to offer. Perhaps more to offer than we have been offering in recent years.
To my mind, the end-game in politics is to create the sort of society that you want to live in, to pursue and fulfil your agenda and to stick to the broad principles which brought you into it in the first place. In that sense I think that the 2016 election benefits greatly from the input of the Labour Party.
Labour’s principles, if not always the exact method of delivering them, are very clear. To pursue a just and equitable society in which everyone has fair access to opportunity regardless of background, sexuality, gender, race and any other factor. Scottish Labour stands for a better Scotland and a fairer Scotland, and there are opportunities to enhance this agenda in this election.
The Council Tax freeze was an understandable, perhaps even intelligent, compromise by a minority SNP government who understood that Council Tax is regressive and unfair. The continuation of this policy in a majority Government, however, has been a missed opportunity to make Scotland a fairer place and has led to issues around council funding which have been well articulated elsewhere.
The management of the implementation of new SQA qualifications has been difficult and has led to disaffection within the teaching community and the threat of strike action, something which could have been avoided with a less top-down approach. Further attempts to change education policy appear out of step with the views of teachers themselves.
Drug policy continues to be non-existent, with large numbers still parked on a methadone programme which is not working and with no meaningful progress in the SNP’s nine year term. The Scottish Welfare Fund continues to enjoy a budget underspend, but with an increase in food bank use and Tory austerity cuts that are hitting the poorest hardest, the fund should be being used in its entirety to mitigate some of the effects.
Excellent progress in changing the way we deal with female offenders has not been matched with equal progress in reforming mainstream prisons whilst the criminalisation of young men for the clothes they wear or flags they wave at football matches has been an unmitigated disaster which is hurting the SNP’s image and impinging on civil liberties.
All of this suggests that there is more than enough space on the left of the SNP for the Labour Party to advance our aims. We should be using the election and the coverage it provides to force the SNP to change tack on these issues, and to confront the realities of those areas in which they are failing or are not operating effectively.
This is not to say the SNP have not been a competent government. I don’t mind saying that the SNP have been successful in many areas and that they have been a popular government. They will be the first party to win three successive Scottish elections as the largest party, and they remain the only party to have ever won a majority.
Kezia was right to say that Labour will not win this election, and she knows that Labour is not yet ready to govern Scotland; however, Labour can win concessions from the SNP by showing the voting public where they are letting Scotland down and by forcing them to work hard to fix these issues. Effective opposition means exposing the government’s weaknesses and bringing attention to the issues that matter to Scottish people. This is not “SNP bad”, it is SNP good in places but with ways to go in others.
In this forthcoming election, Labour will win by seeing our ideas, our policies and our principles put into action and accepted as SNP policy. Seeing another party take your best ideas and use them as their own may not seem like a win, but a fairer Scotland surely does.
By forcing the SNP to fight this election from the left, rather than compromise to the Tories on the right, we play our part in making Scotland a better place to live, which is the reason that I joined the Labour party in the first place.