Labour’s future: an activist’s view
Well, you can’t say it’s ever dull.
Being a member of the Scottish Labour Party over the last twelve months or so has been somewhat interesting, and not always for the better. Whether it’s the Scottish independence referendum, our own Scottish leadership election, May’s Westminster elections or the forthcoming Holyrood elections next year, this has been an incredibly challenging time for our party.
From waking up to find that Scotland had agreed to remain part of the United Kingdom, to the almost sudden realisation that there would be a price to pay for the way in which that campaign was conducted.
From the positivity felt as we elected a new Scottish leader last December, to the crushing defeat in May, wiping out the so-called Labour heartlands.
The current narrative of the Labour Party seems to be “one step forward, then two steps back.” Add to this a UK leadership election which showcased (or exposed, depending on your view) the broad church within our party and it is safe to assume that there is still a long way to go until the Labour party, in Scotland and the rest of the UK, is once again a radical force in British politics.
In Scotland, we have entered into the leadership of Kezia Dugdale, a principled, authentic advocate for the power of education in shaping lives and narrowing social inequality. So far, Kezia has gotten under the skin of Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish Government, readily pointing out their failings on health, education and policing. She has always been first to condemn the damage that the current Conservative government is attempting to inflict on Scotland’s communities, whilst masquerading under the banner of the party of working people.
The early stages of Kezia’s leadership have been mostly positive, and has helped steady the ship as the party appears to tear itself asunder over the UK leadership in recent months. As during the late 1970s and 80s, it is the Scottish Labour Party which is the stabilising force whilst our friends in England are engaged in civil war.
Speaking to any members about our current predicament in Scotland and also family, friends and those who do not engage in politics, I’m struck by how different the responses are.
Most of the members I have spoken to, either in person or on social media, believe that the Scottish Labour Party’s biggest problem is the rise of Scottish nationalism, and to counter this we should continue to argue the economic case against the union and attempt to undermine the SNP’s record in government as proof that we are “better together.”
But family, friends, and those who aren’t involved in politics say the issue is quite different. They say, many of them former Labour voters who now vote SNP, that it’s not that they all believe an independent Scotland is desirable (many of them were No voters) but that they trust the SNP to run our public services and believe they are a better choice than the Labour party to run Scotland’s affairs.
It is the latter diagnosis which I believe holds the key to Scottish Labour’s revival.
We have to accept that many people didn’t vote for independence because it was a silver bullet that could cure all ills. That there is a section of the electorate who hold that view is indisputable and the Labour party will never realistically gain their support unless they change their stance on independence.
But the vast majority of independence supporters voted Yes because they trusted the SNP to best represent Scotland’s interests. In my view, we may disagree with this, but we must accept it.
So, the response to the Scottish Government shouldn’t be on constitutional issues. It should be on who is the best party to lead Scotland, using the new powers which will soon be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. It should be not only questioning the SNP’s credentials on our public services, but setting out an alternative vision and, perhaps most importantly, showing how we would finance it in order to gain the trust of the Scottish people on the economy.
To me, Scottish Labour’s problem is not nationalism. It’s trust. And until we regain it, we will be in the political wilderness for years to come.
Which brings me to our UK leadership. I didn’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn. I don’t believe that his leadership would be beneficial to the country, even if he were to be elected, which I think is highly unlikely. To my mind, we’ve taken a step back to decades gone by and embraced the warm comfort blanket of perpetual opposition, forgoing any opportunity to change the lives of the very people we claim to represent.
I know there are many members who agree and disagree with my point of view, but what “moderate” members (as they have been styled by press and social media alike) have to accept is that Jeremy Corbyn was elected as our leader and isn’t going anywhere.
The only way in which the Labour Party can become a party of government again is to make the case for working and middle class families throughout the UK. I don’t believe that Corbyn can achieve an election victory, but as a party we can still lay the foundations for future successes.
That means we must stop looking inwardly and fretting about this or that comment made by Ken Livingstone in the media or on what someone said in a meeting room ten or fifteen years ago (appalling as some of those comments are) but instead start to build a platform to provide real opposition to the Conservative government.
That means an economic plan which makes work pay, without penalising the most vulnerable whilst we implement it.
A way to reduce the deficit to leave a sound economic footing for our grandchildren, without increasing suffering in 2015. And a modern response to the issues caused by globalisation, including immigration, foreign policy and the digital economy.
What I want to see is Jeremy Corbyn and his team stop talking about wanting a better, kinder and fairer society and instead saying how they will build it.
I want his media operation to drastically improve its work, ensuring that the general public know what the Labour party seeks to do, something which is lacking at the present moment.
I want the Labour Party to do what it always has done: argue for the prosperity of working and middle class voters through social and political reform.
I accept that we need economic competence in order to achieve this, and I don’t believe that Jeremy Corbyn is the man to do that. But we should at least unite around the social changes we all would like to see and wait for the judgement of the general election ballot box. That is the only way to win the argument in our Party.