Putting members back in charge
During my campaign to become the Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour I have heard a great deal about devolution.
We have rightly discussed our position on devolution from Westminster to Holyrood, and in turn the urgent need to devolve power from Holyrood to our councils and communities. What has been missed has been the need to devolve power to our greatest resource – our membership.
I have spoken about my desire to ensure that it is our members who decide our policy programme and direct our campaigning. For too long our members have been treated as foot-soldiers rather than a key component of of strategic planning and activity.
I have said that I would convene regional policy conferences where the agenda was set by local members. In my opinion the people who know their communities best and can shape policy that reflects local needs and ambitions are our members. They are the people who need to set agendas not just follow.
I also want to ensure that our CLPs are properly recognised and supported to promote campaigning. While of course we need to have a strong message for all of Scotland based on Labour values, we must have a far more decentralised approach to campaign strategy. As part of my plans for regional policy and campaigning conferences I would invite CLP Chairs and Secretaries for regular meetings to discuss their concerns and their ideas giving our CLP structures their rightful place as local champions for our party.
For me, the job of Deputy Leader is about being a champion for our membership and ensuring that across our nation Labour Party members are trusted and empowered to start driving change in our party and our communities.
The Policy Forum process needs to be revisited to ensure that our membership do not just ‘approve’ policy but they invent, improve and promote it. For far too long our members have said that they want to direct the policy platform and if elected I will make that happen. If members in Scotland want to debate and influence reserved policy areas they should be able to do that. This might mean that our leadership has to listen and respond to criticism and challenge. It is time that was seen as an advantage not a drawback.
The old ways of command and control favoured by others have to give way to a new progressive politics where listening turns into action.
Our activists have gone through bruising times recently. Despite the polls painting a bleak picture they still campaigned hard and it is time that the loyalty and commitment shown was matched by the leadership of the party giving our local parties more autonomy and financial support.
I propose that rather than centralising campaign spending we ensure we give our local campaigns the money to do the job. Our councillors and activists know what local priorities are and we should support them.
We need to recognise that debate is happening in different ways. It’s time our party adapted to let members get involved in the policy-making process through more innovative channels. At a UK level, the Your Britain website allowed members and supporters to put forward views, opinions and ideas about what they wanted a Labour government to look like. I am keen to make use of new technology to make manifesto development more accessible in Scotland as well.
Our party is at its best when its membership is united and confident. Through this new progressive politics, we can be that party again. Locally driven policy, directed by our members and their communities, looking forward and promising action on the evils of inequality and division.
Members tell me that they are hungry for change. Well, so am I and my pledge is that I will not rest until that change is delivered.