Towards an evidence-informed Labour Party
Labour can convince only if it ditches its knee-jerk approach to policy-making, says AIDAN SKINNER
Frequently lauded as “most sophisticated electorate in the world” (mostly by ourselves, it has to be said) the Scottish electorate aren’t dim. They may not be deeply interested in wonkery, but they can tell the difference between thought through, coherent policies and ones which are backed only by truthiness.
Not only can people tell when policies haven’t been properly thought through, but they can tell when activists don’t understand them. The carry-a-knife-go-to-jail policy was under-developed and impossible to sell, as Andy Kerr comprehensively demonstrated on Newsnicht at the start of the campaign. And that was if people had been able to dig out the details in the short space of time available, as if it was just sort of lobbed in there without being properly discussed.
Which brings me to the other side of this: it’s not just enough to be properly informed about policy; we have to be properly informed in order to make good policy. Now, I’m not arguing that every party member needs to be able to spout crime rate statistics at the drop of a hat, but in order to exercise meaningful input into the policy-making process, members need to have a proper understanding of both the issue and the potential solutions on offer
This isn’t happening either. Every time minimum pricing comes up, people assert that it would raise the price of alcohol for everyone (which is, uhm, exactly the difference between minimum pricing and a rise in duty).
If we’re going to move beyond the blase, the blatantly reactionary, knee-jerk approach to policy that has served us so poorly, we need to get better at political education, and not deliberately propagate misunderstandings for short term positional advantage. That definitely has to stop. It leaves us exposed and attempting to defend the indefensible.
I’m not advocating a purely technocratic approach to policy; there are all sorts of debates to be had about what constitutes evidence, how that evidence should be interpreted, how applicable that evidence is and what policies that evidence supports or does not support. Which is why I titled this as “evidence-informed”, rather than “evidence based” (or worse, “evidence-led”).
But if we’re going to develop a credible vision for Scotland’s future then surely that has to be on as strong an evidence base as possible. Otherwise it will be unconvincing and, worse, undeliverable.
Aidan Skinner is a member of the Labour Party trying to stay involved. He’s professionally involved in developing Open Source software and enjoys arguing on the internet. Complaints to @aidanskinner on Twitter.