A Manifesto for Excellence
To serve Scotland, Labour must serve our children, writes CRAIG CARSON
Well, this is my first posting for LabourHame or any Labour website for that matter so go easy on me! I’ve really been spurred on to contribute by the high quality posts and debate already taking place on the site. So here it goes…
The results in May hurt for Labour and hurt badly. However, I can see that this is now a great opportunity to really have a fresh, determined look at ourselves and ask some far-reaching questions. Only by going through a process of real reflection can we hope to come out the other side in a better, stronger state. Now I appreciate that this view I’m purporting is not new but this message needs to be hammered home to the party leadership.
There will be many reviews and inquests over the coming months and I genuinely hope they will be all-inclusive and critical on the party when merited. If we go for ‘safe options’ or if all our reviews set out to not annoy anyone then what will we have achieved? If that is going to be the case then we can say goodbye to the Labour party and actually, we would only have ourselves to blame.
The recent election campaign and actions of the Scottish Labour Party have been criticised by the media and party members alike. I feel that the one thing which is crucial and was severely lacking was credible, thought through policies and a positive vision for the future of Scotland. This was of our own making as the public could hardly see the difference between the SNP and us. We complained before the election that the SNP was going to make this a presidential election based around Salmond and ‘his team’. What did we do to counter that looming argument? Nothing. Instead weeks before the election was called we preceded to pick off SNP avenues of attack by ‘copying’ certain policies such as the council tax freeze (which Glasgow was doing before 2007) and tuition fees. Even saying we weren’t going to close hospitals in Lanarkshire which wasn’t even on the radar! That just proceeded to remind voters near Monklands General why they voted SNP in 2007 in the first place! Therefore, I would argue the key task between now and the next Scottish election is summed up in two ways – devising credible policies and a positive vision.
Let me deal with the position vision aspect first. I’m not so naïve to believe that just standing up and saying that Scotland can do better and is a great place is going to win over voters or give them any understanding about our party. However, we need a ‘big picture’ in which we should be working towards. Basically, what kind of Scotland does the Labour party want to see? Until we define that fundamental vision then we are at risk of creating policies that aren’t coherent or planned. Voters should be in no doubt about what we stand for and we should be in no doubt about what we stand for!
A very current example of vision (whether you agree with it or not) is the Curriculum for Excellence which is currently being implemented throughout Scotland’s schools. The Curriculum has four main ‘capacitors’ (guiding principles) which the curriculum hopes to develop in our young people: successful learners, responsible citizens, effective contributors and confident individuals. I feel that such a model should be applied to our vision and subsequently our policy making. We would need to add flesh to the bones of the broad values but these would be the basic values/principles in which we stand for and hope to see replicated in a modern Scotland. I appreciate that this idea is not entirely new but I would be interested to know if such principles have been explicit to the party and country as a whole.
Every new policy would need to be set against these values/principles and if a new policy doesn’t fit in with our vision then perhaps that policy isn’t right for the Scotland we want to see. I believe that to have a set of explicit values we aspire to would be helpful to the party and the public.
After we have clearly defined our vision for Scotland then our policies will flow based on those principles. In particular, I believe that we should have a much stronger policy focus on eradicating child poverty and, in particular, improving the current policies towards Early Years. Recently, Professor Susan Deacon produced an excellent report which looked into our current Early Years provision and the ways in which it is failing many of our youngest children. A large portion of her report is based on conversations with people directly involved in early years, either parents or those working with children. Her report should be seen as a wake up call to all of us interested in a better Scotland. Every day in my job (primary teacher) I see the effects of poverty upon our young people; the cycle of poverty that they now find themselves in and the reduced chances of ‘breaking out’ compared to their parents. By making fundamental mistakes and having poor leadership in our Early Years policy, we are currently stifling the great potential of our young people.
“The period before birth and in the early months and years of life has a profound impact on a child’s life, on their physical, mental and emotional development and, in turn, their life chances.” (Joining the Dots – A better start for Scotland’s Children, Pg 9)
The Labour Party still has a positive contribution to make to our society. It may have been a bumpy few months and there will be uncomfortable times ahead as we search deep within ourselves. However, I firmly believe that with the right vision and policies we can move this country, we all care about deeply, further forward into the 21st century stronger and more fairer than when we see today.
Craig Carson is a Labour activist in Glasgow South and a primary teacher.