Back to the future
Jim O’Neill says this is not a time for self-immolation, but for a reaffirmed commitment to our principles. We’ve bounced back before; we’ll bounce back again.
Everyone is shattered by the result but we must not let this stop us promoting a socialist future for Scotland. OK we have a Government of cutters and an official opposition of even bigger cutters. That means that Labour at Holyrood must be the strident voice of anti-austerity.
Let’s look at some positives. We actually beat the Tories on the constituency vote. We have a very experienced group returned to Holyrood. We even took a seat, Edinburgh Southern, from the SNP. I know this sounds like grasping at straws, but our Party has been through this before. And if the Tories can detoxify themselves, surely we can too.
When Ramsay MacDonald led many of our comrades into the ill-fated National Government, the Party was left with a rump of members, led by George Lansbury. However, by 1940 Clem Atlee was Deputy PM, effectively ran the Government in the UK and turned that into one of the most effective Labour Governments of all time. After the disastrous elections of the 1950s, Harold Wilson created a Government that was responsible for the Race Relations Act, lots of Equality legislation, the Health and Safety at Work Act, and much groundbreaking employment legislation. And after the disaster of 1979 and the elections of the 1980s, we took power in 1997 and bit by bit took many people, and especially children, out of poverty. So we have a history of coming back and we will do so again.
So, how do we do it? I am, sadly, old enough to remember the disasters of the early 1980s when we turned on each other with remarkable ferocity. Militant tried to infiltrate the Party and we were faced in Liverpool with the sight of an allegedly Labour council sending redundancy notices by taxi on 31 December to teachers and other council workers. In Scotland, as a young Councillor, I joined the Labour Co-ordinating Committee founded by, among others, the man who is now Lord McConnell of somewhere on Arran. Despite the abuse we received from both the left and the right of the Party, Jack went on to be one of the most effective First Ministers we have had so far.
The key is, from my experience, not to lose our left principles, but to couch them in user friendly terms. And we must avoid the self-immolating behaviour that we have seen in the past and that some of our comrades, most notably Thomas Docherty and John McTernan, are beginning to exhibit.
We have local Council elections next year. We have a great message to tell for them given the terrible nine years of Council Tax freeze which has led to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and the loss of so many council services. And after all that, and the SNP promises of a new system of funding Local Authorities, we are still facing the same flawed system. So, in particular SNP Councils have much to answer for to local people and, in North Ayrshire, we can take the two seats that will put us back in control.
The party has to go into those elections, led by Kez and Alex, in a positive heart and with a positive message for the electors. Remember it was local government, in the shape of Strathclyde Regional Council, that began the fightback against Thatcher. We have to make local government do the same against a flawed SNP government who are committed to passing on the austerity cuts of an even more flawed Tory UK Government.
So comrades, with a real commitment, it is onwards and upwards to a caring socialist Scotland and the resurgence of our party.