In 25 weeks voters in Scotland will be asked to go to the polls again for the third year running. They voted in large numbers for a Labour Government in Westminster in 2010, but ended up with a ConDem Government with no mandate, and then 6 months ago they opted heavily for a nationalist government in Holyrood, but will they turn up at the voting booths in May 2012? Maybe, depending on the weather.
Next year’s council elections must be counted as one of the most important elections in the history of Labour in Scotland. The future of the party depends on this election more than the current review and last weekend’s conference, although the review will hopefully set a new platform for Scottish Labour to tempt voters back.
One of the major factors likely to win back voters will be the fact that we will go into the election with a leader of the entire party, and not a leader of the MSPs in Holyrood. Whoever comes in must connect with the electorate and not just the members. The new leader should be announcing what he or she stands for throughout the months leading until May; offering polices that will protect people’s jobs, guarantee to lift people out of poverty and create a wealthier, fairer and promising to keep Scotland from separatist rule and also from Tory hands.
Not all of our problems facing us in the elections will be solved by the new leadership but instead by those who wish to represent us in each of Scotland’s 32 local authorities. After the 2007 local authority elections we took a heavy beating and lost control of a number of councils, with Labour in control or part of a coalition in only 11 councils. I know from having spoken with many councillors in my local authority and having sat in 5 hour council meetings that the SNP never once produced a budget in opposition but now continually attack Labour for doing the same thing. With the SNP in cahoots with the Lib Dems in councils like Renfrewshire and Aberdeen, we must be putting up a strong fight, and to do this I believe that every Labour Group in opposition must produce an open and honest budget for the following year to show what we wish to achieve and where we may have to make cuts.
Another problem facing us come election time will be the Liberal Democrat voters, if they still exist. In May only a third of the Lib Dems that switched to another party gave it to Labour, and the other two thirds to the SNP. If this happens again in places like Glasgow, Fife, Aberdeen and Renfrewshire at next year’s election it will be another massive victory for the SNP in taking majority control of councils that are too big to be under SNP rule. If this occurs, we will be out in the wilderness for years to come.
John Smith House and all Labour groups in each council must have a campaign co-ordinator (paid or voluntary) who can effectively run a campaign in each local authority and these people must know the area like the back of their hand. In 2007, the Renfrewshire group were provided with a campaign manager from England who had little understanding the political landscape in Renfrewshire and it may have been part of the reason why control of Renfrewshire was lost after so many years.
To conclude: the new leadership must and needs to be positive from the outset while promoting Labour policies that will benefit every area of Scotland; every Labour Group must produce a budget if they are in opposition and there should be effective campaign co-ordinators in each area.
Gareth Brown is a parliamentary researcher to West of Scotland MSP Mary Fee and lives in Renfrewshire.