Making opposition work
How to turn our defeat around: a five-point strategy from JAMES KELLY
Some of the recent posts in LabourHame have looked at how Labour conducts itself in opposition, specifically within the Scottish Parliament. People are correct to pose such questions as we now have five years of opposition ahead. Some of the nationalist-leaning posters think the job of the Labour opposition is to sit on the sidelines and act as cheer leaders for the SNP Government. I for one do not subscribe to that view.
When the SNP come forward with positive plans to tackle rising unemployment, we will support them. When the SNP produce properly constructed plans to tackle sectarianism, we will applaud them. And when the SNP come out with constructive suggestions to reduce the number of drug deaths, we will stand by their side.
However, when Salmond preaches nonsense on the riots, we will not be mute. When the SNP rush plans to tackle sectarianism to achieve quick headlines, we will not be silent and when the SNP promote the break up of the UK at a cost to the Scottish economy, we will not sit on the side-lines.
The role of the opposition in the Scottish Parliament post the 2011 election is particularly critical for two reasons. Firstly, the SNP have an overall majority, a first in the Scottish Parliament. As a result they can win every vote at decision time unchallenged. Secondly, the Liberal Democrats have been reduced to a minority grouping. Not only have their number been decimated but they are bereft of Short money, meaning that the resources available to the parliamentary team are minimal.
Here are the fives things that I think we need to concentrate on:-
1. Get behind the council election campaign
Some may wonder why this is priority number one. Let me tell you this will be the SNP’s top priority this year and they are already working on it. Therefore, it is the job of every Labour MSP and every Labour member to get right behind their council candidates from now. We need Labour councils and we need Labour councillors to help lead the fightback in communities.
2. Get the tone right
We need to get the tone right. As outlined in the introduction, there was a feeling in the previous term that we did become too negative. If there are issues like cross party agreement against the coalition cuts where we agree with the SNP, then we should speak out in unity.
3. Gear up for the independence referendum
The independence debate is going to be the biggest issue to affect Scottish politics in the coming years. The SNP have set up the Scotland Bill committee as a platform to advance their arguments on the break-up of the UK. We need to be looking ahead to the referendum now and begin building the political case to remain within the union. We also need to begin to consider how we organise our campaign for the referendum.
4. Pick our opportunities
We need to pick our fights in the next five years. Considering the SNP majority at Holyrood, we are not going to win any votes; therefore we need to reconsider how we conduct our opposition. The recent SNP debacle over the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill is a case in point. In this instance Labour and the other opposition parties were able to use the Justice committee to highlight the flaws in the process. This was central to undermining the SNP case for a truncated timetable and resulted in the withdrawal of the bill.
5. Don’t get lost in the Holyrood bubble
We should not get lost in the Holyrood world of motions, parliamentary questions and Cross-Party Groups. The battle is out in the country. Apart from anything else, it is crucial that we are talking to voters and groups not sitting in the parliament coffee shop talking amongst ourselves.
In summary, Harold Wilson once said that a week is a long time in politics. Well, five years is an eternity. It is crucial that Labour gets its attitude to opposition right if we are to improve our standing in the country over the period of the parliament and rebuild our credibility with the voters.
James Kelly is the Labour MSP for Rutherglen and is the party’s spokesman on justice in the Scottish Parliament. Follow him on Twitter at@JamesKLabMSP.