Once more, but this time with feeling…
The left and Labour blogosphere is buzzing with analysis of what went wrong and passionate arguments for the silver bullet policies that will get us back to our rightful position as the dominant party in Scottish politics. Party meetings are alive with the rending of campaign garments and pleas for us to return to our core values.
Well-meaning though all this debate is, I think it’s obscuring the real challenge for Labour, both in Scotland and across the UK.
Because the SNP didn’t win because of better campaigning or better polices. They won because they had somehow managed to become the political party that most folk felt best represented their hopes and ambitions. The SNP were trusted to do the right thing in difficult times, to make things better for ordinary people in their day-to-day lives while also standing up for the slightly vaguer notion of the Scottish nation. “Be part of better” was simple but powerful.
That’s our real challenge. How do we make ourselves once again a party that justifies that kind of trust and belief? We used to have it; you only have to meet old time Labour supporters on the doorstep and hear their stories about the Labour party that delivered the NHS, the welfare state, decent schools and rights for working people on real jobs.
In government we need policies. But to win elections, we need to be a party of feelings and ideas. When people across Scotland think about Labour we need them to feel a sense of hope for the future, of being on their side, trusted to do the right things for individuals, families and communities. We need big ideas for a fairer society that make sense to people in 21st century Britain.
And as I’ve argued on my own blog, we need to create that sense of trust and belief across the whole of Scotland, not just rely on our “heartland” communities in the central belt. The SNP have been successful because they appealed to Scots right across the country. That’s why we lost so many of “our“ votes to them in every single constituency.
So how do we do this? Well we can start by putting a stop to endless arguments about internal party organisation and policy making processes. The real world out there doesn’t care. Our MPs, MSPs, councillors and party activists need to talk a lot more about Labour values of equality, fairness and social justice, then get on with working out ways to solve problems for people that are consistent with them. Many do that already; we all need to get better at it.
It also means we need to be effective when we are in power. People want politicians to solve today’s problems, not spout rhetoric about why it’s someone else’s fault (which is where the SNP will eventually come unstuck). But that’s a topic for a future post.
Above all, we need a leader who talks the language of trust, hope and change, who has the confidence to look outwards rather than inwards, while earning the trust of the party as well as the people of Scotland, who can create a sense of belief right across class and community that Labour is on the side of ordinary people and is determined to make life better for us all.
Ed Milliband gets this, I think, as his speech last week showed. Will our next Scottish Party leader?
Mike Robb is a Labour Party activist from Edinburgh, now based in Inverness. Makes a living as an IT consultancy owner, advising fast growing SMEs around the UK on IT Strategy. @mgrobb