Pushing the boundaries
JOHN RUDDY believes a simple change in our organisation could pay dividends
In the Holyrood elections, one of the things we struggled with was our organisation. The famed Labour electoral machine was out-manoeuvred, out-thought and out-gunned. Iain Gray was right when he said this election would be won on the doorsteps, but we had shot ourselves in the foot before the election was even called. One of the biggest issues was the boundaries on which we are organised.
By organising on Westminster boundaries, many anomalies were created, where some CLPs had two Holyrood elections to run, and some Holyrood campaigns had to contend with two or more CLPs involved (or not) in their campaign. Some urban seats in Edinburgh and Glasgow crossed the boundaries of three or four CLPs, making it doubly difficult to co-ordinate activists on the ground. My own CLP, despite being one of the smallest in the country in terms of members, had responsibility for two Holyrood seats – Angus North and Mearns and Angus South – and our resources, both physical and financial, were spread very thinly. The situation will only get worse when the boundary review being brought in by the UK government reduces the number of Westminster seats to 52.
We need to review our branch and CLP structure. We need to organise at a much more local level, which will make it easier for our party units to come together to fight local, Holyrood and Westminster elections, rather than the constant battles to organise funds and people to come out. We need John Smith House to give more support to our activists on the ground – and if that means they need more resources, or to employ more staff, then that’s what needs to happen. The organisers at JSH need to work more closely with local parties, knowing and understanding the local issues that will be at the heart of any campaigning we do. They also need to work closely with our MSPs – especially the list MSPs, who should now have a role in promoting Labour much more widely than before. They will need support to do these things, and it’s our job as members to ensure they get it.
We also need to have development programmes in place for all CLPs, to help them build capacity – to effectively grow their membership, their activist base and their fundraising. Much more training needs to happen, and on a much more local level. It’s no good running one or two courses in Glasgow – this training needs to be happening in Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, and Inverness – in fact anywhere where there is sufficient demand for it.
Candidates for elections need to be selected sooner – much sooner. Our candidate, like many others, was only confirmed in January, giving us too little time to organise and run as effective a campaign as we would have liked. We need our candidates to have time to show that they are fighting for the things that matter to the voters. One thing which the SNP has done which seems to be successful is to have list MSPs fight a constituency as well, using the work they have done over the parliament to raise their profile locally. Linda Fabiani, for instance, has fought every election since 1999 in East Kilbride, and there could be no question that she didn’t understand the issues facing people there in her successful battle to unseat Andy Kerr.
In future, our organisation has to support our aims. Organising along Holyrood boundaries is one way to achieve this.
Originally from Devon, John Ruddy now lives in Angus. He was an agent for Scottish Labour at the Holyrood election and is a Unison shop steward. Follow John on Twitter at @jruddy99