Revitalising rural Labour
Michael Grieve argues that to revitalise our party we need to value our members and focus on building capacity in rural areas.
In the recent election Scottish Labour ran a campaign that we, as members, felt would reach out to all of Scotland. We felt it showed that we are the progressive party, we are the party of change at Holyrood, we are the party who would use the powers, we are the party who would fund local government, and we are the party putting kids before cuts.
But once again our campaign failed to reach the voters. They gave the SNP enough votes to run a minority government and, it would appear, some of our former voters switched directly to the Tories.
Now political historians will point out that while the general view of Scotland is of a left of centre country, less than 60 years ago the Tories got more than 50% of the votes cast in Scotland.
The Scottish Borders historically has not had a great record of electing Labour Party candidates, the last being the late Bryan Brockie who retired as a councillor in 2003. But while the efforts of us few hardened campaigners in the Borders did not manage to return either Barrie Cunning or Fiona Dugdale, we maximised the Labour vote and played our part in ensuring we got two MSPs elected from the list for the South of Scotland (Claudia Beamish and Colin Smyth).
Just because we know our chances are slim does not mean our heart is not in it, and we fought for every vote. In Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire (yes, quite a mouthful!) we were on the doors from Eyemouth to Newcastleton, and leafleting from Selkirk to Cockburnspath. We spoke to more people than we had before but like many CLPs we have a small active membership and unfortunately our members are not getting any younger.
I believe that we need to develop a “Rural Labour” approach. We must work to ensure we can represent people from all areas of Scotland, from Coldstream to Campbeltown. While we may have members across these great swathes of the country, we must ask are they active, and are they enthusiastic about Labour? Do they tell their friends to vote Labour?
That’s the kind of membership we need, and I believe to get that we need an accountable Scottish Executive reporting to the membership. We need conference to make policy and to discuss and yes debate and vote on it. I think in part the reason we don’t have that enthusiastic membership everywhere is because we don’t know who we are. And if we don’t know, the voting public certainly don’t, and they won’t put their trust in us till they do.
We need to get back to basics. We need to be fully open and accountable and we need to be a member’s party.