Scottish Labour needs to stand for something
Labour activist Yousuf Hamid says we need to stop defining ourselves by what we are against, and find our golden thread.
Following on from Johann Lamont’s resignation there seems to be yet another round of articles reflecting on where Scottish Labour needs to go from here.
After 2 terms of an SNP government with no indications of a labour recovery surely now more than ever is the time to truly re-assess what we stand for as a party and how we are actually going to use the additional powers that Scotland is due to get to actually increase prosperity and reduce inequality for all.
It’s disappointing that already so much of the debate seems to relate to conflicts, and who is or isn’t a dinosaur, rather than actual policy. The Labour Party needs to allow for the same devolution for Scottish Labour as for the nation. We need to be the party that offers distinct Scottish solutions, but it’s these policies rather than an endless debate about internal labour structures that matters.
It’s almost farcical to see some papers represent the upcoming leadership election as some of ideological debate from different sections of the party. The biggest problem Scottish Labour has had since 2007 is that there doesn’t appear to have been much ideology at all.
Instead we’ve gone for populism, not based on what we believe but on what we think people’s instinctive reaction to cases are – with the embarrassing result of illogical policies like ‘carry a knife, go to jail.’
Too often we give off a perception that we have some god-given right to rule, and this visceral hatred of the SNP for being the SNP is off-putting to the electorate. Silly comments about ‘tartan tories’ and helping bring down the Callaghan government mean nothing in 2014 when talking about a governing party. We need to actually critique the SNP, and to do that we need to have an alternative policy platform.
Our other criticism was always about not obsessing about independence – but the more we spoke about it the more it became clear it was us that were the one’s obsessing about it! Now that the referendum is over, now more than ever, there is a need to be able to state exactly what Scottish Labour actually stands for.
I’ve long believed that the centre-ground of Scottish politics is to the left of British politics, and that there’s a real opportunity to show how we can use additional powers to widen opportunity and narrow inequality.
How can we utilise the welfare state to provide a genuine safety net for people struggling and to help them back into work? How can we use powers of borrowing to provide a targeted fiscal stimulus in deprived areas? What levers of government can we use to drive through a living wage? How can we utilise corporation tax to bring skilled jobs to post-industrial areas that never recovered from the loss of large scale manufacturing? Rather than changing the rail franchises to another private company is there a mutual solution?
These are the sorts of questions that the new leader needs to start asking. Most importantly there needs to be a narrative, a golden thread, that ties these all together. There has to be an ideology of promoting prosperity and opportunity for all whilst offering targeted support for the worse off to create a more prosperous and fairer nation.
Never again should an activist panic on the doorstep when they’re asked ‘What does Scottish Labour stand for?’.