jimtoggleJim O’Neill says engaging with members at local level needs to be one of the key roles of our party’s leadership.


It has been heartening to see the number of articles on Labour Hame setting out different views as to the way forward for the party. The key thing that joins them all together is that they believe that there is a way forward in Scotland, despite the strident voices, mainly nationalist, predicting the death of the Labour Party.

Our party was first suggested by James Keir Hardie at a meeting of miners on Irvine Moor. The drive for the founding of our party came from Scotland, and some of our greatest leaders have been Scottish. Scottish Labour will continue.

As I write, I have just read a piece on the death of John Smith 22 years ago this month. Many of us remember where we were when we heard that tragic news. I was in Ayr, at the Scottish AGM of the teachers’ union NASUWT, of which I was Regional Official. I had the difficult task of relaying the news. I remembered, and still do, John coming to Stewarton in Ayrshire to help a rookie council candidate during his first election in 1984. I won that election, and I still treasure the pictures with John and Willie McKelvey.

John’s example, of engaging with members at local level, informed his policies, and his leadership is one we can remember with respect and fondness. His policies still resound today. But the key lesson is the engagement with individual members. This election we at least had some involvement and we knew what we were standing for, unlike 2011 when we had a new policy every day (sorry Iain Gray).

The Scottish Executive (SEC) met this weekend (15 May) to review the campaign and to make some decisions about the future. When the UK-wide body the NEC meets, as Constituency Secretary I get several reports from NEC members who have been elected from the constituency section. Indeed I have already received a report from the first NEC meeting to review the elections. I then pass these on to members by email, so that ordinary members of the party know what is going on in the highest reaches of our party.

This is sadly currently lacking from the SEC. I receive no reports of the meetings, and so the opportunity for the SEC to exercise leadership toward the individual member is lost. And that leadership is vital where morale is low, as it must be for many members who campaigned particularly against a presidential campaign by both the SNP and the Tories, which hardly mentioned the local candidate.

The SEC, and our elected leaders, must step up to the plate and become much more open about their deliberations. They must take individual members into their confidence and trust the constituencies to have informed and in-depth discussions about the way forward. I know that this will start in Cunninghame South at our AGM. So I look forward to hearing from our constituency representatives on what happens at SEC so that my members can have that informed debate, and feed back their views either directly or through an SEC member who happens to be an active constituency member.

Leadership is not just telling members what to do. That is the SNP approach. Leadership is engaging with members, learning from their views, and taking them forward with the leadership in the regrowth of our party in its homeland.

(By the way, I will not comment on the dress of SNP MSPs at the swearing in. Those who know me will know why!)