Urgent blog: Challenges Ed Miliband should throw down tomorrow.

This is Thursday, 27th November, the day of publication of the Smith Commission Report on extra powers for the Scottish Parliament. Tomorrow, Ed Miliband will speak in Glasgow. When he does so, he should bear in mind his responsibilities to the Scottish people, and seek to reinforce his political credibility from the opportunity which the occasion represents.

His responsibilities to the Scottish people are both political and democratic.

Politically, he must support the clear mandate given by the people of Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. He must speak uncompromisingly for the 2 million.

Democratically, he must support the referendum process: the people of Scotland have spoken and our decision is paramount, no matter how many flags are waved and sentimental or warlike songs are sung by those who will not accept that verdict. The referendum was for real and, as the SNP told us repeatedly, a one-off chance to decide whether Scotland should be an independent country. The people are sovereign, and our decision is clear. No means No.

Moreover, it is practical common sense that the recommendations of the Smith Commission should be given time to pass into law and be implemented. It is also practical common sense that the consequences of Smith should be allowed time to judge their effectiveness. The timescale for these processes is clear but not short.

The precedent of the Calman proposals show that legislation in 2012 is leading to implementation in 2016. So legislation on Smith in 2015 (after the General Election) would suggest targeting implementation for around 2019. The first post-Smith Holyrood election will therefore be in 2020, and the effectiveness of a post-Smith Scottish Government of any stripe will not be voted on until 2024. It would reasonable to allow at least two electoral cycles to pass before undertaking an evaluation, to see how different administrations deal with a range of internal and external pressures. Therefore such a process would not be appropriate until at least around 2030.

The opportunity offered to Ed Miliband is to show his political strength and leadership qualities. Ken Livingstone insists that Ed is the toughest-minded Labour leader he has met, and compares him to John Smith. Now is the time to show it. Ed must set out how he will honour the vow he made, and the verdict of the Scottish people. This should comprise two elements.

The first must be to incorporate the Smith proposals into the 2015 Labour General Election manifesto. This is obvious.

What is also obvious is that Ed Miliband must rule out a further referendum or any other concession towards independence under his Labour leadership. This must remain the case, irrespective of election results in Scotland, and irrespective of manifesto commitments of any party elected to government at Holyrood.

Independence may be the aspiration of the SNP, the Greens and others. However, following Smith it is clear that responsibility for the constitution remains a reserved power, and the people of Scotland have agreed to that in rejecting independence.

So even if the current opinion polls are correct and the SNP were to gain a majority of seats in Scotland in 2015 and 2016, Ed Miliband must insist: no new referendum on his watch. End of story.

Having set out that principle, Ed can present this position as the background to a challenge to the other political parties. To the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, he should say:

“Will you join me in protecting the outcome of the referendum and with it the democratic will of the majority in Scotland? If so, sign up to the same guarantees on no independence, no ifs, no buts.”

To the SNP and its allies, his challenge should be:

“Your aspiration for independence has been rejected. However, you have been integral to the deliberations and conclusions of the Smith Commission. It has taken courage and no small compromise to do so. Therefore it is logical and sensible that you should invest in the success of the implementation of its proposals, and you should commit to do so.

“I have set out that there is no logical, political or democratic case for you to pursue your aim of independence at the next election, or for several thereafter, if the Smith proposals are to be judged as a constitutional settlement.

“To present independence or even a further referendum to the electorate would be to mislead the electorate, as it will be vetoed in the name of the 2 million Scots who voted No, and whose view I am championing. Therefore my challenge to you is that you should accept the will of the Scottish people and commit to making this new settlement work for the people of Scotland.

“It is your choice: you can choose either to be part of progressive devolution, or to continue to go down the longest of blind alleys in pursuit of independence. The choice is between the unity of purpose offered by Smith, and continuing division that is inevitable if the battles of the referendum are continuously re-run and repeated.”

By setting out these challenges, Ed Miliband will show leadership on behalf of the Labour Party and on behalf of the 2 million No voters who won the referendum.

He will also offer a route whereby the people of Scotland can unite and begin to heal the bitter divisions which have been caused by the referendum.

And if the SNP refuses to meet his challenges, they will be forever seen as the party which chose dogma over commonsense, and much worse, chose division over unity.

….continued. Labour leaders, media, what we must do (some helpful suggestions)

Continues from  http://wp.me/p3f2py-aL

So what are the possible solutions?

First, there are the politicians themselves. It appears that there is a certain merit in well, being forthright.

It did Nicola Sturgeon no harm to stand toe to toe with her opponents and let fly like an ill-mannered fishwife. Farage slouches in the saloon bar with a pint of bitter and sneaks a not-so-crafty drag as soon as he can. Never mind that Nicola was brought up by a nice working class family in Ayrshire and has the benefit of a university education in the law, or that Nigel is a stockbroker educated at Dulwich College, alma mater of P.G. Wodehouse and C. S. Forrester. Nor do you need to take a swing at your opponents like John Prescott, although Labour’s polling went up after the Two-Jabs incident in 2001 General Election. But metaphorically, that too has its merits.

So a bit more aggression and a bit less fear of giving offence does not go amiss. Ed Miliband is actually pretty good at dishing out the vitriol when he puts his mind to it, if we remember his 2012 conference speech (from 32:00 onwards) Likewise, if we read Damian McBride’s memoir Power Trip, he tells us of a sardonic intellectual, with a ‘natural wit and charm, down to earth nature and statesmanlike aplomb.’ He also recalls Ed visiting Gordon Brown at Chequers, strolling round impersonating a Jewish pater familias “nice bit real estate, here.” This not the Ed we are used to seeing on our screens and in our papers.

Not least because of his low opinion poll ratings, we need to see the real Ed Miliband: not a phoney “man of the people” or anything like it, but perhaps like Sturgeon and Farage, a public version of his authentic self, but with the edges sharpened, not sanded off. The public Ed needs to be the real life Ed, projected bigger and more truthfully. This is one way to use the new proximity of the social media age, like MacMillan getting into people’s front rooms in an early television PPB and saying “between you and me”.

And at the Scottish level, we also need to see our new leader breaking out of the bonds of the media image straightjacket.

On Sunday last (23rd November) we were at the Glasgow leadership hustings. What we saw were three excellent candidates. Neil Findlay was pugnacious and gritty; Sarah Boyack was empathetic and surprisingly steely; and Jim Murphy was driven and emotive. The plea to all of them has to be: when you become leader, do not, whatever you do, go back into a shell of correctness and ambiguity.

There is no need to be insulting or boorish (leave that to the SNP) but people will appreciate it when you do not mince your words. So leave them in no doubt where you stand and, crucially, do it in your own voice. It is certain that you are going to be misrepresented, so make sure your message is clear.

And by the way, never apologise for what you believe in. Let us look to our leaders of the past. Like Donald Dewar can you imagine Donald caught in the snares the Lilliputians of the media? Or like Robin Cook – waspish and clever in equal measure? Or even most recently like Gordon Brown ripping the place apart at Maryhill Communtiy Central Halls with the sheer weight of his argument and power of his oratory. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J39bBV7CBJk No-one is going to be Gordon Brown, but he shows how to get the job done.

We would have left the hustings with a spring in our step, confident that Scottish Labour’s future was in good hands, if…if, if, if, it were not for the fact that two alternative events had happened in Glasgow the day before: the Radical Independence conference and the SNP rally at the Hydro. These showed the scale of the task ahead.

At the SECC, 3,000 assorted left extremists and Greens called for Labour to be annihilated at the 2015 election, regardless of our manifesto or the prospect of a Tory government. At the Hydro, Nicola Sturgeon wanted the same thing, as the SNP staged a 12,000-strong rally complete with mass hysteria and party songs both sentimental and bloodthirsty. If anyone in future wants to know the point at which the nationalist cause shaded across from the ludicrous to the sinister, they need look no further than Saturday 22nd November 2014.

Such is the scale of Labour’s task as we elect a new leader, and such is the timescale, that we need a two stage plan for recovery. First comes the very short period to the 2015 General Election, then the following year up to and including the next Holyrood election. In each of these instances, we face an existential struggle.

When we have a new leadership, and the Scottish Policy Forum is complete, we will know our programme for 2016. But for 2015, our programme already falling into place, with a range of redistributive policies, such as the Bankers Bonus and Mansion taxes, and the commitment to restore the 50% upper rate to Income Tax.

The SNP cannot match these, which indeed show the strength of Labour case, founded on our values of social justice. Specifically for Scotland, we should add some extra commitments, such as pledges to use power at Westminster to block any further independence referendum, and to hold a full independent public inquiry into the SNP’s misuse of the Scottish civil service in the 2104 campaign.

In this sense, the 2015 General Election will give Scottish Labour a very real opportunity to once again take up our case as a crusade. In doing so, we must fight on Labour’s record in government and put down any argument about the Blair and Brown Governments having let our voters down.

The message is simple enough: Labour succeeded in reducing poverty and improving the conditions and rights of working people, in rebuilding the NHS and in building new schools, hospitals and homes; we can and will do so again, while the aims of our enemies are a dead-end at best, and an extremist fantasy at worst. (It might also help to play a video of the Gordon Brown speech at every election meeting.) We need to say ‘only Labour has made Scotland better, and only Labour will do so again.’

The new leader will need to commit every minute of day to that crusade, and must inspire the wider membership to do likewise. The momentum shown in the hustings was to do exactly that, so that Labour again becomes a movement and not just a party. In an earlier blog, I outlined how angry Scottish Labour members are with our politicians. (As one friend asked me “who sold the jerseys?”) http://wp.me/p3f2py-aD It is the job of our new leader to turn that anger outwards, and unleash our energy into the 2015 General Election campaign.

The odds could not be higher: Scottish Labour Party is at risk of eclipse and potential extinction; Scotland and the UK are at  risk of another Tory government; and democracy itself is at risk of being replaced by a pessimistic populism. If we are serious about being  social democrats, we have a duty to do our best to ensure that none of these do not come to pass.

Before I read @hopisen’s piece, I had written this….

Into a world of unpopular government? (AKA We’re all doomed)

The week after the independence referendum, the BBC’s Question Time came from Kelso. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04jtx3h/question-time-25092014 Feelings were still pretty raw, and this showed in the audience reactions. One woman (on 24:35) had the distinction of being the first to tell the Yes recedivists “Nobody voted for extra powers. No means No.” But at least as telling was a man whose contribution (54:24) to an Ed Miliband discussion was “… that is why we voted Yes. To get away from all this Westmonster nonsense.”

It was clear by “this nonsense” that he meant the part political way of doing things, and it is notable that in this respect (at least) the Yes vote and its afterlife shares with UKIP south of the border a commonality. Their belief is that conventional party politics no longer serves them. And this has a wider resonance: the Observer showed on Sunday 16th November (http://gu.com/p/43bk8/tw via @guardian) how traditional politics and binary political systems are under attack across Europe.

The insurgent parties come from both extremes of the political spectrum: from the right it is UKIP in the UK, the Front Nationale (France); Golden Dawn (Greece); the Sweden Democrats and the Danish People’s Party; from the left Podemos (Spain) and Syriza (Greece); from the unaligned centre Beppe Grillo’s 5-Star movement in Italy; and nationalists like the SNP itself and Sinn Fein, currently polling at 24% in the Republic of Ireland.

The spread of these parties across the political spectrum suggest that there is not a common lurch to the left as a response to the excesses and failures of capitalism, nor a leap to the right in reaction to the stultifying hand of the left. These movements – like the man in Kelso – tend to represent a disenchantment with party politics itself. The voters, in other words, do not like what they vote for, and it seems, may be going off representative democracy itself.

The most striking example of this process is to be found in France.  François Hollande was elected only two years ago in 2012, inflicting what was regarded at the time as a humiliating defeat on his conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy. In taking the Elysées for the Socialists for the first time in 30 years, it was difficult to see that M. Hollande in his current position, standing at 13% in the opinion polls (the FN’s Marine Le Pen FN is at over twice that rating at 30%.)

Here in Britain, the insurgency parties are in the ascendancy as well. UKIP is easily the third biggest party in England. In Scotland, the very best that Labour can expect in May next year is to restrict the Nationalist to a similar result to 1974: it would be a triumph for our new leader to keep them down to under 20 seats. It is just as likely that they will break FPTP and take over 40, and reduce Scottish Labour to a rump. It looks likely that the “big” two main parties will take about 6 votes in ten between them in May next year; and in the still most likely event of a Labour Government, the evidence of France is that within a year or so, Labour could be somewhere in the region of 15-20%.

So what is the cause, and what can be done?

With regard to the cause, is possible that all of the governments of the party politics system are failing or have failed. And it is possible that all of their political systems are hopelessly corrupt. However, these would be coincidence and seem unlikely.

What they have in common, however, is the continuing effect of the world recession, and the inability of parties of either conventional left (or Social Democrats) or conventional right (Christian Democrats) to make an impact. What they – and we – also have in common is access to technologies which foster and support scepticism and in turn distrust.

In this regard, we can return again to home soil and to the Scottish independence referendum. One of the features of the campaign was the sudden appearance on social media of evidence which “proved” any point that someone wished to make. The result was that incredible fancies became commonly believed as fact, as political urban myths abounded. At one end of the spectrum these stretched to the mistaken – such as a belief that the McCrone report had been produced under the same condition of transparency as that which we enjoy in the post-Blair FoI age.

At the other end were the pure fantasists, like those who believed that massive oil deposits in the Firth of Clyde are being concealed as their exploitation would interfere with Trident deployments. When examined, it is clear that there is no evidence for these claims, only that you find out about them on the internet. The whole story can be found here (thoroughly debunked): http://noscotland2014.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/west-coast-oil-a-view-from-de-bunker/

We must therefore deal with a potent cocktail of (a) continuous economic stress plus (b) the apparent failure of conventional party politics plus (c) the proliferation of theories ranging from outlandish to bonkers on the internet. How do we go about it?

First, the world economic crisis is not going away anytime soon, and no sensible party (that is no party which values stability and low interest rates is going to break ranks with fiscal orthodoxy, so austerity is here to stay. And this may be a blessing in disguise, as a simple but superficial way to deal with the problems might be to throw money at it. The task becomes a whole lot more difficult and a lot more radical when the underlying political issues need to be addressed: how do we get the electorate to believe that politics is for them, and about them and their families and communities?

The first realisation which we must come to is that politics as a binary process was the result of conditions in the early and mid-20th century and is probably dead. It was the product of the ideology dictated by the relationship which markets created between labour and capital, reinforced by monopoly mass media and means of distribution. Its political identity is the First Past The Post electoral system: “vote either for capital or for labour.” These relationships have now been eroded in the western democracies: for a number of reasons. The first is the triumph of capitalism and the defeat of its socialist alternatives. Another is the growth of social and communications media, through which the population feel they live in the same space as the political representatives. And although this is of course an illusion, it may still give the impression that politicians could listen to them, but that are wilfully ignoring them.

Recently the BBC showed film of the 1964 General Election results coming through, which featured an interview with Clement Attlee (by then Earl Attlee.) One wag on Twitter asked what the media would have made of him today: “weird, remote, a bit geeky, not willing to take on the left wing, Red Clem?” But above all, few voters, especially Labour voters, would have expected the degree of approachability demanded of Ed Miliband. Likewise, no-one expected Churchill or Lloyd George to be as ‘ordinary’ as Cameron or Clegg.

So politics is going to always be out of touch as long as the main and most important contact which voters have with politicians is not real but an illusion created by the media…..(to be continued…)

My vote in Scottish Labour Leadership – Spoiler: No Surprises Here.

Yesterday evening, I attended my CLP’s Nomination Meeting for the leadership of the Scottish Labour Party. It was an excellent meeting, in both senses – a good turn-out in numbers and a wide range of views being aired.

On the one side, we had the those who believe that Labour’s problems in Scotland can be addressed by the adoption of a leader who is to the left of where the party currently stands, and who support Neil Findlay for Leader and Katy Clark for Deputy. Their case rests on the assertion that Labour has lost contact with those who supported us in the past, and that this can be rectified by a number of left-friendly measures, including making Minimum Wage the same as the Living Wage, building 50,000 new homes for rent and a national strategy to end poverty in Scotland.

The trouble with these proposals is that the left agenda in Scotland is already much more radical than their programme. The evidence of this can be found in many of the online comments to my recent LabourList article in which I urge Labour to take the initiative: http://labourlist.org/2014/10/what-should-scottish-labour-do/.

One of the remarkable features of post-referendum Scottish politics is the way in which the anti-UK and anti-Labour forces have coalesced. They now represent single front comprising the larger minority which would support independence, plus the far left (including ex-Militant and SWP Trotskyists and ex-CPGB in an opportunistic alliance) and the Scottish Green Party. In short, it seems impossible to outflank the nationalists on the left, just as it is impossible to be more nationalist than the SNP.

The other side of the argument at our CLP was the case surrounding Jim Murphy. The cases for and against Jim were aired. Against: that he is a ‘Blairite’, that he voted for the invasion of Iraq, that he supported student loans to replace grants, and that he is “the most rightwing person in the Labour Party” (from someone who obviously does not know me as well as she thought. Or Hopi Sen.) The case for was also predictable: that he is the known election winner that we need to avert electoral disaster, that he has a high recognition factor with the wider electorate, and that being Blairite is not a bad thing, as New Labour won handsome election victories after decades of Labour failure.

Further discussions went into a bit more detail. These included a contribution which mainly comprised a denunciation of the Iraq War, and a very incisive destruction of that argument by an Iraqi Kurd comrade; praise for Neil Findlay’s role in defending the No case against the Yes Campaign’s lies on the NHS, and someone pointing out that he actually lost that argument; contributions from full-time trade union officials supporting the line as they were paid to do; and an intervention by a past CLP Chair who last drew attention to himself by telling the press he was voting Yes against CLP policy and the Labour Party (he favoured the Findlay/Clark ticket by the way). Others argued that it was essential that the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party should be an existing MSP.

Our MP, John Robertson very fairly declined to bang the drum for his own favoured candidate. Instead he drew attention to the fact that Scottish MPs do not cease to be Scottish when they go to Westminster, and to the false Nationalist opposition of Holyrood versus Westminster.

Then the vote: for Deputy Leader, we voted clearly for Kezia Dugdale as the CLP nomination; for Leader we voted very narrowly for Neil Findlay. This fairly reflected the keenness and indeed the quality of the discussion.

Two things were striking about this debate.

The first is the seriousness with which the discussion was conducted, and consequently the respectful way in which the cases of those under consideration and their supporters were received on all sides. This was a vast improvement on earlier leadership and policy debates.

This perhaps reflects the gravity of our situation. My assessment– based on current opinion polls – is that at best after May 2015 Scotland will be like it was in 1974, with the SNP winning 10-15 seats and second in another 35-40. At worst – and this is a very real risk – the SNP will break FPTP and win over 40 seats and Labour will hold fewer than 10.

The second feature that is striking is that it was a debate that returned to Labour’s roots. For as long as the Labour Party has existed, it has been an alliance of “left-wing” ideologues and “right-wing” pragmatists. Sometimes – such as in the 1980s under Michael Foot and before being addressed by Neil Kinnock – the left has dominated; sometimes, as from the mid-1990 – under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – the right has dominated. Our oldest question was debated yet again: are we going to do better from the left-far left, or from the centre-left?

Labour governments are like all others: they do some good things and some bad things; they also leave some things undone and do some things that are unnecessary. It is reasonable that the Blairite New Labour governments, having demonstrated that we could win and win well from the centre-left, governed from the same place (“We were elected as New Labour and we will govern as New Labour”). So it follows logically that the left will see more to criticise in those governments, and the right will see more to praise.

My own view is that economic orthodoxy is the price that needs to be paid to ensure the economic stability required to guard our relative prosperity against calamity, and thereby in turn to protect our public services, pensions and welfare. I also believe that the evidence of the last decades is that Labour is best placed to win elections from the centre.

I concede that it is possible that post-referendum Scotland is a left-wing exception to the general rule of western democracies (Germany, France, Spain, Greece) that social democracy is in retreat.

However, it seems more likely that the referendum has simply provided a populist home to all of those who are unhappy with the reality of modern world. It appears to be the ideal place for all of those who reject economic necessity, and those who think the UK is their enemy, who think capitalism is their enemy, who think the media are their enemy, who think “the Establishment” is their enemy, even some who think their fellow Scots not rejecting Britishness are their enemy.

Many of those who hold these views long ago rejected the Labour Party: some of them are even known individuals who were expelled from Labour for trying to destroy our party from within. Now they are pressing even harder with their narrative of Labour “betrayal.” It is difficult to see how we can now win them back, or even why we would wish to do so.

In contrast, I thank my comrades in my CLP and welcome the debate that we enjoyed. However, I will vote for Jim Murphy in the ballot of members which starts soon, and would urge others to do. I will also vote for Kezia Dugdale as Deputy, and I believe that as a team, they stand the better chance of restricting Scottish Labour’s losses to a level below calamitous. If Neil Findlay and Katy Clark are elected, I hope I am wrong. And I am sure – especially after last night – that the reverse applies as well, and that their supporters will support our leaders whoever is elected.

Scottish Labour Leadership – A Member Writes.

I am looking forward to some of the contributions in the Scottish Labour Party leadership campaign.

After all, we are the Labour Party members who pay our subscriptions and spend hours and days supporting the party because we believe in our message of social justice and our record of putting it into action. And we deserve a few answers.

First, from all of the candidates, who are elected representatives in the UK and Scottish parliaments: we have  a right to know how we got where we are. Labour has the most potent message that politics can ask for: we believe “that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone.”

What is more we have a century or so of proof that this is the case, as in the NHS, the Welfare State, National Minimum Wage, Pension Credits: you all know this. So do we. So why does the Scottish public appear to have lost sight of it? How can the question even be asked: “what does Labour stand for?”

Part of the same question is about the independence referendum. How was it that Labour lost ownership of our issues, especially Scottish self-government and the NHS?

Labour is the party of devolution: we created the Holyrood Parliament, and for two very good reasons. The first was as a check on the power of Westminster, in circumstances where Scotland votes differently from other parts of the UK. The other was as the antidote to independence, specifically and definitively not as a half-way house and a stepping stone in that direction. You would never have known it from the referendum debate. Where were you when the very presence of the Scottish parliament was being ignored and its influence was being air-brushed?

We did not hear much about “Labour’s Holyrood parliament” or “Labour’s government for Scotland”. Sarah Boyack, could you let us know what you think?

The issue regarding the Scottish  NHS is similar. Labour created the NHS and made sure that in Scotland, it is protected by the mandate of Holyrood. So how on earth did the lie about the NHS being under threat from a No vote ever gain any traction? (Never mind that 54% of Yes voters said their motivation was to protect the NHS?)  How did Labour in Holyrood surrender this issue to the SNP, which has had responsibility of the NHS for the past seven years?

Who was our spokesperson who allowed this happen? Neil Findlay this might be one for you?

Finally, there has been a lot of comment that Labour’s team at Holyrood being the B Team, with all of the A-listers down at Westminster. OK, so where were they during the referendum campaign – with honourable exceptions – when they might have been telling the Scottish people about the achievements of 13 years in government? The sort of honourable exception I am talking about is Margaret Curran introducing Gordon Brown at United with Labour by thanking him for the UK Treasury writing off Glasgow’s housing debt, which made possible the complete renovation of tens of thousands of homes in the city.

They might also have had something valuable to say about how important it is for Scottish voters to be represented at Westminster, and that this means that the voice of Scotland is heard louder and clearer both domestically and internationally as part of the UK. What about it, Jim Murphy?

Above all, our candidates for the leadership should know that we are angry and demanding answers.

This is not because we do not know what we want: we believe in a single UK  working class and  a single UK labour movement. We believe in  what Labour stands for, which is that communal action and co-operation produce the most effective solutions at every level – in our local communities and workplaces, in Scotland, within the UK and internationally.

So where were Labour leaders (at any level) when the opportunity arose after 18th September to get all over the Scottish and UK media, monstering the SNP to grasp control of the political agenda following a historic victory (yes victory) in the referendum? Why are we not now telling Scotland that we are are proud of that victory, not because of any adherence to the UK establishment and its institutions,  but because we averted an economic calamity which would have created extensive unemployment, a soaring cost of living and the risk of considerable social unrest. Why have we not said “the referendum has mortally wounded the cause of independence. It has no future.”

We should be in no doubt that Labour’s critical situation in Scotland is a political failure, not one of ideology or policy. If Labour had been effective as an opposition at Holyrood, if we had made it clear that the SNP were the only threat the NHS in Scotland faces, if the Scottish and UK parties did not act like estranged siblings, we might not be where we are today.

We are social democrats because we are practical people, and we are realistic enough to know that like all governments, ours have both achieved a great deal and fallen short. However, we are intensely proud of Labour’s record, and know that every Labour government has improved the condition of the UK and its people enormously – especially in Scotland. We also know that in the 2015 General Election, the Labour Party will offer itself to continue that work, and will fulfil its pledges to create a society based on an economy which serves the people, rather than the other way round.

The answers we want are not about Labour’s purpose and objectives: we joined Labour because of its great message and a proud history of delivering for working people and the disadvantaged.  We want answers  about the way in which our representatives appear to have lost the ability to articulate that purpose, to inspire voters with those objectives, and to win their trust by not just defending, but being proud of our record of delivery.

We want what we believe in, and what Labour has achieved, put front and centre of politics, because we believe that only then can we be convincing about what we can achieve in the future.

To be frank, we want to know which of you is going to stop apologising. We want you to shout out Labour’s message of solidarity and community, and to shout about our achievements and our aims. We want Scotland and the UK to know how much better off they are because of what Labour did in office and will do again, at Holyrood and Westminster.

Over to you, Jim, Sarah and Neil.

Remembrance and Nationalism


“We fought two world wars together. And there is not a cemetery in Europe that does not have Scots, English, Welsh, and Irish lying side-by-side.

“And when young men were injured in these wars, they didn’t look to each other and ask whether you were Scots or English, they came to each other’s aid because we were part of a common cause.

“And we not only won these wars together, we built the peace together, we built the health service together, we built the welfare state together, we will build the future together.”

– Gordon Brown (Maryhill Community Central Halls, 17th September 2014.)

Scottish Labour leadership – Herald Letter (no paywall)

DOUG Maughan (Letters, November 1) raises a number of issues which are worthy of discussion regarding the current position of the Scottish Labour Party, including that of the nature of the politicians Labour produces.

I have a great deal of sympathy with his argument, especially regarding the decline in representatives who came up through the shop floor trade union route. Most trade union MPs were non-ideological types who could be trusted to represent the aspirations of their constituents and members realistically and pragmatically. This started to come to an end in the early 1980s, when their place was increasingly taken by middle-class “left-wing” professionals who had little experience of the shop floor or working-class life. (I blame Tony Benn and his acolytes for their attempt to turn the Labour Party into a party of socialist ideological purity.)

The result is that many representatives appear to be out of touch, although the example of Nicola Sturgeon and Johann Lamont seems to throw some doubt on whether being a professional politician is a disadvantage. Ms Sturgeon has been a career politician all of her adult life, having first stood for election as an MP at the age of 21 and is now the epitome of the media-groomed, manufactured public figure. Johann Lamont taught in Glasgow schools for 20 years before even thinking about standing for election, and looks and speaks like a normal person, flaws and all. Who is now about to become First Minister?

Be that as it may, Scottish Labour members now have an interesting choice of leaders. Jim Murphy has an impeccable working-class background, witnessed the injustice of apartheid South Africa, had the moral courage not to serve in the racist South African army, and chose instead to return to unemployment in Scotland. Neil Findlay worked for years on building sites as a bricklayer and then trained as a teacher. Sarah Boyack is steeped in the politics of devolution and is committed to local government and service to local communities.

None of the candidates for the leadership fits the identikit researcher-to-safe-seat stereotype: all three have a great deal to offer Scottish Labour and the people of Scotland, so we can look forward to a lively and worthwhile debate. Bring it on.

Peter A Russell