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.