Tweaking the website is far from enough

The values of aspiration and community should be the building blocks of Labour’s fightback, argues SUSAN DALGETY


There has been, understandably, a lot of hand-wringing in recent months about what the Labour Party stands for and who it represents.

All I have gathered from the debate so far is that we don’t like rich bankers (even though we helped create this monster class with our light touch regulation); nor do we like benefit scroungers – particularly those with rotten teeth and knives.

We do like the squeezed middle – whoever and wherever they are – and here in Scotland we have a particular soft spot for university students.

There has also been a shot of colour injected into the debate, with Blue Labour  arguing we should get back to our roots, and Purple Labour  yearning for a new, new dawn.

Tartan Labour is just as confused, grieving as we are for the loss of our long-held position as Scotland’s national party.

Speak to any activist, former MSP or even new member of the Scottish Parliament, and they all chorus: “What the hell happened, and where do we go from here?”

I don’t have the answer, but I do have some thoughts, based on nothing more than 30 years membership of the Labour Party.

First, we need to get back to basics – party organisation, or lack of it. The Scottish Parliament election campaign exposed us as rank amateurs compared to the SNP. We need senior, experienced professionals in charge of strategy, party organisation and membership, media and communications and campaigning.

The party HQ should be in Edinburgh, where the action is (sorry Glasgow but the parliament is not in George Square) and the UK party should federalise its structures now. The United Kingdom changed forever in 1999. The SNP realised that, it is time we did too.

And we need our assorted bag of MPs, MSPs and councillors to stop blaming each other for our dire position and start working with members to re-build a party machine capable of winning.

That’s the easy bit. Now for the narrative. Who are we and what do we stand for?

When I look back on the reasons why I joined the party, and why I remain a member, there are two words that echoes over the decades – aspiration and community,

I joined the party as an idealistic young mother because I wanted a better future for my sons, and the kids next door.

I wanted them to have as a good an education as those parents who could afford to buy their children the privilege.

I wanted them to feel as proud of their background and as ambitious for the future as the children who lived in the “executive estate” up the road from our council house.

When Scotland voted for its new parliament, I wanted our country to remain part of the UK, but to be the best bit – with the best education system, the best public services and the most vibrant private sector.

And I have always wanted a world where all children can aspire to a healthy, long life and not die before the age of five from hunger, disease or war.

I have also, through the years, aspired to a Prada handbag, holidays in Greece and an iPad, which doesn’t make me a shallow, materialistic wannabe – just an average member of the squeezed middle.

Now aspiration and community on their own do not make a political narrative, but it is a start.

Throw into the mix a 21st century class analysis (and for those who don’t think class matters any more just read Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones, a brilliant new book), rights and responsibilities, gender, public service reform, economic recovery and the re-shaping of the United Kingdom and we can start building a compelling story of why we exist, and what we stand for.

Add a charismatic, ambitious leader and a slew of thoughtful policies and we might just stand a chance of winning in 2015.

If we do nothing but muddle through with a half-hearted review that tweaks our website and little else, then we will surely wither away as a political force, just as the new dawn of 1997 disappeared amid the storm clouds of recession.

Susan Dalgety is a writer and communications adviser specialising in international development and women in politics. She joined the Labour Party in 1980 and still believes in the power of people to change the world.

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30 thoughts on “Tweaking the website is far from enough

  1. So can someone tell me as a rural person what is Labours policy towards the over 90% of Scotland not covered in houses and tarmac? Does the party have one? Does it even want one? I will be fascinated by the replies, should there be any.

  2. Michael, as someone who was born in the, very rural, south west of Scotland, I agree that we need a raft of compelling, practical rural policies, just as we need to think about how we develop urban Scotland. Any ideas?

    1. This is something I think we need to develop. We need to have policies that are relevant to all parts of Scotland – not just the central belt or Glasgow. Many of the rural areas of Scotland have the same issues everyone faces – lack of jobs, lack of affordable housing etc.

      1. Since my last attempt at a reply is missing or perhaps not yet past moderation I will try again. John that is what is wrong, the issues are not the same. The party is stuck in an idealised past unable grasp any future. Labour should aspire to earn power rather just assume it by right as it still seems to be doing by your reply The idea that issues are the same is simply too easy, I was expecting a little on SFP and reform of Scotlands situation as regards CAP negotiation. Will we as a nation be allowed to state our case, the Scottish case for our rural areas or will we be silenced by orders from UK HQ? Do you regard me as a potential Labour voter? If so what can you offer me?

        1. So are you suggesting that people in rural areas actually have lots of affordable housing and jobs? Are you saying that such issues dont matter? Are you saying we shouldnt have policies in those areas?

    2. I am an SNP supporter so can I respectfully suggest it is up to the Labour party to venture off tarmac so to speak. Writing off 90% of Scottish land area and around a third of the total population is not a good place to start from. The lack of talent in Labour gets more obvious on every post here. Not meant as abuse but a reality check. Do any of you really have any idea of rural issues at all?

    3. A few suggestions for rural Scotland:

      Really good telecoms, including high speed broadband
      A commitment to rural public transport, road and rail infrastructure
      Some thought about the rural elderly – access to services, care, etc
      Help for tourism

      Furthermore, I think the labour party has gained, probably not wholly fairly, a rep for nepotism, cronyism and outright corruption in some well publicised incidents. I think a detox is required, open and frank, sunlight is the best disinfectant, etc. You need to put that stuff behind you.

      Clinging to the Union forces you to align with the Tories and LibDems – is this wise? The Tories, with or without their junior partners, are going to be in power for a while at Westminster. Support for the Union is equivalent to support for a Tory Westminster Gov’t – how does that help you?

      You need a generation of leadership in Scotland who aren’t going to scurry south to Westminster – the SNP beat you hands down on perceived commitment to Scotland and its people

      You need to be more about people and less about institutions and vested interests – COSLA, local authorities, Unions, boards for this that and the other. Get free of the perception of machine politics. It is not appropriate for Labour party leaders to have close friendships with figures in such institutions such as the BBC, and the spectacle of politicians of all parties cosying up to the likes of Murdoch, Trump, and the sort of company Mandelson and Blair chose really hurts your image. Bankers who run their businesses into the ground should bear the consequences themselves. we need manufacturing industry in Britain, not more financiers. If some financiers are upset and flounce offshore, so be it. Rant over.

      1. Third time lucky? Let me posit a Scottish rural family, the father works 80 to 90 hours a week for 70p an hour. The mother 30 hours for zero pay, three children facing a school day that lasts from 8am until nearly 5 pm travelling along poor roads. No security of tenure, no assets, no central heating or insulation and a damp house. No real education, few alternative opportunities for employment and a UK government that is about to slash the tax credits that allow them to eke out an existence. I know of hundreds of such families. What will Labour do for them? Do you even know who they/we are?

        1. As I said, Jobs and housing are as much issues for people in rural Scotland as they are int eh central belt. However, we must have policies that are relevant to them, and we must not give the impression we dont care about them.

  3. “When Scotland voted for its new parliament, I wanted our country to remain part of the UK, but to be the best bit…..”

    How can Scotland be the best bit when the Labour Party are opposed to the Parliament having proper economic powers to enable the country to grow and develop – to be the best bit.

    You do see where it always falls down?

    1. One part of the UK will be the best bit. Why cant it be Scotland? Or do you think that London is the best bit just because Boris Johnson has proper economic powers…..?

    2. It doesn’t fall down at all it all depends upon your view of aspirational. You are obviously wanting seperation, most people don’t. Susan’s piece is honest and forthright and is realistic about her views and she doesn’t hide behind an alias to disguise her identity. Where she explains about the overall need for the Labour Party in Scotland to re-organise in the way that she describes is right on the money. It looks to me like a very good route back from an honest point of view.

      1. So far LabourHame has talked a lot about the wrapping and not much about the content. We hear about:

        ‘Add a charismatic, ambitious leader and a slew of thoughtful policies and we might just stand a chance of winning in 2015.’

        Great plan, all you need now is the leader and the policies. with all due respect, I don’t see any progress on either front yet.

        1. The next Holyrood election is in 5 years – the defeat was just 7 weeks ago. We’ve got time – part of the problem is convincing some of the need for radical change.

          Can I remind you of what this site is for? “a place to talk seemed exactly what we needed – somewhere where all the theories about what went wrong, and all the ideas that might put things right, could be properly expressed, debated and challenged.”

          So I rather suspect there will be quite a bit more talking before we get some concrete policies on the ground.

          1. Point taken ,although meanwhile there’s a by-election to fight, and an SNP government to oppose. Building a reputation for thoughtful, constructive policy in opposition might be a help? A few proposals to sort out the benighted Edinburgh trams? A clever alternative to the defunct GARL project? A nothing ruled out reappraisal of drug policy? Thoughts on a Scottish fibre – optic broadband network? Generally challenging the SNP Gov’t to do better for the people of Scotland?

    3. the Scotland Bill contains some significant economic levers, something which Labour ensured.

      1. Would be interested to know what you consider the significant economic levers to be.

          1. Some people need to use aliases for professional or other reasons – I’m retired, and I don’t care who knows who I am. Don’t sweat it – someone might ask about the mysterious “admin” who features so centrally here. I don’t know if you are really Raymond Boyle, and frankly I don’t care. It’s the content of the discussion that matters. There’s no point coming online and bleating about the use of aliases – it’s practically de rigeur in the cyberworld.

        1. Borrowing powers for one. Much more comprehensive tax powers for another.

          1. I’m not going to dispute the significance of the tax powers Aidan. That wouldn’t simply be wrong, it would be “not even wrong”. As was remarked in Scottish Left Review, devolving any substantial tax powers runs entirely against a century and more of Treasury doctrine and for that reason alone Wendy’s Bill represents a huge change in the way the UK is run.

            That said, the extra powers still seem rather limited and not as well designed as they might have been. There’s no pleasing everyone when opinions run from turning out the lights at Holyrood to unattainable, total separation, but perhaps the great Scottish public expected more. Having done the hard part in getting agreement in principle, it would have been no big deal to have asked for a lot more powers.

  4. “Add a charismatic, ambitious leader and a slew of thoughtful policies”

    Hear hear!

  5. Well cheers Richard and I’m glad to meet you too. Political transparency has to start somewhere so why not here.

    Susan’s points are very well made and articulate a very good and positive way forward for the Labour Party. At this time as we go through the process of reviewing the party she has identified the weaknesses in the areas that have to be addressed. If there is one thing that has happened following the elections in May it is for the Labour Party to look at itself in a way that has not happened for a very long time, and once again be the party of choice for Scotland.

      1. Yes, but to that I would also add Vision. In that I mean a set of policies which set our a positive and appealing vision of Scotland. Things that will improve the lives of everyone in Scotland, regardless of the constitutional set up (which will be irrelevant one way or the other by the time of the next holyrood election in 2016).

  6. Pleased to meet you too, Raymond. I’m sorry if I was a little harsh earlier, but I think it’s good to make points concisely.

    The only credible opposition in Scotland will come from your party. Your country needs you to do the best job you can.

  7. Hi Richard it’s a pleasure to meet you too, no problem. I agree with your assessment, the Labour Party has to deal with the situation as it as the present time but has a responsibility to the people of Scotland to get it right and provide a strong and viable alternative to the SNP. Alex Gallaghers points earlier are bang on.

  8. “Add a charismatic, ambitious leader and a slew of thoughtful policies and we might just stand a chance of winning in 2015.”

    Personally I think this should come first – the rest can be added on later.

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