mel and jamieWith the results of the Scottish leadership election due to be announced on Saturday, Melanie Ward and Jamie Glackin present a memo to the next Scottish Labour leadership team.

This piece will feature in the next Progress Magazine.


Every time the Labour party loses it does worse at the following election, a tradition sadly continued by Scottish Labour in both Holyrood and Westminster. We need to turn the fortunes of the party around so that the prospect of a decade out of power does not become the prospect of a generation.

In Scotland, as elsewhere, we see many urging a surge to the left to attempt to win back our core vote lost to the Scottish National Party. This may make some within the Labour movement feel better about themselves, but it essentially misunderstands where the Scottish Labour party finds itself – adrift from mainstream public opinion, which seems quite happy with the left-of-centre rhetoric of the Scottish Government and Nicola Sturgeon in particular.

Yet it is quite revealing that the advice our new leadership will get from our opponents is much the same as from some quarters in our own party. The SNP knows perfectly well that to build an election-winning strategy, the first principles are to be confident and positive but – above all – to appeal to a wide range of people. Boxing Scottish Labour in to talking only about society’s poorest helps our opponents connect with everyone else. Some of the following may seem obvious but this feels like a time in Labour party history when we can take nothing for granted.

With that in mind, here are 10 thoughts for Scottish Labour’s new leader and deputy leader:

  1. Never forget that Labour exists to win power – in Scotland and right across the United Kingdom. Some would have you believe that to care about voters’ views is to ‘sell out’. Yet we change nothing from our position as an opposition that shrinks in size with every election. The only winners from this are the Tories and the nationalists. There is no rule that says that there has to be a Scottish Labour party. You stand in the foothills of a mountain that can and must be climbed if we are to form a future Scottish government. This is a time to be bold.

  2. Choose your team wisely. You have huge goodwill from virtually everyone who has ever served Scottish Labour, and many more besides. If you so wish, you can draw on some of Scotland’s finest minds. Use these facts to make sure you appoint your advisers carefully and cast your net wide. We need the best – those who are smart, sharp, creative, disciplined and ambitious for the Scottish people as well as the Scottish Labour party.

    Do not just choose people who will tell you what you want to hear. Do not run your team like a court. Those already at the top of the party or those able to provide good one-liners for the appearance of the day should not be the only ones to have the leader’s ear. Tension will be key, diverse views vital, and the ability to have a clear decision made after such debate most important. Coordinate with your UK colleagues to ensure that what seems like a good idea at a House of Commons dispatch box does not become a banana-skin in Holyrood.

  3. Listen to why we lost. Get out there and talk with people who abandoned us. Be seen to be listening and understanding where we got it wrong, accept it, apologise and do better. Do not do it in front of cameras all the time. Why not have public meetings (despite knowing a few hardcore nationalists will likely show up)? Feeling the pain will help a sense of healing. It might be tough but it will be worth it in the long run as a first step in the reconnecting we so clearly need to do.

  4. Be authentic. Hold firm in your beliefs and make sure the public know what they are.

  5. Build a radical Labour vision for Scotland’s future – not just for 2020 but for 2050 and beyond. We will not win by being more Scottish than our opponents; nor would we want to try because ours is the politics of social justice, not of national identity. We have talked a lot in recent years about what Scottish Labour is against – people need to know what we are for. We need to speak seriously about the future of Scotland and how we bring new opportunities to people. How we will build a people-focused economy that allows the young to have big dreams and to achieve them; and those in work to further themselves. How we will use the Scottish parliament’s new powers to attract the jobs of the future and help people across our nation live the very best life they can. And how our values of solidarity and sharing across the UK – and the European Union – underpin this vision.

    Scottish Labour must retell our story for the end of the 21st century, not the beginning of this or any of the last century. A modern party rooted in values of social justice and equality, but alive to the new opportunities the world has to offer and ready to help Scotland make the very best of itself in the future.

  6. Stay rooted in our values – but express them through policies that build a better tomorrow, not with ideas from a bygone era. Labour has to be about working people. Tackling poverty and inequality will always be fundamental to this. But it also includes young people looking for opportunities to shine or those seeking a better job, more pay and fairer conditions than they have. It includes people who pay their mortgages, want an affordable car and to spend a fortnight in the sun during the school holidays. It includes public sector workers, yes – but private sector workers and businesses too.

    All of these people found something in the nationalists worth voting for, and it was not just independence. They, like many other people in Scotland, abandoned Labour for a more compelling vision from our opponents on how to better themselves. So surely the way back has to be to make it clear that we are on their side? That was missing from our general election campaign and we paid a heavy price for it.

  7. Ruthlessly expose the failing record of Sturgeon’s government. Literacy rates are falling. NHS waiting lists are growing. Fewer young people from poor backgrounds make it to university. Job losses are mounting up in some parts of Scotland. The pay gap between women and men is widening. The Scottish government has centralised our police force and allowed it to become the most illiberal in the UK. They may talk like social democrats but they fail to deliver the goods.

  8. Create a culture where putting forward new ideas is positively encouraged. In addition to the Twitter trolls who plague social media, SNP members protest against the BBC and other public figures who dare to dissent. This is creating an atmosphere where some in public life are worried about criticising the Scottish government for fear of losing government funding. There is a deep need for renewed freedom of thought in public debate, and freedom from intimidation in the public square.

  9. Set expectations. There will be no quick fixes to our situation in Scotland, and, although none of us wants this, it could be a long road back. May 2016 will be tough and Scottish Labour must band together and get properly behind the new leadership team. You are in this for the long haul and the party has to be as well.

  10. Build our movement and change the way we campaign. Doorknocking and voter ID will always be important but we need to progress and modernise techniques that were designed for the 1990s. Deepen the conversation, do not reduce it to a target. The same goes for constituency Labour party meetings – few people, especially young people, have any desire to spend their Friday night sitting in a dusty hall debating arcane procedure.

    Invest in supporting Scottish constituency Labour parties to become active, year-round agents for change on issues like the living wage, with serious training and guidance. Grow Labour’s active membership in Scotland. Make it so much easier to join Labour and welcome new people properly. Develop stronger links with trade unions, businesses and civil society – this really matters. It will be time-consuming but it is necessary. Work with the Scottish Executive Committee to come up with a clear plan for how you will take this forward; and drive forward its implementation.

Above all remember what we are: a proud part of the Labour party. You must build strong relationships with the new UK leadership team, whoever they end up being. Without a recovery in the fortunes of the Scottish Labour Party, the task of having a Labour government for all of the UK becomes so much harder. It also allows the Conservatives to continue playing the nationalism card. Of course, Scottish Labour will have our own positions on devolved matters but remember that in unity, there is strength, and in general the public actually quite like that.


Melanie Ward is an anti-poverty campaigner and is the former parliamentary candidate for Glenrothes and Central Fife. Jamie Glackin is Chair of the Scottish Labour Party. Both are writing in a personal capacity.

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14 thoughts on “A generation out of power?

  1. “There is no rule that says that there has to be a Scottish Labour party.” I can’t help being puzzled by the article please can you help me out are you in favour of a Scottish Labour Party? or are you saying you are in favour of the Labour Party UK entity?

  2. Every time the Labour party loses it does worse at the following election…

    How can that possibility be true? Logically, after their first loss they would never win again.

      1. Absolutely, doesn’t change the fact that the initial statement is illogical nonsense though.

  3. “Never forget Labour exists to win power”

    First line into your piece is why you lost and will continue to lose to oblivion

    You pay money for advice from people like John McTernan you listen to Hothersall

    and still continue to lose, I’ll charge you nothing for this free advice I just gave you
    If you want to win in England Email me and I’ll tell you how

    If you want to win in Scotland, well forget that, that’s over and gone for good now

    1. Not really. The snp cannot dodge their failing record of government forever. And there is no appetite for another referendum in the general electorate. When the snp fall back to earth, they will fall hard.

  4. Does anybody ever put an article on here that lives in working class Scotland.
    Day in day out i meet old time friends and workmates.
    Every single one of them was a Labour voter for decades.
    The SNP was borderline between a fringe party and/or a joke.
    Every one of them is now a SNP voter.
    When high ranked elected reps are on tv saying the would rather live in a country run by the tories rather than have to work with the SNP…..
    When the same people are seen right across Scotland standing shoulder to shoulder with David Cameron what message does that send hardcore voters?
    Afraid you’ve lost those voters for ever.

  5. Agree with lots of this! (Apart from the bits about being left wing, what do you expect though!)

  6. Gareth talk of the SNP falling back to earth sounds like a bit of a planetary interjection coming from you it puzzles me but I just can’t fathom what planet your on, but it sounds as though it is the far distant planet Gobbledygook. By the way I visited the planet a couple of light years ago and still have some currency that is no good to me it is only 50 Zonks your welcome to them just let me know if you want them, read an interesting article on my visit there it described an extinct political party by the name of Scottish Labour Party.

  7. It really isn’t rocket science. To paraphrase Melanie and Jamie, just be better at everything. But the question is “how?”
    “Never forget that Labour exists to win power” sounds, at first, obvious but it won power the last time by adopting Tory-lite policies while spouting vaguely socialist rhetoric like “education, education, education.” In the end it lost to the Tories because this strategy was unsustainable in government and then unbelievable a few months ago in opposition. Jim Murphy showed us that you can only sign up to austerity AND promise better services once and get away with it.
    “Get out there and talk with people who abandoned us” also sounds obvious but the implicit admission that Labour has stopped talking to the Scottish people should be what its would-be rescuers are concentrating on. How many of today’s Labour activists are on benefits or are working in minimum wage jobs? The SNP is full of them and that has been central to building its relationship with the voters Labour is losing. During the last GE and in the referendum campaign I spoke to a number of Labour activists out campaigning for their causes. To be honest I was surprised there were so many as their morale was pretty low throughout both. But the vast bulk of them were teachers, social workers and middle-class retirees and they were like fish out of water at Wester Hailes street stalls or on the doorsteps of Broomhouse and it is in areas like this that they have really haemorrhaged votes over the last ten years.
    Labour’s recent leadership battles have exposed a real lack of insight into the party’s problems. The participants might get standing ovation’s from their loyal followers for guff like “we’ve got to listen to our voters, stand up for what we believe in, learn the lessons of defeat and move forward” but everybody else knows it’s bland, meaningless nonsense. Corbyn’s attempts to inject some actual politics into the debate have left his three opponents totally exposed. They can’t utter anything a bit left-wing because the Conservatives will throw it back at them in future “key marginals” in the south of England and they can’t do the Tory-lite thing because this is a Labour party leadership election and the college lecturers and social workers need to hear about “progressive” ideas. So we are left with this depressing, bland beauty pageant of political plain-Janes which we see at present where one of the four is flabbergasted by his own popularity within the party and the other three are amazed that the insipid garbage which used to win them such admiration is leaving their already demoralised audience completely uninspired.
    Labour might win power again but it doesn’t just “exist to win power” as the writers above claim. It’s failure to understand that, especially after the Blair fiasco, has taken it to where it is today. Selling your soul to Satan will always be problematic in the long-term and selling it to Milton Friedman and George Dubya Bush might not have an entirely happy ending either.
    The frustrating thing for its former Scottish voters is that it doesn’t have to be like this. There is still a wide consensus here that a nation can flourish on broadly socialist/ social democratic principles but our children and grandchildren will only reap the benefits in an independent Scotland. Does any Scottish Labour member still deny it? Really?
    Labour activists who still value the Labour’s founding principles should see its present predicament not as a depressing, insoluble problem but as an exciting opportunity. As a former Labour supporter and now SNP member I don’t care, frankly, if the party of Keir Hardie and Tony Blair crashes and burns but I regret that the honest and talented people who I still see in its ranks are wasting their efforts in the sterile ashes of a dying empire. The Scottish Labour Party should reinvent itself, independent from its “central office” in London, and independence for the nation it seeks to govern should be at the heart of its founding ideal.

  8. Stewart I hear and agree with what you say, I think that when the Scottish Labour Party accept the idea of an Independent Scotland only then may they show signs of recovering. Prior to an Independent Scotland happening a breakaway from the Labour Party UK entity and the formation an Independent Scottish Labour Party would be a good move for them. I have come around to the idea that an Independent Scotland tracends politics it is feeing that is deep in the psych and it is only a matter of time before everyone in Scotland feels the same way.

  9. I’m genuinely confused if you aim to win back old Labour, Yes voters or not?
    It’s mathematically impossible to win either Westminster or Holyrood seats in any numbers without doing so, I would suggest.
    The failure to move towards an autonomous Scottish Labour Party leaves it doomed to never offer distinct Scottish solutions, augmented with a push for far greater Devolution.
    It is this failure to understand this is not ‘nationalism’ that will kill the traditional Labour party as we know it.
    Until Labour activists realise, ordinary, working class, struggling Scots have turned away from this lazy rhetoric and hope to use the SNP in future to improve society, they will soon become as irrelevant as the Tories.

  10. Nothing about standing up to the Tories and the impacts their decisions have on Scotland! Why do you think the SNP is doing so well? By attacking the SNP, who are attacking tories, in the voters mind perhaps they are subconscisously aligning yourself with Tories. Are you going to cede all ground to SNP on criticism of UK policy impact on Scotland? Or is better to unquestionaly accept it. Jeremy seems to be revitalising some old Labour support and encouraging new labour members, what is he doing?

    Of course following Jeremy’s course that may mean getting rid of much of your current advisors and MSPs who frankly cant get past the 90s. Kezia seems to be “flexible” in her approach to JC going from diametrically opposite messages about him in the space of one week. Which to me immediately highlights a lack of conviction, swaying between whatever she believes to be popular opinion. In direct contravention to point 1 of your list. I have principles if you dont like those i have others (stolen from Groucho)

    Re Point 6. Dont question current neoliberal policies that are responsible for increasing inequality. Those bygone era policies you deride shrank inequality from the end of WW2 to the 90s. We have abandoned them and are now on a race to the bottom, if it continues at this rate and it shows no sign of slowing, how long can we continue to blame the other and ignore the elephant in the room.

    Heres a daft idea, to show you are serious about putting Scotlands interests first you campaign to redraw the maritime boundary which Tony bless him, redrew such that it now skirts Arbroath. Wonder why he did that.

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