Scottish Labour is on its knees after May, but let’s be honest, our problems have been a long time in the making. For many Scottish Labour members it feels as if we are in a perpetual leadership campaign. The candidates’ faces change but the message is almost always the same – Scottish Labour needs to change and I am the change candidate.
With a few notable exceptions, the majority of the answers are about party organisation. We were told that part of the reason for our defeat in 2011 was because our CLPs were based around Westminster boundaries. That MPs and MEPs should be allowed to stand for Scottish Labour leader, as long as they agreed to stand for the Scottish Parliament next time around, because the issue shouldn’t be which parliament our leader sits in but rather who is best to lead the party.
And our response to the rise in SNP membership and support for independence was to drape ourselves in a saltire and call ourselves ‘patriots’, a move that was always going to fail.
May’s result shows that the changes we have made to the party’s organisation have not made an ounce of difference to our electoral prospects. The problem with tinkering with the organisation of the party is that, quite frankly, ordinary voters couldn’t care less how party structures work. They are more interested in what a party has to say and what it offers them and their families.
Somewhere down the line Labour simply stopped speaking to the hopes of the Scottish people. We became too obsessed with the SNP’s failings (and there are many) rather than talking up our own Labour values and how we would put them into practice in government to better the lives of ordinary Scots. We lost our way, and people stopped listening.
Our long-term problems were merely compounded by last year’s referendum. By taking part in the Better Together campaign we presented the SNP with a free platform to steal our clothes and make our social justice mantra their own. They were able to attack us as working “side by side with the Tories against Scotland”. They spoke of Westminster not as a place but as a type of politics which is outdated, regressive, impossible to reform and, most importantly, doesn’t represent Scotland. All the while we were unable, or unwilling, to defend our record in government or present a positive Labour movement case for the UK.
There were late attempts, primarily through the Labour No campaign, to talk up Labour values – of solidarity with our neighbours in the rest of the UK and how a UK Labour government in 2015 would start delivering social justice again, not only for Scotland for the whole of the UK. Unfortunately, too many traditional Labour voters by this time had deserted our cause, sold on the SNP’s message that only through independence could social justice be delivered in Scotland. And they didn’t simply return to Labour after a No vote as we had hoped.
Although I have no time for nationalism as an ideology I think I understand what drove so many traditional Labour voters to vote Yes – it was a feeling of hope. And it’s been a long time since Scottish Labour was able to convince them that it is us who offered them it.
That’s why Jeremy Corbyn is the best choice for Scottish Labour members.
Jeremy isn’t offering to move the deck chairs on a sinking ship, he is looking to change the ship. He’s about repair, refit and relaunch. He gets that, in order to win voters back to our cause, we must change our offer not our internal structures. He is setting out a vision and policy agenda which is giving people hope that social justice can be delivered at a UK level again.
He is making it clear that there is an alternative to austerity – an alternative that puts people first. A moral and ethical way of making sure that we have a prosperous economy but not at the cost of the low paid, young or disabled. Where the folly of privatisation is challenged and we have a debate again about public ownership. He offers an economy that works for the many and a society (and welfare state) that cares for everyone. He represents the best of the Labour movement, offering to change how the system works, not simply manage the current one a bit more fairly than our opponents.
And importantly, for us in Scotland, he offers to put clear red water between us and the SNP. A chance to finally put to bed the myth that the SNP are Scotland’s party of social justice.
Scottish Labour members should be excited by the buzz surrounding the Corbyn campaign and embrace it, and clearly lots are doing so with almost 2000 signed up to attend his rallies in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow this week.
This is our chance to rebuild our party, become a movement for social justice again and start winning back votes from the SNP. As a Labour councillor and candidate at next year’s Scottish Parliament elections I’m excited about standing on a platform that offers hope of change not only in Scotland but across the UK. It’s our best chance of winning constituency seats next year.