At our Edinburgh Labour conference this weekend we celebrated the election of our 21st Edinburgh Labour councillor, Marion Donaldson, we debated the challenges and opportunities facing us and we watched the leadership results live.
In the 48 hours before and after the election of Jeremy Corbyn I spoke to lots of friends and party members. Reactions ranged from joy and excitement to disappointment and resignation at the result.
Conversations with two friends summed up the range of personal reactions – one challenged me to say why she could justify staying in the party given his views on the Middle East, the other that she was delighted she was now able to return to the Labour fold, from the SNP.
I watched the Spirit of ‘45 again this weekend. Moving and understated, it reminds us how people’s hopes were pinned on the change a Labour government would bring. More than just a spirit, it underlines how Labour was able to set out a practical set of proposals and ideas that people could see would benefit them and their families.
For me it’s not a choice between head and heart – and for Scottish Labour we have to have both.
Our exciting victories in 1997 and 1999 were the result of us being in tune with the spirit of the age; offering hope, new ideas and radical policies that chimed with people’s lives – rebuilding the NHS after the damage caused by the Tories, addressing child poverty and regenerating communities and building much needed social housing, investing record amounts in public transport and creating jobs in services and businesses.
When people told us that they didn’t know what Scottish Labour stood for – as they did in 2011 and 2015 – they lost faith in us, our support fragmented and voters peeled off to other parties or none. Iraq impacted not just political trust but had consequences in the Middle East; the financial crash and the subsequent recession we started to repair led us to be blamed for the mistakes of bankers; and our supporters saw us work alongside the Tories during the Referendum campaign – the party we’d defined ourselves against and campaigned against for decades – which has inflicted deep damage on our movement.
The SNP learned from our failure to communicate and work with our supporters while we were in government. They have displayed a ruthless self-discipline we would never aspire to emulate. And they have governed as insurgents. All the achievements are theirs and theirs alone, but when there are failures Tory austerity politics and Scottish Labour in local government are to blame.
To recapture our Spirit we need to persuade people that only Scottish Labour is up to the challenges we face in Scotland like fixing the systemic failures in policing, creating new educational opportunities for young people, revitalising our creaking under-resourced NHS and sorting out our social care crisis. Above all people need to know why we want to fix their public services .
We need to capture the energy and hope and debate that led us to our new leaders in Scotland and the UK, so keen to do politics differently. They both have substantial mandates and are already changing the way we look, sound and work; that change is something we can be proud of, talk about and inspire us as we approach 2016.
Kez has focused her Shadow Cabinet on delivering justice and opportunity; driven the political agenda on improving educational attainment, jobs and training for young Scots and called on our young people to get involved in the My Scotland competition. This week Jeremy Corbyn will lead our opposition to changes to Tax Credits and undemocratic changes to Trade Union law. We now have a new UK Shadow Cabinet with a majority of women including Heidi Alexander, Lucy Powell and Angela Eagle focusing on the crucially important health, education and higher education portfolios, while key talents like Andy Burnham, Hilary Benn and Lord Falconer have vital roles too.
In a months’ time we will have our Scottish Labour Conference in Perth, with the chance for our members to shape our policy agenda. Over the next few weeks members will have the opportunity to vote on the priorities for our discussion and to set our promises for 2016. Offering hope and practical proposals that relate to people’s lives – leading with our head and heart – will allow us connect and build trust with those who feel politics is distant from them.
It’s a big task and it will take all of us. Members, supporters, trade union affiliates. All of us.