With the leadership race now well underway, JOHN RUDDY highlights the qualities of his ideal Scottish Labour leader.  


What kind of leader does Scottish Labour need? It’s a valid question, and the answer is that it’s probably someone quite different to the leader many in the party would want.

We really need someone who can articulate a positive vision for Scotland, and sell it to the people of Scotland. Sounds obvious, really, but we don’t need someone who appeals to activists, or members, or even just trade unionists (important though those groups are).  The general public makes up a much bigger proportion of voters than our core votes do – we were probably down to our core vote in May 2011, with 630,000 giving us 37 MSPs, our lowest numbers ever in the Scottish parliament. In 1999, we had 908,000 votes – and in the general election in 2010 we had nearly a million. We’ve lost 300-400,000 voters and its them our new leader needs to appeal to.

Our new leader should not necessarily be detailing the exact policies that he or she will be following, as part of the problem was our inconsistent line on things, and the late inclusion of manifesto policies that hadn’t even been through the policy forum, such as the mandatory sentence for carrying a knife policy. A commitment to properly involve members, trade unionists and wider civic Scotland in helping to shape policy will be the right way forward, rather than a rigid adherence to one policy or another at this stage.

An ability to function effectively in the media is vital. Our opponents were able to portray Iain Gray as dull, despite his many excellent qualities, as our media performance as a party was not strong. We were often on the back foot, and many spokespeople appeared poorly briefed. We need to up our game, and we need to start at the top with a leader who can perform as well in the TV studio as in the debating chamber. Look at Alex Salmond – he manages to get his point across, regardless of the line of questioning and appears to be in command of his brief. Our new leader needs to exhibit the same qualities, although hopefully without the snide comments and bullying he sometimes shows.

We also need a leader who gets social media. At the last election we faced an opponent which had a strategy of getting their message across in the new forms of communication, including Twitter, Facebook and through websites. They had a coordinated strategy of getting their supporters to share positive stories and press releases, which combined with a positive upbeat outlook, won the party friends online. Within minutes of a speech or announcement by Salmond, Sturgeon or other party spokespeople, videos and press releases had been shared across the blogosphere. MSPs and ministers had Twitter and Facebook accounts where they actually engaged with voters – and this helped boost their popularity.

In short, we need a winner. We need someone who wants to win and knows how to win. To quote Tony Blair, I love the traditions of the Labour Party, except the one about losing elections. If this all sounds like I am describing one candidate, I am not trying to. I will vote for whoever has these qualities, and who is most likely to win the election in 2016 for us.

Originally from Devon, John Ruddy now lives in Angus. He was an agent for Scottish Labour at the Holyrood election and is a Unison shop steward. Follow John on Twitter at @jruddy99


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31 thoughts on “Holding out for a hero

  1. A policy relevant, well briefed and media savy leader!

    You have effectively disqualified the bookies favourite Johann Lamont.

    I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes John – Johann will be ‘ruddy’ mad with you when she gets the leader’s job.

    1. She would surely only be mad with me if I described her as not having those qualities. However, if you’d read my blog over at http://jruddy.wordpress.com you’ll see I havnt made my mind up, so she could still convince me.

      I think that in politics generally, there is too much of people wanting to back the winner in these sorts of races, so to curry favour with them, or to avoid backing a rival. I really dont care if the eventual winner (whoever they are) doesnt like me, or what I have to say. It certainly wont stop me saying it.

        1. I didnt say that. I said she has to convince me she is capable of doing the things I think we should have in a leader. Likewise, Ken has to convince me (albeit he has to convince me of different things).

          As for Tom, he has a different set of things he has to convince me of, but I do think that he ticks many of the boxes with regards to capability, presentation and ability to connect. My concerns are more policy orientated.

          Its not good having all the best policies in the world, if you cant communicate them to the electorate and convince them to back you, it doesnt matter.

  2. I suppose it depends on how you see your politics. Is the Leader the apex of a pyramid, supported by the strength of the structure. In which case that persons role will be to comunicate the message of the Party (formulated by the Party) to the public.
    Or is it a Leader who IS the Party, who makes policy, who takes it to the public and is all singing, all dancing. A kind of ,yes, you guessed, a Tony Blair figure.
    The first person may need lots of activists to chap doors whilst the second will do it through the media and zen jiggery- pokery. Labour will look at the candidates it has, and ponder what choice it can make!

    1. i think to a certain extent, a good communicator can enthuse the public – and yes, even increase the number of members and activists to knock on those doors.

      But a leader who is deficient in those qualities cant be compensated by a large number of activists.

      1. John

        The number of atavists will not matter unless they have a positive message that they can deliver.

  3. Choices should be made on the strength and weaknesses of the candidates.

    So what are those strength and weaknesses?

  4. In order to regain these lost votes,who ever is elected leader will have to convince the people that they put Scotlands interests first.Thats going to be very difficult if they are involved in the “Keep London Rule” campaign.I also suspect that to win people back,a change of leader in London will be essential.Mr Milliband appears to be declining in popularity in Scotland.

  5. We will always have a media problem if our leader is unsure of what he can and can’t say for fear of incurring the wrath of the Labour Party leader in Westminster. That was Iain Gray’s dilemma and it showed in every interview and debate. Our new leader should not be afraid to tell Ed Miliband or his successor to go and get stuffed, if need be. I trust Johann Lamont to have a go at him. Fortunately, Mr Miliband seems to realised that our party in Scotland needs more autonomy, so there is real hope that he will be prepared to loosen the reins.

  6. The question is who will be seen to put Scotland before the party, Ruth Davidson has striven to make this claim but has failed.

    This can only be achieved by being specific about policies which are unpopular at Westminster and that has to include Fiscal Policies, which they are obviously avoiding, especially when the Tories are attacking the poor in Scotland’s benefit system and we are powerless to stop them.
    We can make this a Tory free zone and that may need an unholy alliance.

    1. I dont think you can say Ruth Daidson has failed – she hasnt been in her job for a week yet! I dont think her policies will be right for Scotland, but they could still be seen as “putting Scotland before the party” – once she comes up with some.

      And I dont think that “putting Scotland first” is done by automatically opposing everything Westminster does.

      1. I meant in attempts to prove she was independent of Westminster, they were the other half of the divide.
        I didn’t say we should disagree with all that Westminster says but we should do all in our power to take as much power as possible out of any future Tory control.

        Let’s say we will collect all our own revenues, what ever way we spend it we should collect it ourselves – think of te jobs!

  7. I agree with Mac that you appear to be ruling out Johann with this wish list, though as you’ve answered that there is another issue that needs addressed in that this reads awfully like a call backing Tom Harris. However if that reading is correct it glosses over his weakness a bit. Granted he has more of an online profile than the other 2 candidates, though I notice the Johann Lamont for leader Facebook has more support than Tom’s as far as I’m aware Ken Macintosh doesn’t have any such page. The question however is Tom’s finger on the pulse of the people of Scotland, while he was writing an article attacking Alex Salmond for his lack of Solidarity over the riots Facebook groups like this http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Scotland-where-we-dont-destroy-our-own-city-cause-were-no-mongos/176313829104659 with over 55,000 members was springing up. In terms of Tom’s strengths I would agree that out of the 3 candidates he’s probably the best at getting his message across and in terms of dealing with the First Minister he’d cope better than Johann and probably Ken too.

    The 2 most important factors for the next Labour leader will be to spell out what this positive message for Scotland future, while all 3 candidates have indentified the need for this none have said what this message is! The first one to do so (assuming of course it chimes with Scots) will steal a huge march on the other candidates in the leadership race, If this can be achieved it would be great for Scottish Labour and give them a positive platform on which to build going into the local elections. The second most import issue is how the new Leader tackles the referendum question and While I think Westminster taking control of this is a high risk strategy that is likely to blow up in Unionist’s faces. At least with Tom he was a plan for how to address the issue and by comparison Ken and Johann seem totally clueless how tackle this.

    So to concluded I can see why Tom’s your favourite for leader right now on balance of his strength and weakness and while the merits of his idea are open for debate he offers a degree of clarity that the other 2 candidates are yet to find.

  8. I think you’re wrong in your second paragraph about not appealing to members/grassroots. If you go down the root of (trying to) “connecting with electorate” and not grassroots, you will end up as Cameron. Where the grassroots start to become disenfranchised and look elsewhere for a home.

    What you need is both – I personally would go for Tom Harris, but then I don’t particularly care since I am neither Scottish nor Labour. I suppose Tom’s problem is that he is a Westminster lad, and likes the status quo union-wise (goodness knows why!).

    You are right about positives though. Stick to the positive attributes of how Scotland should be and give people hope and an excitement of where you’re going.

  9. If Tom Harris is elected leader, I cant see how it could possibly work, with him down in London. Perhaps the deputy ( one candidate has already stated the deputy will be from Westminster) will be down there as well.
    He would have to be found a seat for Holyrood very quickly and the logistics of that wont be easy.
    To be honest, none of the candidates are stand-outs but the winner could grow into the job. They will have to.

    1. Yeah, the SNP went straight downhill with Alex Salmond as their leader, by him staying down in Westminster for 3 years before the Holyrood elections.

      Its less of a problem than you imagine. However, if Tom were elected, I think it would be preferable, but not vital, for the deputy to be an MSP, and Lewis Macdonald is the only one standing for that position.

  10. Very many people love and admire Labour traditions. Since Labour largely abandoned these under New Labour, many of them in turn abandoned the party and identified the SNP as the current representative of those traditions.

    1. I would disagree that the SNP are the current representative of those traditions. Its hardly a tradition if you only support something for electoral gain, is it?

      The only tradition the SNP have – and Salmond said as much in his speech to the SNP conference – is independence. Its in their DNA, were his words. Not fairness, not social justice, not equality or building a better country.

      1. Of course money martets but in terms of the long campaign, the SNP didn’t have funding in place before March, so the arguments about policy development and training ring a little hollow.Anyway, I’m not even convinced Labour was outspent by the SNP. In Almond Valley, we were bombarded by mass, first class direct mailings from Labour. In the final week, some households received up to 10 pieces of literature from Labour only two of which were via the free Post Office drop.It is impossible for me to put an accurate cost on this because only the mail organisers will know exactly how much mail went out but let’s assume (conservatively) that each household received 2 pieces of 1st class mail from Labour. That is 35,000 * 2 * 46p = a332,200 in a single constituency BEFORE you even think about printing costs (which would not have been cheap either).I know from talking to colleagues across the country that Almond Valley was not an exceptional case. I reckon Labour was trying this in about 20 seats and maybe more. Easily in excess of half a million quids worth and I would not be surprised if the total spend was in 7 figures. I would imagine that each separate mailing will have been sponsored by a union and, if so, I think it is about time the members of those unions thought carefully about how their money is being wasted by the vested interests that claim to represent them.Labour was most definitely not short of money in this campaign it just didn’t have the organisation and skill to put it to good use and had to rely on blunt, very negative, centralised mailing campaigns.

  11. Scotland is an egalitarian country.It has been for a very long time.It was always going to be fertile ground not just for socialism but for caring politics in general.Scotland isnt an egalitarian country because of Labour.Labour is an egalitarian party because of Scotland.This is fundamental.Labour has to be more than Anti-SNP,Pro London.At the moment it seems the Labour partys sole purpose is to fight the nats and to stop the Scottish Parliament getting any more power.The new leader is going to have to be an awful lot more than anti-SNP.

    1. on Newsnicht last night, Labour’s position is taesneislly that they accept that the easy availability of dirt-cheap booze is a factor in our alcohol problem, and they accept that something should be done about it. However, they oppose MUP because it may be illegal, and because it would result in supermarkets making profits (those same supermarkets that they were so keen to save from the Tesco Tax last parliament ) So they think the price should be increased through alcohol duty, rather than MUP.Well, that’s great, but they don’t support the transference of alcohol duty to Holyrood. So if that’s how they think it should be tackled, they’re effectively saying the government should do nothing, and just lobby Westminster to act instead. It’s a bizarre position. Why should we wait for Westminster when we could do something about it ourselves?Incidentally, Jackie Baillie also brought up the point that the cost is the same across Britain, yet Scotland has a worse alcohol problem. I don’t know if this little nugget of wisdom keeps getting brought up to try and prove that cost isn’t a big factor, but what it certainly tells us is that Scotland needs more action to curb alcohol misuse than England, and therefore we have more need to raise the prices than England does.Also, I remember Tom Harris pointing out on Sunday that he gets his alcohol from the Times Wine Club (or something like that), the implication being that MUP can be circumnavigated by getting your booze via mail order. Again, this completely misses the point youths wanting to get wasted on cheap cider are unlikely to be able to do so through a mail order service.Whenever someone gives a wide array of wee niggling excuses for not wanting to do something, the reality is they’re just scrambling for reasons not to do it, and none of them are the actual reason. I do the same when I don’t feel like going out with mates and come up with millions of reasons not to go out, when the truth is I just can’t be bothered. Why can’t Labour just be a bit more honest?

    2. I find it bizarre that the icbnmceuny factor would even be questioned, never mind completely denied. People vote for what they know, so if you’re the sitting MSP, you’ve got a higher profile (generally) than your opponents. Unless you’ve done something terrible or have just been an awful MSP, chances are a significant proportion of the electorate will be quite happy for you to continue. The 2010 UK election returned the exact same seats in Scotland as 2005 I don’t think you could get a more blatant example of icbnmceuny in action. Even if you don’t agree with any of the possible reasons for why the icbnmceuny factor is there, there is one very simple fact that works in an incumbent MSP’s favour: most seats don’t change hands. For this reason alone, an incumbent MSP can be confident that they have a better than average chance of retaining their seat than his opponents have of taking it.Also, it’s interesting that you mention the 100,000 spoilt ballots. Are you trying to say that the majority of these ballots would have gone Labour’s way? Are you telling us that people who are and let’s be perfectly blunt here of lower intelligence favour Labour over the SNP?A final point: it’s far easier to focus on the strength of the SNP’s campaign than Labour’s because the SNP have a campaign to focus on. It must be pretty difficult to focus on a campaign that consists entirely of yeah, you know that policy we voted against consistently for the past four years? Well, we’re totally in favour of it now. Oh yeah, and have some lies, too.

  12. John Ruddy (10 Nov 8.23) needs to check his history books. The SNP, without a Scottish parliament defeated the Poll Tax with the ‘Can Pay Wont Pay’ campaign and as a result brought down Margaret Thatcher. At the time Labour had 50 Scottish MPs. There policy was ‘pay it’ because they were feart of being seen as law breakers.
    So please John no lectures on ‘tradition’.

    1. The SNP may have been part of that campaign, but it hardly “led” it, I repeat, your own leader has said what drives you. Its not fairness, its not social justice, – its independence.

      You need to check what your leader says.

  13. @admin did you actually read the wings over Scotland article you posted? In case you didn’t let me summerize it for you, number of postive cases for Scotland staying in the Union sited 0.

  14. John, who said anything about ‘led’? But if that is how it is now remembered by Labour then I ain’t surprised. I remember during the camapign crammed in a house trying to prevent a poinding taking place. There were nationalists and labour activists sitting together. The SNP won a lot of converts over that time and those labour activists ‘driven’ by the injustice of the Poll Tax could’nt even identify themselves as labour supporters because their Party line on the tax was give in and ‘pay it’.
    And yes the SNP are driven by independence.

  15. Could the new leader not be a socialist? One who stood against privatisation, market rule and illegal wars?

    That’d do me.

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