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