“Can you please speak for five minutes about yourself and your party.”
It is an interesting transition a parliamentary candidate makes from spending their time talking to party members at hustings about their personal beliefs, to speaking to members of the public at hustings about their party’s beliefs.
The first question the chair of the hustings asks is, “Can you please each speak for five minutes about yourself and your respective parties?”
My question is, in 2015, post-referendum Scotland, how should a Scottish Labour candidate answer?
Jim Murphy once said that the reason Labour lost the 2010 election was that we lacked energy and the public could not finish the sentence, “I am voting Labour because…”. He felt that the public knew what Labour were against but not what we stood for. I agree it is vital that we have certainty in what we stand for but also for who we seek to represent.
In Jim’s speech to the David Hume Institute he spoke of constructing a society in which we do not tolerate poverty or hardship. He discussed making an argument for social justice that rather than being based purely on altruism also involves Scotland’s self-interest.
My interpretation of this is that Jim’s feels that tackling poverty and hardship is the socially just, fair, thing to do. However, he feels altruism by itself does not drive every Scot, so he reminds voters that inequality creates a competitive economic disadvantage for Scotland.
I think by adding this national cause, Jim wishes to attract the same level of passion about tackling hardship as was seen in nationalists during the referendum and in doing so, inject the energy he felt Labour was missing in 2010. To this end, I think it is very important that candidates remind voters that Scottish Labour politicians are still Scottish politicians and not Westminster politicians.
At Scottish Labour’s one day special conference Jim said that his politics are about standing up for the right of working-class parents to have the chance of having middle-class kids. I think as human beings we all have aspirations and what we do in life should not be determined by our family tree. However, when I look at our policies that tackle low pay and redistribute from the wealthiest, I feel Scottish Labour have a broader remit of tackling hardship and ensuring that no Scot has to struggle.
On poverty, Jim also highlights that while empathy is important, authenticity in politics is crucial. One point I constantly raise with voters is that their personal situations can change. The hardship that I have experienced is only because I happened to be from a single parent family and my father, who brought me up, happened to work for a charity. In a different set of circumstances, I would have had a comfortable upbringing. My grandmother had a similar but different experience based on circumstance, where the death of her father led to her, her mother and sisters suffering hardship.
I personally believe that authenticity is important within employment too. I have spent most of my career employed in the NHS as a Food Services Assistant, Medical Laboratory Assistant, Trainee Biomedical Scientist, Biomedical Scientist and then a Specialist Biomedical Scientist. I was and still remain a trade unionist as I am very aware that it is only because of our Labour and trade union movement that we got that NHS in the first place. Not just the NHS but also our other progressive advances in the form of the welfare state, council housing and the national minimum wage. It is for this reason I am proud that a Labour government will increase the national minimum wage, extend the living wage and end abusive zero-hours contracts.
There is a popular myth promoted by the SNP that there is no difference between Scottish Labour and the Tories. This argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. I’m 30 years old, and the chasm in ideology and policy between Labour and the Tories is greater now than it has ever been in my lifetime.
Upon becoming Prime Minister David Cameron cut taxes for the rich and wages and benefits for the poor. Under Ed Miliband Labour has challenged the “big six” energy firms, stood up to the Murdoch press and will redistribute wealth by introducing a 50p top rate of tax, a mansion tax and a bankers’ bonus tax. The SNP make this claim but do not have a single redistributive policy. They cannot introduce a mansion tax or a bankers’ bonus tax as these provide redistribution to Scotland from across the rest of the UK.
Bringing everything together it seems to me that the Tories act to redistribute wealth to the rich and so increase poverty. The SNP are able to describe this process but do not redistribute wealth themselves. The result of this is that Scottish Labour are the party that have to stand up for working people and act to reduce poverty by redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor.