Scott Nicholson, Scottish Labour candidate for Perth and North Perthshire, gives his answer.
“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.
6 thoughts on “I am voting Labour because …”
I read stories like this and I’m often rather moved. I think there are a lot of Labour activists who really believe in this stuff and that’s great. However, I don’t hear anyone in the Labour Party saying that Rachel Reeves is a horrible creature who uses disgusting, divisive language and whose promise to be “tougher than the Tories” fills me with utter dread. It’s not just because the Tories are cruel enough to anyone who’s struggling. It’s that the fact that she can say that and not get sacked immediately means that the UK Labour leadership thinks it’s acceptable. You’ve accepted the Tories’ terms of reference – we NEED to be tough on the peasants because they’re all lazy junkie scum.
It should also be noted that while attacking the SNP for having no redistributive policies is good campaign fodder, it’s slightly disingenuous. The SNP has never imagined it would be in government at Westminster and therefore has steered clear of making a detailed case for how it might organise macro-economic policy. It has, however, supported universalism (once a proud Labour value) only to be attacked by Scottish Labour leaders like Johann Lamont and still attacked by Dugdale and Murphy. Does the Labour Party just not believe in universalism any more?
Finally, on the trade unions issue – when is the Labour Party going to reverse some of Thatcher’s anti-union legislation? During the referendum campaign, I heard numerous Labour figures claim that their solidarity didn’t stop at the border. Well that’s fine if it’s true, but right now it’s illegal for my solidarity to extend beyond my fellow union members in my own place of work. As long as a Labour Party allows a law to remain in place that says I can be sacked for refusing to cross a picket line, it explicitly does not represent the workers and is not really interested in solidarity.
You make three valid, if slightly overblown, points, so I’ll have a stab at responding to them.
First, on Rachel Reeves. You don’t hear anyone in the Labour Party disagreeing with the words she chose? I saw literally hundreds of Labour people doing just that. Where were you looking? Look to Labour’s policies for the truth – a banker’s bonus tax to fund a jobs guarantee. Our focus is in helping those who can work to find work, and ensuring the state is able to support those who cannot work.
On redistribution and universalism – the SNP set out an entire White Paper on running an independent country and it contained not a single redistributive policy. You think it’s disingenuous to point this out? I think it’s disingenuous to suggest universalism is a solution. Labour remains committed to universal provision as part of the welfare state – look at schools and health – but adding to universalism, redistributing from the poor to the rich at a time when the poor are getting poorer and the rich already richer? Surely at least we’re allowed to point out that might not be the best idea?
On trade unions, it’s an old lie that Labour never reversed any of Thatcher’s anti-union legislation. Blair did in his first term. It may not have gone as far as some would like, but that’s no excuse to pretend it didn’t happen at all. Here is an accurate summary of what Labour did in power: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/briefing-papers/SN00596/trade-union-legislation-labours-changes-to-the-conservative-reforms
On your first point, Duncan – perhaps my first point was a little unclear. I DO hear Labour activists talking the talk. I don’t see Ed Miliband or Ed Balls saying “Rachel’s position is completely at odds with Labour values and she is no longer welcome in this Shadow Cabinet.” If they don’t sack her (or even re-shuffle her) then they’re endorsing her words as Labour Party policy. Am I as an ordinary voter supposed to assume that your Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary DOESN’T speak for the Party on issues around the DWP?
You can claim that the Labour Party still supports universalism. I don’t see it. I saw a rise in means testing for various things under Blair and I’ve heard a lot of the “something for nothing” rhetoric from the likes of Reeves, Lamont and McTernan recently. These are not backbench cranks. These are the people leading and running your party. You can’t adopt Tory rhetoric and not be branded with the same stain.
On trade union legislation, it’s amusing that the first reform listed is to make it easier for members’ money to be channeled to the Labour Party. 😉 The remainder include some positives like making strike ballots simpler and so on, but it’s also noteable that a number of the changes are actually attributable not to Labour Party policy but to EU directives. I also noticed that Labour policy from 1997 was that Britain should remain the “most lightly regulated labour market of any leading economy in the world.” Personally, I find that a disgusting statement from a “Labour” party. If you’re a party “for the workers” (and not the layabouts and junkies, shirkers and skivers) then shouldn’t you be pushing for a much MORE regulated “labour market”? (I loathe that phrase. Cattle go to market. Workers should go to work.) Where’s the policy allowing political striking? Mandated worker representation on boards? Absolute protection for those refusing to cross picket lines? Even a campaign line to the unions themselves about taking on unemployed, insecure and temporary members would be a step in the right direction to building real solidarity.
I love the idea that your phrase “I don’t hear anyone in the Labour Party saying…” was actually you expressing “unclearly” what you really meant, which was that you DO hear lots of people in the Labour Party saying it! 🙂 Thanks for clearing that up.
I can claim Labour still backs universalism because it’s true. It is lazy and dishonest to hold up free travel and free prescriptions as the bedrock of universalism. Healthcare free at the point of need and free schooling for all up to the age of 18 is the bedrock of universalism, and Labour not only back these things, we INTRODUCED THEM.
I’m sure we can all find things we still want to change about trade union regulation. I’m glad you’ve backed off your original position that Labour had done nothing.
OK – no-one who MATTERS in the Labour Party is challenging Reeves. At most, those speaking out are a bunch of activists who still think Labour is a radical party when at best it’s a managerial party with a more socially just outlook than the Tories.
You actively oppose universalism in tertiary education. Why is that? And you explicitly DON’T support universalism in healthcare because you constantly use free prescriptions as a stick to beat the SNP with. I also don’t recall Labour putting up much a fight against de-universalising child benefit, despite that being a direct blow to women and children.
And yes, there’s lots more I’d like to see changed about trade union legislation. Wouldn’t you like that too? So do you support that expressed policy of your party to make Britain the least regulated “labour market” in the developed world?
The other day I heard Jim Murphy say that under Labour all school leavers in Scotland would get £1,600 worth of ongoing education or training, not just the (increasingly well off) ones who get that in ‘free’ university tuition fees.
I don’t know whether he meant a one off £1,600 or 4x£1,600. Either way it seems more universal than the current system of funding higher/further education in Scotland which, relative to England, is discouraging school leavers from poorer households to continue their education.
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