Ian Paterson, a blogger and new Labour member, gives his take on the Scottish Labour leadership election.
I’ve only been a member of the Scottish Labour Party for a few months. Now perhaps that doesn’t give me much authority to talk on matters. After all, we live in a hierarchical society in the UK and the Labour Party has been increasingly accepting of that since the 90s. So if my lack of an authoritative voice within the Labour movement puts you off, then I’ll forgive you for not reading any further.
I joined the Labour Party earlier this year, because I want to support a party that shares my values of egalitarianism and equality and help them get into power. And I would suggest that everyone’s opinion is valuable, regardless of experience, in an egalitarian society. I would also suggest that new voices, and indeed voices of those that are not yet members or voters of Scottish Labour, are also voices worth listening to, if the Labour Party is to turn around it’s fortunes in Scotland after the worst successive election defeats in the party’s modern history.
It seems to me that the Scottish Labour party is at a crossroads, and we are a party torn over the path to take. The direction of travel for the next few years will be decided with the election of a new leader and each candidate is a very different proposition.
To my mind, as a newly arrived member, Anas Sarwar is the centre-ground candidate. He is a slick operator and looks very comfortable in front of the cameras. He appeals to what is Scottish Labour’s core vote and membership in 2017, and is exactly the kind of leader that political parties tend to elect. Along the same lines as Blair, Cameron and Clegg, he is a modern-day slick media operator and part of the political class.
Then there is the left candidate, Richard Leonard – a much more awkward media operator but a man of unwavering principles and character. Leonard is perhaps cut from the same cloth as Foot and indeed Corbyn. With a long history of work within the trade union movement, Leonard comes with all the credentials you’d want, without the political baggage of those who’ve been operating in Parliament for longer.
One of the core arguments in the leadership debate is over which would be most likely to become First Minister and which is the most competent of leaders. I look forward to hearing the arguments from the candidates and both have the ability to make a very strong case, but for me this misses a huge point. The next Holyrood election isn’t until 2021, and there is work to be done now.
Which leader is right for the current political climate? Which leader can win voters back, predominately from the SNP where they have leaked to over the last ten years? Or are we happy now to sit as a small centre-ground party, filling a niche in Scottish politics? We are leaking votes on the left to the SNP, leaking centrist votes to the Lib Dems and leaking unionist votes to the Tories. We are fighting on three fronts, which it doesn’t take a strategist to point out, is hard work. Only if Labour is able to win back people who used to support them and engage the young, will we be able to break out of the rut that we are in.
The future of the Scottish Labour Party is in our hands, and we must decide what kind of party we wish to be during this leadership election. Without a decent Scottish Labour vote at the next general election, it is unlikely that Labour will be able to form a Westminister goverment. Without a growing Scottish Labour movement, the next generation will continue to suffer and things will continue to get worse.
Under the Tories, young people are the first generation to be paying twice for their pensions – once through their taxes and again through their wages into auto-enrolment pensions. Going back twenty years, you could buy an average house in Scotland for three times the average annual salary, now it is seven times. Salaries have increased by around 1-2% in the last ten years yet prices of goods and service have gone up by around 30%.
It would be foolish to want every Scottish Labour member to become a left wing, Corbynista – Scottish Labour needs to be a broad church, rich in diversity of opinions and thoughts – but has Scotland and the rest of the UK become too right wing in your opinion? If the answer is yes, then even a centrist would want to balance that out by electing a more left wing government. As they say, if things aren’t going right, go left.