Ian Murray MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, says Labour’s challenge now is to set out the policies that can change people’s lives, and to set out an ambitious vision for the future that doesn’t just rely on a constitutional fix.
It’s barely 72 hours since Jeremy Corbyn was elected as Labour Leader, and I think it’s going to take a bit longer for the dust to settle.
I was at the conference in London on Saturday morning where the announcement was made. As I said publicly in June, I backed Yvette Cooper and really thought she would make a brilliant leader of the Labour Party.
Like many others around the shadow cabinet table last night, I didn’t get the leader I voted for, but the mandate Jeremy Corbyn received from party members and supporters needs to be respected. Over 500,000 people voted in the leadership election.
There has been much written about the Shadow Cabinet, and I accepted the job of Shadow Scottish Secretary not just because Scotland’s voice and interests needs to be properly represented in the Shadow Cabinet (and, as many have been quick to point out, the election result in May didn’t leave Jeremy with much choice), but because the only way we are going to deal with both the Tories and the SNP immediately is with unity and loyalty.
But unity doesn’t mean a lack of debate or challenge. When I accepted the job on Sunday night, like many others I had a conversation with Jeremy about the need for a debate within the party. And that was reflected in his speech to the Parliamentary Labour Party last night.
We shouldn’t run away from that debate, or believe it’s a bad thing. Let’s be absolutely clear. People across Scotland rejected Labour overwhelmingly in May, and we have to listen to that and we have to change. I want a healthy debate inside the Labour Party and outside the party in the country. Politics has been reinvigorated in recent years and we should welcome that as a vehicle to transform our party and our policy.
Kezia Dugdale has already said she wants to see an end to ‘control freakery’ at party conference by opening up the conference to the issues that members want to discuss. Similarly, at a UK level, I expect people will see a party alive with ideas, and the prize is engaging the public in the discussions we’ll have over the next few years. Other parties stamp on dissent and debate. I think the Labour Party should embrace it as a healthy part of modern democratic organisations.
But what does all this mean for Scotland? I’m in no doubt that the route to renewal for Scottish Labour lies with Kezia and the team in the Scottish Parliament. But what happens at Westminster will create a large part of the background of politics for the coming period.
The SNP don’t know how to react to Jeremy Corbyn’s victory, and that’s been clear from their reaction over the past few days.
They spent the independence referendum encouraging Labour supporters to “vote yes to get the Labour Party back”. And then in the election campaign they told people to “vote SNP to keep the Labour Party honest”. Now that they can no longer pretend to outflank the Labour Party from the left, Nicola Sturgeon has been forced to play her trump card – independence. Her SNP talk left but act centre right in policy and that will now be exposed.
Independence should be a decision made in Scotland, by the people of Scotland, based on what is best for Scotland both now and, more importantly, in the future. It shouldn’t be a decision taken on the basis of the fortunes of the Labour Party, or which party is in government. It is far too important for the current livelihoods and future prospects of the Scottish people. Just look at the oil price.
Then yesterday, in a fairly desperate attempt to make a story out of Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to campaign in Scotland at least once a month, SNP MP Angus MacNeill was fielded to attack the decision, while Tommy Shepherd MP tried to dismiss Jeremy Corbyn’s election as “irrelevant” to Scotland.
The SNP want to talk about independence and dismiss Jeremy Corbyn’s election because there are three things they are trying to avoid:
- scrutiny of their own dismal record in Government,
- being exposed for not using the current powers of the Scottish Parliament or offering any suggestions for how they might use the new powers of the Scotland Bill, and
- being usurped by a popular alternative on the centre-left.
On all three, Kezia Dugdale and Jeremy Corbyn present an ambitious future for Scotland and the UK, and the SNP see that as a threat. Many people voted yes in the referendum last year because the alternatives didn’t fill them with hope for the future. With the SNP increasingly sounding like a broken record on the constitution, there is now a real chance to provide a credible, radical alternative to the SNP who, after eight years in government, are now looking more and more like Scotland’s political establishment.
Scottish Labour’s challenge now is to set out the policies, at both Westminster and Holyrood, that can change people’s lives, and to set out an ambitious vision for the future of our country that doesn’t just rely on a constitutional fix.
People keep telling me that the odds are stacked against Scottish Labour. And they are. But if I said this time last year that I would be the only Scottish Labour MP, the Conservatives would have a majority Government and Jeremy Corbyn would be leader of the Labour Party, I would have expected to be laughed out of the room.
This is one of the most unpredictable and exciting times we’ve ever had in British politics. It’s time we turned that to our advantage by setting out a bold and imaginative agenda for Scotland’s future.
I’m up for that challenge and I will be making sure the entire Shadow Cabinet are fed up of me saying it.