A renewed focus on the fight against inequality will help redefine what Scottish Labour is for, says IAIN BROTCHIE
The review of Scottish Labour needs to look at why we are in general decline, not just why we lost the election of May 2011. Over the last ten years we have lost voters in Scottish elections, as well as party members and activists.
I believe we have lost our ideological foundations and that’s why we are in decline. The analysis within the party for the 2011 result has concentrated so far on rethinking our organisation, structures, work rates and candidate training. For me, that misses the point and the opportunity presented by this review.
While the SNP can always rally around the idea of independence, Labour has lost any equivalent central idea. Our lack of distinct ideology and the weakness of our vision allows our opponent to more easily define us. I believe it has led to us to a point where it is now easier to say what Labour is not, rather than what it is.
For example, we are no longer socialists. We no longer stand as the party committed to attacking the causes of inequality. We no longer talk about class. Our message is instead about “fairness”, a vague term used by all political parties to a greater or lesser extent. We merely offer the electorate programmes to manage the nastier results of inequality, rather than end it.
Another example is that we are not nationalists. We do not believe that Scotland should be responsible for its own affairs. But nor do we seem to be British; Scottish Labour still hasn’t make a convincing positive case for the Union in public.
Finally, we are no longer New Labour. In Scotland we have quietly rejected and moved away from many of the ideas of the Blair years. The voters have in turn denied us of the best part of Blairism: winning elections.
We need to start again by positively stating what we stand for.
We need to agree where we accept market forces, where we do not and how we intend to regulate the market so it responds to the needs of society.
We need to agree that we are against inequality, poverty and unemployment. At the moment all that can be said is that Labour would ameliorate the worst results of inequality. That’s very nice, but I think it’s fundamentally missing the point. The Labour Party should be about not tolerating inequality. We attack inequality at source. We use power to redistribute resources.
We need to recognise that we are British. We are better together than we are apart. We are united by geography, language and history. Our economies are inextricably linked, with jobs, goods and services flowing both ways across the border. Our societies are merged; relationships are started, children are brought into the world and fortunes are sought without regard to which part of the UK we happen to be in.
We need to recognise our Scottishness as well. Scotland has a distinct political culture and sense of identity that needs to be embraced wholeheartedly. This means recognising how our political culture makes it possible for stronger social democratic policies to be pursued. And also that as a society we have greater need for such policies to solve the social and economic problems Scotland faces. This means making the case for the Scottish Parliament to have control of more of the levers of economic power. Winning the fight against poverty in Scotland means the Scottish Parliament needs to have the economic power to attack unemployment and poverty.
I don’t think that looking at how we organise ourselves or how hard we campaign will make enough of a difference until we sort out what we stand for. By merely addressing the way we are organised for campaigning, we make ourselves about nothing more than getting candidate X elected. This review is an opportunity to fundamentally look at why we are comrades, and how we can offer the people of Scotland a positive alternative to the SNP.