It’s about why we exist, not about how we work

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.

Iain Brotchie is a member of Livingston CLP. He is a former employee of Aberdeen South MP Anne Begg, stood as a candidate in Aberdeenshire, been the Livingston CLP Secretary and is currently chair of his local branch. Follow Iain on Twitter @IainBrotchie.

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9 thoughts on “It’s about why we exist, not about how we work

  1. Iain the voters are not to blame for you losing, you as a party are. Start from there. PS you are certainly not my comrade, Labour was and still is totally absent from any rural issue.

    1. Michael – LabourHame is a website aimed specifically at fellow Labour Party members. If you don’t wish to be referred to as “comrade”, you can either not visit the site or (as more mature non-Labour readers might do) assume that the writer isn’t actually talking personally to you.

  2. An interesting story I read once about Karl Marx. It may be apocryphal, but it illustrates an idea, so I’ll share it, if I may:

    Karl Marx was sitting on a train with a friend of his when it pulls into a station and a group of rich bankers got into the first class carriages. Glaring at them, Marx’ friend remarked, “Look at them, mocking the poor workers! Come the revolution, we will all be travelling third class together!”

    Marx sighed and shook his head. “Have you listened to nothing I’ve said?” he asked. “Come the revolution, we will all be travelling first class together.”

    So why the story? Because it illustrates a very important point. A good government of any kind tries to make sure everyone is travelling first class together; a bad government allows envy and spite to creep into its thinking and seeks to drag everyone down so that we are all travelling third class together.

    Aiming at ‘first class for all’ is a lot harder and would take a lot longer – but it’s the only worthy goal.

    Labour as a whole needs to be a ‘first class for all’ party. A party that aims to elevate the weakest, not to drag back the strongest.

    I’d say that was a pretty good mission statement, personally 🙂

  3. Iain, I can feel affinity with the North of England, the Wash, Wales and Ireland but I reject the attempts to placate London & the SE.

    I want us to collect and Spend our own revenues, if our GDP is greater than the average, we should contribute more than other regions for reserved issues but that is it.

    We should manage our own money not operate on pocketmoney while the Tories determine our Economic policies.

    We could stop it tomorrow by demanding FFA.

  4. Congratulations, Iain, in all sincerity. In all the weeks this blog has been running, you’re the first poster to actually grasp what Labour’s problem in Scotland (particularly) is. Good luck convincing the rest.

  5. Sorry I have to disagree with you Iain. Blairism had nothing to do with the election defeat. The electorate stopped conflating Westminster and Holyrood ages ago and you can make an arguement that they never did. Whenever Tony Blair ran in scotland he won (97, 01 & 05 and maybe the referendum too if you want to count that).
    Explaining the last election defeat can be done very easily by looking at the SNP’s election slogan. Team, Vision, Strategy. In all three areas they didn’t just beat us, they routed us.

    We lost in 2010 because voters felt we no longer spoke for the working class and in 2011 because voters felt we didn’t stand for scotland. In both elections voters both saw us as being for “immigrants, benefit cheats and trade unions”. The sooner we listen to the voters on this and prove we still stand for them, the sooner we become a party fit for government again.

  6. admin if Labour Hame is to reach out to the voter it has to speak to a wider audience. If you don’t want comment shut it down. Snark at those who do try in some small way to contribute is not helpful. The term comrade is offensive to those of us who have had family murdered by those who used that term in its most sinister interpretation. My mother in law had 15 minute notice to escape Stalins secret police, most of the rest of the family did not. Try to grasp Scotland is not some moncultural West of Scotland comfort zone and you might get somewhere. I shall of course continue to comment and you are free to moderate them as you see fit.

    1. Michael, while not wishing to disrespect your family or their dreadful experiences, you will simply have to accept, whether you like it or not, that this is a Labour website and that Labour people often refer to each other using the term “comrade”. You have every right to choose to be offended by this term, but obviously we will continue to use it nevertheless.

  7. Yes please do feel free to use the comment. It says much about the party, its roots and its regard for voters. Is Labour truly the party of “comrade”? Indeed does the word matter? Do younger voters have any idea what the term is all about anyway? I think it seems very important to a part of Labour, why is that? The period it refers to is history now.

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