I am not and never have been a career politician. That might strike you as an odd thing to say for someone who has won four elections and I am forever grateful to the people of East Renfrewshire for the trust they have shown in me. Even in 2011 which was, unfortunately, yet another election when Labour did badly, I managed to increase my majority.
You can never be entirely sure why people vote the way they do, but I suspect and hope that in part at least, it is because I have always put my constituents first. The first thing that ever happened to me as an MSP was when I was forced to choose between my constituents and my junior ministerial position in the Party over the future of the local Victoria Hospital. I chose my constituents and was relegated to the back benches for five years, but I have never regretted that choice.
I am a family man. I have six kids, I used to have a proper job and yes, I have a whole life outside politics. In fact, despite the ambitions and intentions I intend to lay out this morning, the 15th August, the day the Labour leadership election will be announced, will not be the biggest day in the summer calendar in our house. Two days earlier, on the 13th August, the schools go back and in our family, our youngest daughter starts school for the first time.
It is those priorities – the people I represent and the family I care for and who care for me – that shape my approach to politics. I only stood for Parliament because of devolution, because devolution allows me to help shape a better future for my kids, it gives me the opportunity to give all our kids a better future.
I want to bring those same priorities and offer the Labour Party that same integrity in a marked change in approach, a radical new direction of travel. My whole style of leadership will be different, less aggressive and adversarial, more collaborative and co-operative. I want us to stop defining ourselves by our opposition to the SNP, to the Tories or for that matter to the Referendum and talk positively about Scotland’s future, about the good society we want to build. Even the language I use will be different. I believe that if you want to create a decent, compassionate and kind society then you have to demonstrate that same decency, that same compassion and that same kindness in your language and behaviour. We need to be more generous in defeat, less tribal, less partisan – and more open to working with others, more willing to build a progressive alliance across traditional political divides.
I want to reach out to civic Scotland, to the third sector and community organisations; to the unions, residents groups and faith communities to build a coalition around our shared desire to create a better society. My parents were both teachers – both head teachers in fact – and they brought me up to believe in public service. They showed me through their own example that you can champion success, you can reward ambition and celebrate prosperity without compromising your support for the common good. They taught me a different model of leadership, not autocratic or dictatorial, but one of the leader as servant not master.
Those are the values I will bring to the leadership of the Labour Party and it is an approach that I believe will allow us to win back that trust we have lost, that will allow us to win again.
And I want to make it quite clear – I see myself as the change candidate. Yes we could manage the situation we are in. We could lurch from election to election as we have done in the past. But I want to change the whole way the Labour Party operates. I want to move away from the machine politics of the past, to give the party back to its members and to the people we want to represent.
Over the next few weeks I will expand on some of these themes, but today I am not going to elaborate on the good society I want to build, nor to describe a new set of policies to help us get there, because I don’t believe we lost the last election on policies. We didn’t get the chance to because people would not even listen to us. And that’s where I want to start – I want to try to get people to listen to Labour again.
So this morning I want to lay out a number of quite detailed reforms I would make to the structure of the Labour Party itself.
In fact, I have already made a number of recommendations to the Party and I was very pleased and encouraged to see the Scottish Executive Committee shared and agreed my approach – on One Person One Vote, on adopting a system of Primaries, and on opening up the post of Deputy Leader to local government colleagues. But these are just the first steps in a new direction, just a small part of a very clear, long term strategy I have to become the party of the people we want to be.
Before I list the ways I hope to devolve power within our party, I also want to highlight the action I will take to assert our identity, our authority and our autonomy as the Scottish Labour Party. On a personal level, I’ve never been interested in standing for Westminster and I don’t look over my shoulder or seek permission to say what I want to say on behalf of the people of Scotland. The Welsh Labour party seems to have had no difficulty in establishing its own identity, with significantly less devolved power or responsibility than we enjoy here in Scotland.
So I will begin discussions immediately with Labour colleagues at a UK level to redefine and formalise our relationship. I want us to be an autonomous party here in Scotland, but one which makes a positive choice to remain part of the UK Labour Party. We will be entirely in charge of our own affairs and our own decision-making, but it is important to us that we have a partnership of equals with Party colleagues in the rest of the UK. As I heard it described recently, our future will be one of both self-rule and shared-rule.
Returning to the practical steps we can take – the first will be to set up our Head Office in Edinburgh. It is time the structure of the Labour Party reflected that the focus of political attention in Scotland is Holyrood. This will be the head office – we will opt in to the Labour Party, we will choose to be members of something bigger, but control rests with members here in Scotland.
Now that is not a step on the road to centralisation however, far from it. I am committed to devolution and I want to devolve responsibility within the Party to eight regions reflecting the list regions of the Scottish Parliament, with membership and campaigning organised at that level.
I would replace the role of General Secretary with that of a modern Chief Executive.
I want the elected Chair of the Party to have a greater role, becoming a member of the Labour cabinet as a permanent voice of the membership within the Party. Similarly I want at least one colleague from local government sitting in the Labour cabinet. Building on the reforms agreed last week at the SEC, I want all elected representatives within the party, be they MPs, MEPs, constituency MSPs, list MSPs or Councillors to enjoy parity – with the same levels of scrutiny and accountability to our members and supporters. I don’t mean to be insensitive, but the loss of so many of our MP colleagues means we can start afresh. We can rebuild without the hierarchy of interests, power and control that have troubled our Party in the past.
As part of the process of reclaiming the party on behalf of the members, I want to open up the policy process so that it is more transparent and so that members and those outwith the Party can become directly involved. The annual conference would be less of a stage managed rally and more a place of real discussion and debate. We will debate any and every issue. I would invite contributors from the Voluntary Sector, from the private sector, from faith groups and academia to directly contribute. In fact, rather than charge them thousands of pounds to attend, I would abolish fees for third sector and non-profit making organisations.
I want to broaden our appeal, not narrowly focus on an ever declining audience of Scots with so-called traditional Labour values; not solely concentrate on former industrial heartlands in the central belt, but reach out to every place and part of Scotland. My family is from Skye and Peebles, I was brought up in Portree, Oban and Edinburgh. I live not ten miles from here in Busby on the south side of Glasgow.
Although they become teachers, my father was originally a crofter and my mother’s family ran a shoe shop. Just this week I was talking with my wife Claire’s family about the difficulties of running a small business. I want us to reach people from every walk of life, to let trade union members and business leaders know that their view matters, to listen to those in their eighties as well as build a new future for those who are eighteen.
I would make the party more friendly and accessible to young members and young voters, maintaining our currently reduced fees, putting far greater emphasis on our online accessibility, providing a platform for online debate and engagement. It was Oona in fact who highlighted to me some of the steps we could take to become more welcoming to all and in particular to the young.
I want to change our campaigning strategies and techniques. Our main campaigning database, Contact Creator, is based on the binary choice between Labour and Tories offered at a UK level. I would replace it with a system that reflects the multi-party nature of politics in the modern Scotland.
We have this month finally abandoned the electoral college system for electing our leader and adopted a system of One Person One Vote along with closed primaries where supporters can register to vote. I would at the very least pilot the introduction of open primaries for future selections. We need to open up to the people of Scotland. I believe the best way to win back the trust of voters is to show first that we trust them.
I am conscious of giving you a lot of detail on what might be seen as internal Party reforms, but I believe they will help Labour be more externally focussed on those whose support we wish to win. Over the next few weeks I will return to some of the themes outlined; on breaking with the past and being more positive about Scotland’s future; about being less partisan and broadening our appeal.
I only stood for election because of devolution, because of the Scottish Parliament and its promise of a new way of doing politics. I want Labour to be more open, more transparent and more about sharing power with the people we want to represent; a Party that puts into practice the concept of the sovereignty of the people.
Devolution is the future, that’s what the people of Scotland voted for and I want to remind people that Labour are the champions of devolution. Devolution allows us to take charge of our own affairs, it has helped Scotland grow in self-confidence, it is a vehicle for change. I want to focus on using the powers of Holyrood to make a difference. To forget the droopy mantra, it wizny me, we don’t have the power.
I want us to be forward looking. Above all, I want us to win again. I believe under my leadership we can do just that.