Labour needs to become, once more, the voice of Scotland

Voters no longer believe that Labour stands up for Scotland. That must change, says MATTHEW LITTLE


No matter what claims some may make about the “Scottishness” of Scottish Labour,  that it was the Labour Party who delivered the Scottish Parliament is a fact that can never be taken away from us.

The idea that six SNP MPs somehow were the real driving force behind devolution is a claim that doesn’t stand up. It was the Labour Party that was given the mandate to govern in 1999, not the SNP. We were rewarded for daring to dream big, and after years of Tory rule in Scotland, despite a minority of Scottish MPs, it was the Labour Party that put in place the frameworks to stop this ever happening again without the say so of the Scottish people.

It is something that all Scottish Labour members can be proud of: we stood for Scotland.

However it is at this point that that the patting of the backs must stop. Fast forward to 2007 and we went into an election still relying on the glories of the past. We lost our radical edge. We had nothing new to offer the people of Scotland, and so in Alex Salmond they elected someone they thought would look to the future. In 2011 we made the same mistakes all over again. It is time for us to remember why the Scottish people elected us in 1999. It is time for us to be radical again.

However before we can put policy to the people we have to make them listen again. Our big problem is that we are seen by voters as not standing up for Scotland. This might not be true but it is the image the Scottish people have of the party and the onus is on us to change that. People who do not support independence voted SNP because Alex Salmond was seen by them to be the man most capable of standing up for Scotland. We must prove to them that the Labour Party is just as capable of speaking up for Scots. We know we can because we did in 1997 and in 1999.

We can start by attacking the poor coverage of Scottish politics by the broadcast media. Scots pay their license fees like any other UK citizen, yet we receive so little coverage of the affairs that affect our daily lives. We should back the SNP calls for greater fiscal powers as most Scots believe it is the right thing to do.

We need a voice within the UK parliament who will lead the Scottish Labour MPs and speak for the people of Scotland, whether they speak against Tories, Lib Dems or English Labour. A Shadow Scottish secretary will not cut it and perhaps we should look into the need for a Scotland Office? The Scottish people want someone to speak up for them. We have to remember we have a voice. We need to remember we have something interesting to say.

If we allow Alex Salmond to continue to have a monopoly on the claim to be the voice of Scotland, we will never be elected to government in Scotland again.

Matthew Little is studying physics student at the University of Edinburgh. Having recently joined the Labour Party, he is looking forward to a NO vote in a future independence referendum. Follow him on Twitter at @matt_j_little.

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7 thoughts on “Labour needs to become, once more, the voice of Scotland

  1. “We were rewarded for daring to dream big, and after years of Tory rule in Scotland, despite a minority of Scottish MPs, it was the Labour Party that put in place the frameworks to stop this ever happening again without the say so of the Scottish people.”

    Er, you may – or may not – have noticed that there is a Tory-led government currently ruling Scotland despite a minority of Scottish MPs….

    The fundamental problem with the Labour Party is that they would far rather Scotland was governed by a British Conservative government we don’t want than a Scottish Labour government we did want.

    That’s why you’re seen as not simply not “the voice of Scotland”, but seen as actively anti-Scottish.

  2. Delivering devolution was one of the last Labour government’s greatest achievements. Following this, the party’s interest in pursuing constitutional change cooled dramatically, and so did its interest in devolution. It was widely thought that Labour would always be the largest party in the Scottish Parliament, and as a result Holyrood would serve as a second tier of Labour governance. For the first two parliaments this is precisely what happened, and the Labour-led executives were relatively toothless and bland operations from the beginning. London-based New Labour’s centrist control freakery – coupled with its nasty habit of adopting essentially Tory policies – emasculated Scottish Labour from the outset of devolution and rendered it incapable of unembarrassedly pursuing Scottish interests.

    This set the tone for the behaviour of the party in Scotland over the next decade. Furthermore, even with Gordon Brown as leader, Labour did what it could to portray itself as quintessentially British; calamities such as the “British Jobs for British Workers” slogan pandered to the knee-jerk reactionary politics thankfully less prevalent in Scotland than south of the border. The Labour benches in Holyrood were portrayed as unwilling and/or incapable of countering this with an enthusiastic and robust Scottish agenda, handing the SNP the opportunity to utilise the luxury of opposition to demonstrate its unequivocal dedication to Scottish interests.

    Labour has failed to use Holyrood to demonstrate its commitment to Scottish affairs; delivery of devolution was the zenith of the party’s success in this area, and since then it has regressed to being seen as a party principally of English interests.

  3. Matthew – I’m not getting this all-party Scottish voice/leader thing you appear to advocate at Westminster. Can you elucidate?

    Secondly, are you sure more media focus on Scottish topics would politicise readers, viewers and listeners in the way you suggest? To give one example, I don’t know of a single person who watches Newsnight Scotland by choice.

    Finally, I remain unconvinced that the electoral system for Holyrood marks any improvement on FPTP. If you don’t believe me just conduct your own straw poll: ask anyone you know who isn’t a party activist to name all his/her list MSPs. And remember, these list MSPs – often elected by default – can and do become Cabinet Ministers.

    1. Labour designed the voting system for the Scottish Parliament, so what use is complaining, now it has given you a result you don’t like?

  4. “..We should back the SNP calls for greater fiscal powers as most Scots believe it is the right thing to do….”

    We shouldn’t do something just because the SNP calls for it. And, in any case, the SNP wants, not just greater fiscal powers, but full fiscal autonomy.

    I’ve never been absolutely clear what this means or how it would work, and Professor Arthur Midwinter makes the point here;

    that….” devolution max, which is a theoretical model, unworkable in practice. Devolving all tax powers is incompatible with the central management of the economy, and the principles of the UK’s fiscal framework, as the Calman Report showed….”

    Lots of people might like he idea as a slogan, but no-one has explained how, or even if, it can work, and what are the implications if it works or indeed fails.

    So the assertion that “…most Scots believe it is the right thing …” is meaningless. It isn’t a rigourous proven and workable model. That people “believe” in it is immateria if it doesn’t work.

    1. If there is a definitional problem here it can be overstated. At least the devolution part is obvious enough although the maximum part is harder to pin down. Even if maximum is understood to be limited by what is actually done elsewhere today – no theories, only “proven and workable” practice – it’s much more devolution than Calman offers.

      Don’t the United States and Canada have “central management of the economy”? Most people would say that they do, but they also have different levels of corporate taxes, income taxes and sales taxes in each state or province, and they manage to apportion the revenues quite simply between the states and provinces. They even have ways to make moving a company’s registered office between states or provinces in an attempt to lower corporation tax liabilities fairly pointless in most cases. So if faced with Professor Midwinter’s opinion on the one hand and, for example, Revenue Canada’s description of how the Canadian tax system works on the other, it’s not very hard to decide which is the more reliable guide.

      Just because it is possible doesn’t mean that it is necessary or desirable but it does mean that arguments against doing it have to concentrate on why it isn’t necessary or desirable and why it is that “the principles of the UK’s fiscal framework” are the right ones. Today, with no major party having adopted “devolution max” as a policy, it remains a largely theoretical concern but that could always change. And even now it might influence how people vote, which obviously does matter.

  5. If Labour wants power, it needs to become the voice of England, for the FIRST time. Federalising the Labour Party so that there is an English Labour Party and so the Scottish Labour Party is seen as something more than an outpost of the UK Labour Party is the best policy.

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