Scottish Labour’s next leader needs to construct the broadest coalition of support ever, says TOM HARRIS

 

I should perhaps take it as a compliment that within hours of telling Good Morning Scotland that I was considering standing to replace Iain Gray as Scottish Labour leader, the SNP issued a press release suggesting that I was my own third choice for leader.

Quiet amusing, actually.

Aware that I was in danger of being portrayed as less than enthusiastic about winning the leadership election (whenever it comes), I was unequivocal on Newsnight Scotland last night. “Do you really want this job?” asked Gordon Brewer.

“I really do,” I replied.

And I do. But I hope you will understand why I’m not yet ready formally to announce I’m a candidate. There are two very good reasons for this. The first is that the review of the party currently underway might conclude that MPs shouldn’t be eligible for consideration. The second is that I might not have enough support to justify a bid.

Opposition parties don’t win elections by converting voters to their way of thinking. Labour isn’t going to be a contender in 2016 by telling the electorate that they were wrong to choose Alex Salmond in 2011 and they’d better not disappoint us this time round. The voters are never wrong – that’s a difficult and painful truth which Labour must accept before we can move forward.

“Reconnecting” (awful word!) with our “base” isn’t going to do it either. As we saw in 2007 and 2011, the “base” is nowhere near wide enough to provide the support we need to win. Yes, we need to attract those former Labour voters who abandoned us last time. But we need to do more than that. There are many ex-Tories out there who long ago stopped voting for the Scottish Conservatives and who now support the SNP as the best vehicle for stopping us. If Labour in the UK could attract disenchanted Tories in 1997 and 2001, why can’t Scottish Labour do the same now?

Former Tories, former LibDems and former nationalists – there should be no no-go areas for a renewed Scottish Labour Party. For a party that aspires to government, there is no alternative to formulating a message and a vision that appeals across the political spectrum.

Neither should there be any more reliance on geography; there are people living in rural and remote communities in every corner of the country who have never voted Labour because we’ve never made an effort to recruit them. Why bother when you can rely on our so-called “heartlands”? And losing our heartlands last time round should not be the only motivation for adopting a “50 states” strategy; we should have done it many years ago – another example of our complacency.

The Labour Party was created to give working people a voice. We need to remind ourselves of that mission, and not assume that those who work hard to improve their own standard of living and whose taxes pay for the services on which we all rely, are any less deserving of our advocacy than any other section of society.

Above all – above party, above personal ambition and above the UK – there is Scotland.

Government is only a means to an end. For Scottish Labour that end is the fight against poverty and inequality of opportunity, the protection of workers’ rights, the creation of wealth, of jobs and of prosperity. For the nationalists, government is little more than a box-ticking exercise, an inconvenient activity they must endure in order to achieve their own end: a constitutional upheaval that will bring no obvious or guaranteed benefits for our people.

Whatever principles we as party members hold dear, whatever ambitions we have for ourselves and our nation, they are nothing more than a comfort blanket unless we achieve government and the means to turn those principles into action. And we, the Labour Party, cannot achieve government without the support of a broad coalition of support from all sections of Scottish society.

By May 5, 2016, we will need to have persuaded the country that voting Labour will not only be in the best interests of Scotland, but also in the best interests of themselves and their families.

Before we vote for Labour’s next candidate to be First Minister, we must put ourselves in the shoes, not of a Labour member, but in the shoes of one of the many Scots who have turned their backs on Labour, or who have never even considered voting for us. Because if we can win them over, we will be invited once more to share the privilege of government at Holyrood.

Tom Harris is the Labour MP for Glasgow South. He Tweets as @TomHarrisMP.

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36 thoughts on “Leadership ambitions

  1. There will be no win in 2016 without Constitutional change that includes Fiscal power, that is the only way to get funding totally controlled in cotland to give Jobas and infrastructure.
    While the Treasury controls the money it will continue to be spent by Public Schoolboys employing their fellows in the Treasury, FO, Whitehall and the MOD, who will then direct it to spend via their fello Public Schoolboys on disastrous Military projects and in the employment and support of Public Schoolboy Admirals, Generals and Air vice marshalls.
    That’s not counting the other hangers on in all the Embassies.
    Time to stop spending the money on payingat being a big boy and spend it on getting more jobs and self respect for the peole.

    That needs some one who will put Scotland first and not Westminster.

  2. Not one MSP has stood up yet. We wont see Alexander or Murphy give up London for Auld Reekie so this could be your chance Tom.You wont replace Iain Gray as Scottish Labour leader since he isnt that though you might be!
    The analogy with Salmond in Westminster isnt doesnt work since he was leader of his party while you will be under Miliband and the party whip at least until a safe seat is found. That in itself is a problem. Given the paucity of talent at Holyrood, there is no easy solution to this, but a decent opposition is badly needed so -Good Luck !

  3. There are few, if any, “former nationalists”.

    What Labour need to do is shake off their Scottish cringe (e.g. a primal fear of the teaching of Scottish history) and their tribal hatred of the SNP which leads to short-sighted policymaking (e.g. teaming up with others to force the Edinburgh Trams through, thus costing Scotland £1bn).

    If they can do that, perhaps people would return to them. I was a Labour voter once, before Iraq and the destruction of the UK economy.

    CC

  4. Ok putting aside the SNP’s point about you not being your own 1st choice which bar scoffing at you didn’t answer. You make important points about the need to Liberalise your party making it less of a closed shop which it has become and more of broad church, how do you set about doing this what policies do you offer to appeal to area of Scotland that currently have little or no interest in voting Labour?

    Also given your views expressed in 2008 regarding the Leadership of the Labour Party in Scotland that:
    “Creating a new post of leader of the Scottish Labour Party would be so fraught with difficulties as to make it entirely impractical. Under such an arrangement, Labour MPs at Westminster would owe allegiance not to the Prime Minister but to the Scottish leader, and would, presumably, be mandated to support policies on reserved matters that were developed, not on a UK basis, but entirely in Scotland.”

    What has changed / needs to change to make the position of Scottish Labour leader something other than “entirely impractical”? Thanks in advance if you publish also good to see that Labour aren’t running from the tough questions they face. If you don’t well , it’ll be a dammed hard slog to win over voters of other parties with the fingers in the ears attitude your party seems to display so often in Scotland.

  5. You say : “For the nationalists, government is little more than a box-ticking exercise, an inconvenient activity they must endure in order to achieve their ultimate goal of a constitutional upheaval that will bring no obvious or guaranteed benefits for our people.”

    If this is indeed the case then enough people ticked the boxes in the last election for a yes in the referendum to be a done deal.

    You would be better to accept that a great number of people thought the SNP had done and would continue to do a good job in Government and that is why the SNP got such a majority.

    I suspect there is still an underlying arrogance present when you state that “For Scottish Labour that means the fight against poverty and inequality of opportunity, the protection of workers’ rights, the creation of wealth, of jobs and of prosperity.” as if you were better on these issues than the SNP. Enough voters seem to have thought that the SNP in Government are better here than Labour.

    It may be satisfying to run down opponents with polemical statements but it will not help you find answers to your problems

    1. I think Tom’s assessment is pretty honest about the complacency that he mentions in his article. In order to change things you need to recognise the reasons why you lost and why the SNP won and won well. It will make the Labour Party stronger and wiser when it realises that in order to succeed you have to provide reasons for people to vote for you at Holyrood, that clearly did not happen in May. What it will mean is to reorganise matters to reflect the needs of the Scottish people, provide them with an alternative and a leader who understands what it will mean in terms of addressing those needs.

    2. Good point Clachangowk , Generally as someone of Nationalist bent commenting on this site I ignore a lot of the tribal and I feel erroneous comments about the nationalist but your right to pick up on that one. As either the majority of the Scottish electorate desperately want independence or (and probably more likely) they feel that the SNP’s “box-ticking exercise” in improving the lives of the people Scotland is much better than the Labour Parties heartfelt efforts.

      Now regardless of who’s the next Leader of Labour in Scotland you’re(Tom Harris and Labourhame) going to want them to become FM so Tom I suggest rather than respond to SNP’s effort which have gone down a storm in Scotland (clearly seeing Scot’s returned them as Holyrod’s 1st ever majority) it might be a better idea to learn from them than taking such an arrogant dismissive attitude, as you yourself know Tom the electorate is never wrong.

      1. The way some Nats talk you’d think Labour had gone the way of the Lib Dems in May. Just thought you ought to know that Labour got more constituency votes in 99 than the SNP did in 2011. In fact Labour has more seats now than the Nats did in 1999. It’s not where we’d like to be, but the reports of Labour’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

        The response of 1 in 2 Scots in may was meh. The challange the for the New Labour leader will to try to convince these people to get out and vote and vote Labour.

        We need a “fifty state” plan but the priority has to be a constituency vote since ultimately that route offers the most seats. The only way to do this is to develop policy for rural Scotland as well as Urban Scotland. However Labour will also have to move to the centre ground if it wants to win the next election.

        1. Two points.

          1) The SNP were only 5477 votes short of Labour’s record of 1999, however the SNP smashed the record for the regional vote by 89,603 votes.

          2) Labour’s vote has been dropping since 1999, with the biggest drop in the constituency vote (of 248,513) between the 1999 & 2003 elections.

          1. Both true (also liking the precision of the figures) but more worrying for all Scottish parties is that turnout has been dropping since 1999. I would think it a priority of all parties to try to reach out to these people and get them to vote for them.

  6. There are actually advantages when you are in opposition to having a Scottish party leader who is not in Holyrood – the chief among them being time. Time not only to campaign but time to think and plan. Alex Salmond used that time well when he was in that position – but then he had Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament and they had run for the leadership as a joint ticket.

    So if I was a Labour member I would be wanting to know who your Deputy would be because in some ways that is just as important as who the Leader is.

  7. Of the fifteen constituency Labour MSPs, only one name stands out as having had Westminster experience, a bit of dignity and isn’t seen as being too slavish to Westminster, that’s Malcolm Chisholm. His elevation to Labour leader would provide some of their more inexperienced, reckless members with a father like figure and help define what Labour actually stand for in Scotland.

    I suggest constituency MSPs only stand as a candidate as none of the of the 22 Regional MSP’s could ever be considered secure enough to take on the role of leader.

  8. The way some Nats talk you’d think Labour had gone the way of the Lib Dems in May. Just thought you ought to know that Labour got more constituency votes in 99 than the SNP did in 2011. In fact Labour has more seats now than the Nats did in 1999. It’s not where we’d like to be, but the reports of Labour’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

    The response of 1 in 2 Scots in may was meh. The challange the for the New Labour leader will to try to convince these people to get out and vote and vote Labour.

    We need a “fifty state” plan but the priority has to be a constituency vote since ultimately that route offers the most seats. The only way to do this is to develop policy for rural Scotland as well as Urban Scotland. However Labour will also have to move to the centre ground if it wants to win the next election.

    My only fear is that the party won’t select a candidate who realises that.

      1. Don’t know how that happened. Although one post appears to be slightly different to the other. Odd.

  9. Matt Horn I agreeMalcolm has always been reasonable and a realist, and that cost him his position. You don’t have to shout and ball at each other when you are fighting for Scotland.

    However he would need to be Autonomous in defining his policies for Scotland irrespective of what Labour MPs think

  10. Leadership means different things to different people at different times, what do you see the role of Scottish Labour Leader as being from here on?

  11. ‘in the shoes of one of the many’

    As Margaret once said and she won a few elections(alright!alright! but not in Scotland) still on this one she was right

    To me, consensus seems to be: the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that need to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner ‘I stand for consensus’?

  12. “Above all – above party, above personal ambition and above the UK – there is Scotland.”

    If Mr. Harris and the Labour Party in Scotland can walk the talk then there may be hope for them.

  13. An honest assessment. A lot of it is, well tosh really. However there are a couple of intesting bits that really should have been more prominent in Labour thinking. For example –

    ” The Labour Party was created to give working people a voice. We need to remind ourselves of that mission, and not assume that those who work hard to improve their own standard of living and whose taxes pay for the services on which we all rely, are any less deserving of our advocacy than any other section of society.”

    To me that isn’t particularaly right wing, it is what labour should be doing and promoting. Yet, Labour have somehow fouind thenselves defending “The Lazy Poor”. I’m sure the Lib Dems picked up lost of votes in last years Westminster Election because of their policy to raise the tax threshold.

    It’s not just talent that Labour are lacking in, they have been comprehensively routed in the battle of ideas over the past couple of elections. Lets not forget that the SNP won in 2007 on a platform of policies like LIT. Where are the Labour equivilants.

    1. In point of fact raising the tax threshhold would only increase the number of people who used public services and received benefits without contributing to them. Surely that would only exacerbate the divide between those who pay into the system and those who don’t – because that is what is at the heart of the issue is it not?

      It would ne a major mistake in my view for Labour to go down that road. Rather, I would like to see a joint argument being put forward by both Labour and the SNP that taxation should be made more progressive, not less, so that everybody makes a contribution towards the public services they use

      1. Could you explain to me how it is “progressive” for everyone to pay tax. In fact research done by the think tank demos showed that you could lift alot of families and individuals out of poverty by raising the tax threshold and taking them out of NI tax. Then by tinkering with the upper tax thresholds you could increase that tax take and and ensure that no one was worse off as a result. http://www.demos.co.uk/files/Good_work_-_web_-_FINAL.pdf?1280230812

        N.B It would cost £31.8 Billion and the matter is reserved.

        1. I didn’t say it was progressive for everyone to pay tax. I said that I would prefer to see a more progressive tax system where everybody paid something in to the system. There is no reason why we shouldn’t have a tax system that actually taxes every penny of income – it’s all done by computer these days so the logistics of it would not be that demanding. That way everybody – even those on the lowest incomes – could pay some part of their income towards the services they use, even if it was a nominal amount. That would end the division between those who contribute to the system and those who did not and thus do something that really addresses the issue of “the lazy poor” which I believe is mainly based on the resentment felt by those who pay into the system against those who don’t. Taking more people out of the tax system would not address that issue – it would exacerbate it.

          1. Hold on a minute, even if we were to raise the income tax threshold, low paid people would still pay taxes. Remember that “poor” people pay more as a proportion of their income to VAT and to duty on ciggarettes and alcohol than any other demographic. There is an argument that more money in the pockets of “poor” people would see a large proportion make its way back to the treasury through those routes.

  14. Tom’s argument is honest and sound. From the many folk i’ve spoken to about this stuff, it’s pretty clear he’s saying things many people in Scottish Labour agree with. More important, it chimes with what many people in Scotland as a whole think. It’s time, I think, for elected Labour politicians to start making it clear where they stand. It’s becoming discomfiting that the main news stories, except for Tom’s brave announcement, are about which MSPs aren’t going to stand. The Jim Murphy/Sarah Boyack report will be out soon, so perhaps we don’t have long to wait for action on that front. Fortune favours the bold, though.

  15. MJL-It is surely “progressive” to have a society where everyone who is able, contributes to that society. By tinkering with thresholds we justs create new barriers to people bettering themselves. I recently read a speech by Keir Hardie in which he talks about “eliminating the idle,useless class at both ends of the scale” through socialism.
    We should aim for an economy where the bottom end are wealthier (though work preferably) and the top end stop getting feather bedded. Its obscene that the rich in France and the US are asking for higher taxes while our politicians ( except for John Mason )are struck dumb.

    1. Somewhere along the line some people have started to lose sight of the basic shape of the welfare state – we all pay in, we all get back.

      Whether it is in terms of arguing that more people should be taken out of the system by not having to pay in or arguing that more people should be taken out of the system by not getting back (by for example doing away with universal access to benefits like free prescriptions or personal care) they are in danger of undermning the whole concept of collective provision of public sevices.

      1. And there has been some debate recently as to whether we ought to revisit the founding principles of what the welfare state is intended to achieve. Why do we pay for someone like Fred Goodwin, to get a free bus pass, a free tv license and all the rest. Egalitarianism is great in principle, but when you take into account the countries resources are finite, you should ask the question, is it worth it? I don’t believe it is and we should seek to promote equality of opportunity instead of just equality.

    2. Keir Hardie was a long time ago and I think that instead of talking about platitudes of everyone paying something in, I would prefer a tax system that helps social mobility and not hinder it. As someone pointed out previously poor people tend to pay more VAT as a percentage of earnings that middle to upper earners. I don’t think the resentment that exists these days as anything to do with people on minimum wage paying little tax, but rather the so called “benefit scrounger”, the person who doesn’t work at all. Tinkering with the tax system would help to give lower earners a helping hand, surely thats “progressive”.

  16. Should you become leader, it will be upto you to save the union.

    Give them nothing, fight them every inch and offer better alternatives.

    PFIs, jobs and tuition fees – make a bold case and fire it at them.

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