GARETH BROWN offers the party some advice in the run-up to next year’s local authority elections. 


In 25 weeks voters in Scotland will be asked to go to the polls again for the third year running. They voted in large numbers for a Labour Government in Westminster in 2010, but ended up with a ConDem Government with no mandate, and then 6 months ago they opted heavily for a nationalist government in Holyrood, but will they turn up at the voting booths in May 2012? Maybe, depending on the weather.

Next year’s council elections must be counted as one of the most important elections in the history of Labour in Scotland. The future of the party depends on this election more than the current review and last weekend’s conference, although the review will hopefully set a new platform for Scottish Labour to tempt voters back.

One of the major factors likely to win back voters will be the fact that we will go into the election with a leader of the entire party, and not a leader of the MSPs in Holyrood. Whoever comes in must connect with the electorate and not just the members. The new leader should be announcing what he or she stands for throughout the months leading until May; offering polices that will protect people’s jobs, guarantee to lift people out of poverty and create a wealthier, fairer and promising to keep Scotland from separatist rule and also from Tory hands.

Not all of our problems facing us in the elections will be solved by the new leadership but instead by those who wish to represent us in each of Scotland’s 32 local authorities. After the 2007 local authority elections we took a heavy beating and lost control of a number of councils, with Labour in control or part of a coalition in only 11 councils. I know from having spoken with many councillors in my local authority and having sat in 5 hour council meetings that the SNP never once produced a budget in opposition but now continually attack Labour for doing the same thing. With the SNP in cahoots with the Lib Dems in councils like Renfrewshire and Aberdeen, we must be putting up a strong fight, and to do this I believe that every Labour Group in opposition must produce an open and honest budget for the following year to show what we wish to achieve and where we may have to make cuts.

Another problem facing us come election time will be the Liberal Democrat voters, if they still exist. In May only a third of the Lib Dems that switched to another party gave it to Labour, and the other two thirds to the SNP. If this happens again in places like Glasgow, Fife, Aberdeen and Renfrewshire at next year’s election it will be another massive victory for the SNP in taking majority control of councils that are too big to be under SNP rule. If this occurs, we will be out in the wilderness for years to come.

John Smith House and all Labour groups in each council must have a campaign co-ordinator (paid or voluntary) who can effectively run a campaign in each local authority and these people must know the area like the back of their hand. In 2007, the Renfrewshire group were provided with a campaign manager from England who had little understanding the political landscape in Renfrewshire and it may have been part of the reason why control of Renfrewshire was lost after so many years.

To conclude: the new leadership must and needs to be positive from the outset while promoting Labour policies that will benefit every area of Scotland; every Labour Group must produce a budget if they are in opposition and  there should be effective campaign co-ordinators in each area.

Gareth Brown is a parliamentary researcher to West of Scotland MSP Mary Fee and lives in Renfrewshire.

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10 thoughts on “Leading locally

  1. Wow! The New Leader will offer policies that will~~~
    “Protect” peoples jobs.
    “Guarantee” to lift people out of poverty.
    “Create” a wealthier, fairer (presumably Scotland)
    “Promise” to keep Scotland from the SNP AND the Tories!!!

    I think whoever gets the job will firstly have to have to be grounded enough as realise the above,while nice, is not within his grasp (unless he is Merlin). Politics is about the achievable,hype just kills belief and loses credibility.

    1. Gavin – Why should the new leader be grounded? Why should they be told to have no ambition for Scotland, when that is the reason people enter politics? Ambition is not purely reserved for the SNP.
      The ideas/policies i mentioned are what Labour stand for. No single policy will achieve these – numerous policies will. Our problem was that we failed to express to people what we stand for. No matter what happens in the future there will always be a Labour movement that strives to achieve these.
      I also note how you highlight my buzzwords like Guarantee and Promise – things the SNP continue to break. Keep on with the sarcasm – it truly helps your point.

  2. Good article, but I think there are a couple of points that need making.

    First and foremost, there are NO “councils that are too big to be under SNP rule” – I think that was proven by their landslide win at Holyrood. Scottish Labour needs to think the unthinkable, and that means realising the SNP are on the verge of total victory in Scotland. Scotland is very nearly a one party monopoly state, and only Scottish Labour can stop that happening. But to do that, you’ll have to put in the fight of your lives.

    The second thing is going to be the hardest, because it’s hardwired into the DNA of Labour: you need to forget the Conservatives. Completely. They are not the enemy in Scotland simply because they do not EXIST in Scotland. You can bet the people of Scotland are well aware of that and they’ll be wondering why you keep attacking a party that hasn’t even been relevant in a decade or more.

    Pointing at Westminster is not going to win you council elections in a devolved Scotland. It’s Holyrood and the SNP you need to out-think and out-fight. Keeping on attacking the old enemy long after he is fallen is not the best idea when you have a brand new enemy who is vastly more dangerous to you than the old one ever was.

    1. I would tend to agree that the conservatives are irrelevant – but they most certainly do exist.

      In my own area, Angus, the Westminster seat is actually a contest between the tories and the SNP, and was one of their target seats in 2010.

      1. I think it’s the fixation that’s the main problem, honestly. It seems to be far too tempting to just forget everything and go for the Tories, even when they are the lesser threat.

        But by doing that, you end up giving ammunition to the SNP, who you can bet know exactly who the enemy is and won’t take their eye off the ball at all.

        Eradicating the last Tory remnant will do Labour no good if you follow them into extinction.

        1. Elliot – Thanks for your feedback. However, I think my point was missed regarding certain councils being too big for SNP control and the sentence that follows that should have been clearer.
          If we lose those councils, especially after this year’s election, then we will be in the wilderness, and we must fight to make sure that we do not end up in that position. My worry is, as you had stated, we will be left with the SNP dominating for years to come, and I would hate to live through that.
          I also said some councils are too big due to the size of the areas in regards of influence of population, fiscal control and what should be Labour heartlands – and as we know these no longer exist.
          I do not feel that I discussed the Tories that much. They are relevant, but no where near as relevant as the Nats. Any Labour,Lib Dem and even Tory supporter would and should agree with that.
          Our challenge is how we address that as they portray themselves as positive, and I have problems with that. If anything they are arrogant and extremely cocky about how they go about their business.
          Fair play to them, it worked, but I refuse to believe they are a centre-left party – merely a line to attract alienated Labour voters.

  3. Gareth, words have meaning, doesnt matter if they are your buzzwords or just ordinary words. I highlighted your words because they are commitments that you cannot meet – no one can. I will repeat what I said.
    Hype kills belief and loses credibility.
    This has nothing to do with ambition, indeed the more politicians strive to improve our lot, the better I like it, but BS turns people off.

  4. Let’s be perfectly honest here, we will be fighting for survival next year and we will not have nearly enough time to attract a new class of voters. We have to do our best to mobilize our core voters, and that means the over sixties. They must be encouraged to go down to the polling stations even if the weather is atrocious. Postal voting has never been so important. All you activists get out there and start canvassing NOW!

  5. Need to be positive? Maybe tell your boss Gareth!!! What follows is unremitting negative tosh and serves nobody except the self-serving:

    S4M-001156.1 Mary Fee (Scottish Labour): As an amendment to motion S4M-01156 in the name of John Mason (Scotland’s No’ Full Up Yet) insert at end, “; believes that, while it considers the news of the population increase to be welcoming, the Scottish Government has not acted on what it sees as its failings since 2007; considers that these failures include not protecting the health budget, with a real-terms cut of £319 million and the loss of 4,000 NHS staff, including 1,700 nurses, not protecting local services that it believes to be essential for older, poorer and vulnerable people, not protecting funding for colleges, resulting in the loss of thousands of student applicants in the 2011-12 academic year, not creating opportunities for Scotland’s youth, with one in five young men unemployed; notes what it considers to be the Scottish Government’s broken promises, such as the building of 5,000 socially rented homes over the next five years and to reduce class sizes, and considers that, if Scotland’s population increases, this administration is unfit to face the challenges that increased population brings.

  6. Oscar – I am well aware of the amendment. I typed it up.

    As the amendement says, the rise in population is welcoming but Mary was well within her right’s to name problems that will further arise from population increases and the impact it will have on eduacation, health and housing.

    If your party, and I am assuming you are a cyberNat, wishes to improve the lives of Scots now and in the future, then why not bring forward the Indy Referndum and get on with running the country like “majority” of Scots provided the SNP with the mandate to do so. Where is the positivity in delaying to manufacture the result the SNP want?

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