How to turn our defeat around: a five-point strategy from JAMES KELLY


Some of the recent posts in LabourHame have looked at how Labour conducts itself in opposition, specifically within the Scottish Parliament. People are correct to pose such questions as we now have five years of opposition ahead. Some of the nationalist-leaning posters think the job of the Labour opposition is to sit on the sidelines and act as cheer leaders for the SNP Government. I for one do not subscribe to that view.

When the SNP come forward with positive plans to tackle rising unemployment, we will support them. When the SNP produce properly constructed plans to tackle sectarianism, we will applaud them. And when the SNP come out with constructive suggestions to reduce the number of drug deaths, we will stand by their side.

However, when Salmond preaches nonsense on the riots, we will not be mute. When the SNP rush plans to tackle sectarianism to achieve quick headlines, we will not be silent and when the SNP promote the break up of the UK at a cost to the Scottish economy, we will not sit on the side-lines.

The role of the opposition in the Scottish Parliament post the 2011 election is particularly critical for two reasons. Firstly, the SNP have an overall majority, a first in the Scottish Parliament. As a result they can win every vote at decision time unchallenged. Secondly, the Liberal Democrats have been reduced to a minority grouping. Not only have their number been decimated but they are bereft of Short money, meaning that the resources available to the parliamentary team are minimal.

Here are the fives things that I think we need to concentrate on:-

1. Get behind the council election campaign

Some may wonder why this is priority number one. Let me tell you this will be the SNP’s top priority this year and they are already working on it. Therefore, it is the job of every Labour MSP and every Labour member to get right behind their council candidates from now. We need Labour councils and we need Labour councillors to help lead the fightback in communities.

2. Get the tone right

We need to get the tone right. As outlined in the introduction, there was a feeling in the previous term that we did become too negative. If there are issues like cross party agreement against the coalition cuts where we agree with the SNP, then we should speak out in unity.

3. Gear up for the independence referendum

The independence debate is going to be the biggest issue to affect Scottish politics in the coming years. The SNP have set up the Scotland Bill committee as a platform to advance their arguments on the break-up of the UK. We need to be looking ahead to the referendum now and begin building the political case to remain within the union. We also need to begin to consider how we organise our campaign for the referendum.

4. Pick our opportunities

We need to pick our fights in the next five years. Considering the SNP majority at Holyrood, we are not going to win any votes; therefore we need to reconsider how we conduct our opposition. The recent SNP debacle over the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill is a case in point. In this instance Labour and the other opposition parties were able to use the Justice committee to highlight the flaws in the process. This was central to undermining the SNP case for a truncated timetable and resulted in the withdrawal of the bill.

5. Don’t get lost in the Holyrood bubble

We should not get lost in the Holyrood world of motions, parliamentary questions and Cross-Party Groups. The battle is out in the country. Apart from anything else, it is crucial that we are talking to voters and groups not sitting in the parliament coffee shop talking amongst ourselves.

In summary, Harold Wilson once said that a week is a long time in politics. Well, five years is an eternity. It is crucial that Labour gets its attitude to opposition right if we are to improve our standing in the country over the period of the parliament and rebuild our credibility with the voters.

James Kelly is the Labour MSP for Rutherglen and is the party’s spokesman on justice in the Scottish Parliament. Follow him on Twitter at@JamesKLabMSP.

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6 thoughts on “Making opposition work

  1. off subject – why more than 24 hours after tom harris anounces he intends to stand as leader of labour in scotland is there no comment about it on this site which is surely set up to dicuss this type of thing are you waiting for permission from london?

  2. I agree with much of what you’ve said here James.

    If I may pick up on point 3 ‘gearing up for the independence referendum’, I wonder what you or any other posters think about a kind of Scotland in Britain coalition, not necessarily Labour led but a firm partner modelled along similar lines to the Scotland in Europe/Britain in Europe campaigns that put forward the pro euro message a good few years back?

    Obviously I understand those campaigns didn’t secure a referendum but the model is transferable here.

    Just curious to hear thoughts.

  3. I agree that the council campaign is highly important, but not because “this will be the SNP’s top priority this year and they are already working on it”. It’s important because local government is important. Whether the SNP are concentrating on it or not doesn’t matter. We really have to stop defining ourselves by them.

  4. I can’t believe that you have written your entire article without once mentioning policy…

    Do you think it best if you just choose to ignore policies altogether?

    Just saying…

    Might help to explain the debacle in May

  5. I have said it before and will continue to say it. Do not assume all Labour voters wish to maintain the union.
    Can I not vote Labour and be a nationalist??????

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