IAIN GRAY recognises that after defeat and crisis comes the opportunity for renewal
The reforms to Scottish Labour agreed by the Scottish Executive Committee on Saturday will provide a positive platform for the party to move forward.
On the day after the Scottish Parliament election I announced that I would step down as leader, primarily because I take responsibility for our terrible result. That is the joy and the loneliness of leadership – you can claim the credit for victory, but have to bear the burden of defeat.
But I also believed that we had to send a powerful and immediate signal to the people of Scotland that we understood just how bad the result was. On that awful Friday there seemed to me only one way to do that, and so I made my announcement quickly.
I did not, however step down immediately, because I also wanted to send a signal to the party that anyone who thought that simply replacing me would resolve our position would be fooling themselves. We needed a fundamental rethink.
It is widely accepted now that Labour devolved the United Kingdom in 1999, but did not devolve itself to match that new reality. Frankly, I believe that was for the best of reasons. Hugely proud of the Scottish Parliament we had created, we focussed on using the institution to reshape our country, to make it fairer, more prosperous and prouder than ever of its place in the world. Land reform, homelessness, care of the elderly, the smoking ban, supporting dynamic new industrial sectors in energy and the life sciences: building a modern 21st century devolved Scotland took precedence over building a modern 21st century devolved Scottish Labour Party.
However, that became a weakness in convincing Scottish voters of our aspirations for a better Scotland, and our capacity to deliver.
President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel, famously said “never waste the opportunity of a crisis”. We have not wasted this opportunity. Recent months have not been a hiatus as some have claimed. Rather, Sarah Boyack and Jim Murphy have produced recommendations for significant reforms to how we organise which will create not just greater discipline in our campaigning but unity of purpose in our pursuit of a better Scotland through Labour values of fairness, opportunity, equality and solidarity.
In the most difficult of times we have searched for, and found, the reserves of self confidence needed to open up and move forward rather than retreat. The recommendations agreed by the executive will see the Scottish leadership and the Scottish party take on greater responsibility for our own capacity and strategy. They are a measure of our strength, not our weakness. And there is more to come, for these are only the interim recommendations.
We can spend time regretting that we did not reform sooner. But this crisis was the opportunity, and we have seized it. If I were not the outgoing leader I would be standing now because my successor now has a tremendous opportunity to take Labour forward in Scotland.
Iain Gray is the MSP for East Lothian and the leader of Labour’s MSPs at Holyrood.