Never waste the opportunity of a crisis

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.

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9 thoughts on “Never waste the opportunity of a crisis

  1. I just hope our supporters do not accuse us of following the Tories’ example. We must explain to the electorate that our timing was a mere coincidence. Also, please note that the voters should not dictate our policies. It is up to develop policies we believe in and to sell them to the electorate. It is also up to yourself to placate Ed Miliband.

  2. We could accept the above if it were not for the way the Calman commission was manipulated so that it didn’t consider Full Fiscal Autonomy or any other major shift. That was a mistake and it was deliberate, so now the whole thig has to be considered again.
    Is there time before the referendum? I doubt it

  3. “That is the joy and the loneliness of leadership – you can claim the credit for victory, but have to bear the burden of defeat” – not so. For any leader, victory is ‘we’, loss is ‘me’. There’s a kind of masochism in it, really.

    Totally agree that devolution requires a new govt model, though.

  4. The problem for Labour in Scoltand was that many of their number viewed devoltion as a means to put the breaks on the SNP ….what was it Lord George Robertson said ?.

    Now the Genies out the bottle its not going back regardless of Labour’s 11th hour window dressing .

  5. Devolution had nothing to do with the impact on the SNP. I certainly didn’t support the creation of a Scottish Parliament with the SNP in mind; neither did the vast majority of Labour members.

    The Scottish Parliament was created with the interests of Scotland at the heart of that policy; not the destruction of the SNP.

    Who said the genie should be put back in the bottle? If anything what you see from the posts and comments on this site is a desire not to turn the clock back, but to move the Labour Party forward to lead the fight for effective devolution and the case for a fairer, more prosperous Scotland once more.

    Right now we are the only left-of-centre, progressive, party left in mainstream Scottish politics – one of our problems has been our inability to articulate our positive progressive message. We’ve let the SNP use smoke and mirrors to appear to be left-of-centre and have been ineffective at exposing them.

    The SNP are creating a mindset across Scotland where you can get everything you want for free. That is dangerous. It weakens the social conscience of the country and creates a society of ‘whatevers good for me’ rather than ‘whatever helps those most in need’.

    We need to put forward our positive, socially responsible, vision of a Scotland where society looks for the common good in our policies rather than the selfish view of ‘me first’ politics.

    1. But you can’t concentrate solely on the “whatever helps those most in need”, eventually you end up doing more harm than good. The scrapping of the 10p tax rate debacle illustrates that point perfectly where Gordon and Alastair had to back peddle furiously because they just hadn’t considered the impact on those not most in need.

  6. It takes a brave man to accept defeat and demonstrate a sense of humility something I believe is lacking in politicians from all parties.

    The fact that the Scottish Labour Party Executive Committee have agreed to reforms which will change the fortunes of the party, does not mean that the party has become electable over night.

    It will take hard work, it will take those who have the power within the party to relinquish control and allow us to grow and flourish and become a party of the 21st Century.

    We must encourage the young people to engage with the party, we need to give them the opportunity to take the party forward to create a Scotland that they can relate too. As the book says ” a brave new world”

    Unfortunately politicians are like wild animals “self preservation” just like a lion they will defend their territory.

    Until elected members realise that they are there to serve the people then we the general public will never treat our politicians with respect

  7. Interesting update for labour supporters who favour independence! Why are the Labour party in Scotland so far from the “home rule” concept of the party in the 1950’s.

    “The Director General of the Institute of Directors (IOD) has attacked what he described as an “alarmist” report that called for companies to withhold investment in the Scottish renewables industry.

    In a statement issued today, Simon Walker, who is also the former Chief Executive of the BVCA, the organisation that represents British private equity and venture capital, insisted that the green-energy sector offered investment opportunities regardless of whether a nation was engaged in a constitutional debate or not.

    Mr Walker’s intervention is sure to ignite controversy in what many believe to be a politically motivated attack on the Scottish government’s renewable ambitions.”

  8. Events anent the referendum are developing gey fast. Spokespeople for the Coalition seem to be conceding defeat already, with ill-advised and frankly disrepectful comments on the size of a “Scottish Defence Force” as Salmond calls it. Labour need to have a post-independence policy should Scotland vote YES to that, or even a policy if Devo-Max should be approved if Independence is rejected. Having no position on either is just not credible. Time tae bang some heids thegither, as Rabbie micht hae said!

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