Following the hangover of the 2015 General Election, politics would seem to move swiftly and in some ways crushingly forward. With the map swept yellow in Scotland and in England a rich Tory blue, I believe more ‘regular folk’ are busy thumbing through the political landscape looking to connect somewhere between the two in this politically polarised country.
But Caledonian sleeper doesn’t stop, and its next station is 2016 and the Scottish Parliament elections. So how does Scottish Labour pitch its passion? How do we convince our former heartlands we are worth voting for?
Well I’ve been a party member now since 2005, I’m 24 years of age and have been thankfully, gainfully employed since the age of 16. I’ve always had a sense of self in Labour, feeling Labour would always grow into the party that adapts and connects with each generation.
I’ve had the privilege of growing up the son of a Labour politician; since I was 11 my dad was a councillor before going on to become an MP when I was 20. I know it was a massive honour for my father to represent his home town as MP. I’ve always admired his work ethic in achieving that goal, and the pride and passion of wearing that red rosette. But nevertheless I’ve had to guard my views and actions on our political landscape; frustrating when you inhabit a working environment of dynamic change.
This guarded approach to suggested change was very much self-imposed and now, given where we are as a party, I can throw off the self imposed opinion freeze and set out my view on our party’s development.
Scottish Labour has too many splinters. We spend so much time debating internally about what we stand for that I don’t blame others for being confused. We need to resolve this, stop talking about Scotland and start talking to Scotland. Categorically we need to be a ‘big tent’ as our neighbours across the pond like to say.
Change the party from the top
People don’t trust politicians any more. That’s what we are told, but I am of the generation that can’t believe they ever did. This well-repeated public comment is fuelled by the actions of a few bad eggs and the expenses scandals or perceived bending of rules.
It’s long been a running joke that you could put a Labour rosette on a donkey and Glasgow would vote it in (no disrespect to past Labour MP’s for Glasgow)… Well, not any more.
In the eyes of many, we became the establishment; we appeared to lose our political passion for challenging the norm and shaking the status quo. And it’s not just that. The general feeling from many people is Scottish Labour MPs and MSPs get voted in, making big promises locally, go to Holyrood or Westminster and then get told what to do and what to say.
People want directly accountable democracy. Recently Westminster voted on a bill to finally give people the ability to recall an MP they believe is not doing the job properly. We need to deliver this to Holyrood and to stop the complacency we are accused of. Let’s set term limits, much like a US governor or president. A limit of three elected terms would prevent atrophy and attract an influx of new talent, and that never hurts.
Let’s discuss what Brian May and his advocacy group Common Decency has been calling for: the abolition of the whip system in Parliament. Any time I speak to non-political people they hate that their elected officials go to Parliament and get whipped how to vote. I firmly believe to take back the mantle as the party of the people and set ourselves up as a very different shade of politics we should implement the code of conduct in place of the whip as proposed by former independent MP Martin Bell.
The Bell Principles
abide wholeheartedly by the spirit and letter of the Seven Principles of Public Life set out by Lord Nolan in 1995: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership
be guided by considered evidence, our real world experience and expertise, our constituencies and our consciences
be free from the control of any political party, pressure group or whip
be ethical, non-discriminatory, and committed to pluralism
make decisions transparently and openly at every stage and level of the political process, enabling people to see how decisions are made and the evidence on which they are based
listen, consulting our communities constantly and innovatively
treat political opponents with courtesy and respect, challenging them when we believe they are wrong, and agreeing with them when we believe they are right
resist abuses of power and patronage and promote democracy at every level
work with other elected independents as a Group with a chosen spokesperson
claim expenses, salaries and compensation openly so the public can judge the value for money of our activities
Understanding the Message Matters
I’ve always identified myself as a socialist. Why? Well I believe to my core Scotland and Britain is split and has been for far too long: along the lines of haves and have nots, the impoverished and the wealthy, or any other way you wish to word it. If you work in a supermarket and you can’t afford to shop there, that’s a travesty of society. So why doesn’t that message resonate?
Well stay with me here, the politics of 1915 is not the politics of 2015. Let’s stop harking on about the past and start aspiring towards a new record. I’m not saying don’t be proud of the NHS, the Welfare State or the National Minimum Wage, but let’s build on that legacy and seek inspiration to take Scottish Labour forward into 2016 and beyond.
People around my age have more issues outside the class argument intertwined in our political thinking. I can’t begin to imagine the devastation Margaret Thatcher imposed on the Scottish people; but this is part of the problem! I never experienced Thatcher’s Britain and most people in my age group haven’t either, so that message of ‘Remember how bad the Tories were?’ doesn’t have the same reaction it does with our traditional base.
So what is a message for my generation?
Climate change I believe will be the biggest challenge my generation faces. The problem is we need action now to avert the climate course the whole country is on. The SNP have made fantastic efforts to go green, there’s no bashing them on that. Why can’t we go further?
We need stricter emission tax laws, not cutting corporation tax like the SNP. We need to look at adding Tesla power packs to every school in Scotland, so our underfunded education gets a more manageable budget and promotes green energy as our future. We need a strong party that recognises a green economy works for everyone, helping to solve our economic, employment and climate change problems.
What else? As we can’t be a single issue party and we never have been. Scotland’s ills are numerous and I mean that with a sentiment of recognising the problem, not talking Scotland down.
Perhaps Scottish Labour needed stunned to realise the monumental task we still have to solve. We have so many issues, infant poverty, low life expectancy, high unemployment, our towns have declining birth-rates and our cities deal with high crime rates. Drugs, alcohol and gambling addiction are common enemies in the majority of our poorer communities.
So what’s the solution to elevating and hopefully eliminating these problems imbedded in our post referendum society?
Home Rule? Many of you might disagree and that is your entitlement, but I firmly believe we need to deliver on the ideas of James Maxton and grant Scotland the ability to be a nation within a union. Devolution should not stop at a national level, I agreed with Jim when he said we need to devolve more power to local authorities and I still think this will be the only solution to delivering lasting change across Scottish constituencies. In Inverclyde alone (my own constituency) I think it would be a game changer to be able to refuse so many gambling shops a licence on the single basis it would determinately affect our community. And what of the potential to look at a local income tax set locally based on increasing employment and pay, as opposed to the prospect of the continuing frozen budgets our councils have had to rigorously navigate since 2007.
I believe Scotland can lead the way on drug policy. As an ethical society we should look to treat drug addiction as a medical issue rather than a criminal one. If we put money and resources towards initiatives such as drug courts, abstinence-based assisted recovery and work programmes such as social enterprises we can finally look to solve the issues communities like my own want resolved.
If we become the party that demands the powers for a federal, devo-max Scotland we can even debate issues such as the decriminalisation of cannabis which has so far been an incredibly successful venture in Colorado and Washington. Perhaps this would work more effectively than giving Scotland’s youth a criminal record and adding to the unemployment line.
We need to be bold and tackle issues the public are talking about, not the ones we think they need. Roughly 80% of the general public believe we should legalise assisted suicide yet we dither on the moral aspects of this issue. Seemingly most of these moral objections come from religious community leaders. Much like equal marriage I believe it’s your right as an individual. If you wish to choose when you die due to a terminal illness, who am I to stop you? Given that many young people like myself are of an atheist or agnostic viewpoint, religious objections should not be forced upon others.
Final thoughts and future hopes
As I said earlier, there is no doubt we have just endured a pulverising defeat, but in doing so gained a massive opportunity to change Scottish Labour and an even greater chance to change Scottish politics.
Nine months removed from the biggest political decision our nation has ever faced, in the wave of elation at preserving the union, we forgot. We forgot that as a party we have failed those 45% that saw no hope, no future and little prospects with business as usual governance. We failed to empathise with, encourage and drive the hopes of the next generation who face potentially the biggest challenges on a global scale since 1939. We failed!
That is not good enough for them, it is not good enough for me and it should not be good enough for you. I entered politics as an ideological very young man, to fight a war on poverty and not wage war against the impoverished. I campaigned to empower social justice, not condemn those who seek equality.
We can achieve these goals! We can move this country forward and create new waves of change and end the division that exists. Change comes with first recognising that a problem exists. Today we see the problem and we seek a solution.
We forever maintain we Scots are the progressives in a union of conservatism. Let’s lead from the front! Let’s deliver a fairer society, with fair pay and more powers to end Scottish poverty and then let’s change the thinking of the rest of the UK as a beacon of prosperity.