Last weekend in Perth, Scottish Labour demonstrated it is a party of the left which has democracy at its core. Furthermore, Kezia Dugdale MSP demonstrated that she is the party’s leader, not its dictator.
Whilst it is tempting to focus on the differences of opinion expressed in the many debates, it is important to note how those arguments were made and received. As a first time delegate to the conference, I was impressed by the atmosphere of respect and tolerance within which the debates were conducted. There was no acrimony.
During the TTIP and Trident debates in particular, I watched as speaker after speaker was warmly applauded (and often cheered) even by those who did not agree with the arguments which were made. This was not a conference of robots being dictated to by a leader who could not be questioned, but a gathering of comrades agreeing on how to reach a common goal – a fairer and more prosperous Scotland.
During the Trident debate in particular, we heard fantastic speeches from the conference floor. MSPs, councillors, trade unionists, and ordinary delegates all offered differing views. The key debating point was the impact of cancelling Trident on Scotland’s industrial capacity.
But whilst the delegates had to make a difficult decision, it is important to note that Kezia Dugdale did not try to influence the debate – she remained inscrutable throughout. Her leadership and the nature of the debate made us stronger, not weaker.
The Trident motion does not mean that Scottish Labour can demand Trident is scrapped, or that UK Labour must change its policy on the nuclear deterrent. It does, however, mean that the party can speak with authority in the broader debate surrounding Trident renewal.
The same is true of the many other motions that were proposed by members and often passed unanimously – meeting Shelter’s social housing targets, protecting public services from TTIP, defending trade union rights, buying back PFI debt and many others. Progressive policies and mature debate from a party which is worth a fresh look.