JOHN RUDDY believes a simple change in our organisation could pay dividends


In the Holyrood elections, one of the things we struggled with was our organisation. The famed Labour electoral machine was out-manoeuvred, out-thought and out-gunned. Iain Gray was right when he said this election would be won on the doorsteps, but we had shot ourselves in the foot before the election was even called. One of the biggest issues was the boundaries on which we are organised.

By organising on Westminster boundaries, many anomalies were created, where some CLPs had two Holyrood elections to run, and some Holyrood campaigns had to contend with two or more CLPs involved (or not) in their campaign. Some urban seats in Edinburgh and Glasgow crossed the boundaries of three or four CLPs, making it doubly difficult to co-ordinate activists on the ground. My own CLP, despite being one of the smallest in the country in terms of members, had responsibility for two Holyrood seats – Angus North and Mearns and Angus South – and our resources, both physical and financial, were spread very thinly. The situation will only get worse when the boundary review being brought in by the UK government reduces the number of Westminster seats to 52.

We need to review our branch and CLP structure. We need to organise at a much more local level, which will make it easier for our party units to come together to fight local, Holyrood and Westminster elections, rather than the constant battles to organise funds and people to come out. We need John Smith House to give more support to our activists on the ground – and if that means they need more resources, or to employ more staff, then that’s what needs to happen. The organisers at JSH need to work more closely with local parties, knowing and understanding the local issues that will be at the heart of any campaigning we do. They also need to work closely with our MSPs – especially the list MSPs, who should now have a role in promoting Labour much more widely than before. They will need support to do these things, and it’s our job as members to ensure they get it.

We also need to have development programmes in place for all CLPs, to help them build capacity – to effectively grow their membership, their activist base and their fundraising. Much more training needs to happen, and on a much more local level. It’s no good running one or two courses in Glasgow – this training needs to be happening in Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, and Inverness – in fact anywhere where there is sufficient demand for it.

Candidates for elections need to be selected sooner – much sooner. Our candidate, like many others, was only confirmed in January, giving us too little time to organise and run as effective a campaign as we would have liked. We need our candidates to have time to show that they are fighting for the things that matter to the voters. One thing which the SNP has done which seems to be successful is to have list MSPs fight a constituency as well, using the work they have done over the parliament to raise their profile locally. Linda Fabiani, for instance, has fought every election since 1999 in East Kilbride, and there could be no question that she didn’t understand the issues facing people there in her successful battle to unseat Andy Kerr.

In future, our organisation has to support our aims. Organising along Holyrood boundaries is one way to achieve this.

Originally from Devon, John Ruddy now lives in Angus. He was an agent for Scottish Labour at the Holyrood election and is a Unison shop steward. Follow John on Twitter at @jruddy99

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9 thoughts on “Pushing the boundaries

  1. Early selection is critical. We’ve know when the election was for four years – why are we selecting a candidate 4 months before an election? Get people selected 2 or 3 years out and enable them to get knownin the community they seek to represent

  2. “We’ve know when the election was for four years”

    Nobody knew the absolute final Holyrood boundaries till June 2010.

    So no SNP candidates were seleced till after that date either.

    1. True, but our local SNP candidate was selected (well, announced to the public) in August 2010. We could have had candidates ready to go just waiting for the final boundaries. There were very few changes to the draft boundaries, and we all knew there were going to be 73 candidates required.

  3. Thoughtful stuff. For me, though. organisatoin boundaries aren’t the issue. If we organise around Scottish Parliament boundaries we then create the same issue for Westminster elections. And Council wards are different again. In reality, its the same group of activists we need to rely on anyway.

    Early selection is another matter entirely. As soon as boundaries are clear, CLPs should have the right to start selection processes when they want to. Giving candidates and local party memebrs time to develop lomg term campaigns is really important. Anything else just smacks of “the party” keeping its options open for its favored sons & daughters.

    1. Ther problem would be different, and in fact it would be easier to organise that way. At the moment we have 59 CLPs who have to run 73 constituencies – so you are going to get situations where some CLPs have to spread their resources over 2 Holyrood seats.

      If you had 73 CLPs who have to run 52 Holyrood elections between them, you’ll never have a CLP having to deal with more than one seat – and some westinster seats will have 2 CLPS within it (eg Orkney & Shetland).

      I think you’ll also get more engagement with activists and the public, as CLP activities become more local.

      1. That rather depends on where the boundaries lie. At the moment Glasgow Kelvin has most of Glasgow North, but also still has bits of Glasgow North West in it. But that’s mostly Glasgow Anniesland. Simply inverting the pyramid from Wards (BLPS) to SCLP to CLP won’t fix that, it’ll only mean that two or more small organisational units have to support one larger one in unequal measure, as opposed to two or more large organisational units supporting one smaller one in unequal measure.

        After the next round of boundary reviews there will be 73 Holyrood constituencies and 52 Westminster constituencies. There is no good way of aggregating that neatly.

        In terms of organisation I wonder if there’s value in having BLPs mapped to council wards and CLPs to Holyrood regions. On the plus side, they would be contiguous with boundaries at everything except Westminster and there will be only minor variation in a few cases there too, hopefully.

        The problem with that is that BLPs will be large, and CLPs would be huge. You’d have “Glasgow Labour Party” and “West Of Scotland Labour”.

        1. I think its about what we see as more important, Holyrood or Westminster. I also think it would be easier to run Westminster elections from a Holyrood CLP.

  4. I’m not entirley sure why you didn’t select your candidates until so late John and suspect the blame lies with the local party. As soon as the final boundaries were proposed (which were massively different in most Labour areas from the draft boundaries contrary to what you say John) , all local parties were given permission to begin selections and most did, including my own. Maybe you need to figure out why yours didn’t. I suspect like some non Labour areas, it was a case of having difficulty finding candidates for non Labour seats but it’s misleading to claim that a local party was prevented from doing so.

    On the issue of boundaries- I think Mike is right- you not only simply transfer the problem from Scottish Parliament to UK Parliament elections if we organise around Scottish Parliament seats only, but you make it worse. On occasions some CLPs cover almost all a Scottish Parliament seat, so it’s reaslitic for them to be responsible for overseeing the process and ultimately the election bils. I dont know any Scottish Parliament seat that covers an entire UK Parliament seat- after all they are a lot smaller, and when the number of UK seats is cut to 52 there will be NO Scottish Parliament seats that cover a whole UK Parliament one. I think it is just nonsense to say be easier to run a Westminster election when more than one Scottish Parliament seat will cover it? Sometimes people just use boundaries as an excuse. We have always had council boundaries that are different in most cases from Westnminster seats but you dont’ see councillors blaming boundaries.

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