Ten steps for the next Scottish Labour leader

On the day ballots are delivered to members, Mick Watson sets out ten steps he wants to see taken by the next Scottish Labour leader.

  1. Get on TV. For the love of all that is holy, get on TV, get in the newspapers and be noticed. Voters need to know who you are and what you stand for. Currently voters only have to turn on the TV to see Nicola Sturgeon being interviewed on subjects as diverse as Brexit, COVID, economics, education, health, her favourite books, her favourite cereal etc etc. She is fearless, good in front of the camera and has a relentless, consistent message. We need to be the same. Be visible, be noticed and make sure people know who you are and what you stand for. Get on Marr, get interviewed by Andrew Neil, get on Question Time. This is your job now, do it.
  1. Up the party’s social media game. Find a team who understand the web, understand social media, understand memes and slogans and marketing. Spend money, get a professional team together and deliver a coherent, cohesive social media campaign. We are worse than terrible at this right now.
  1. Be bold. I don’t know how to say this gently, but Labour are unlikely to be in power in Scotland anytime soon. Now is the ideal time to be bold, and if we can’t do it now, when can we? Now is the time to propose socialist policies that will be genuinely transformative. Take a look at this image.

    This is a perfect example of the kind of bold policy you can propose in opposition that grabs voters’ attention and makes them sit up and take notice (and no, the voters don’t care that it was never delivered). Let’s be bold about our policy ambitions and make sure people take notice!
  1. Be ready on policy. Make sure you have an “oven-ready” set of transformational policies that can be delivered through the powers we have right now. Ensure we have mature, deliverable policies across all major areas (economy, health, education, police etc). Mention these as often as you can (see 1. and 2. above), and explain they could be delivered right now with a Holyrood Labour majority. It’s absolutely key to our message that we are seen as a can-do party, with policies that can make a difference right now, and that voters don’t need to wait. Yes the good ones will get stolen. That’s politics. What policies? Bringing green jobs to Scotland. Improving our education standards (please talk to educators before suggesting policy changes). New hospitals, new schools, better hospitals, better schools. A fairer tax system. Close the attainment gap. Close the poverty gap. Introduce top up benefits.
  1. Stop criticising the SNP. They’re clearly popular. We need to win over Yes voters, and we won’t do that by criticising the party they like and vote for. It hasn’t worked for the last 10 years and it’s not going to magically start working now. Of course, criticise the major things – lying to parliament, legally questionable activities, major policy failures – but all of this “SNP need to focus on the day job” stuff is stale and it doesn’t work. Voters think they’re doing a good job. Change the tactics – “I understand why people support the SNP, they promised to do x, y and z. But they have not delivered and a Labour government would have gone further”. Less “SNP are bad”, more “Labour are better, we’ll deliver more”.
  1. Stop talking about indyref2. We can’t out-SNP the SNP, and they want to talk about indyref2 all day every day. We shouldn’t give it the oxygen, and here is why – Boris Johnson is not going to grant one. Any question about indyref2 can be fielded with “Boris Johnson has made it clear there will be no second referendum, and there is nothing Nicola Sturgeon nor the Labour Party can do about it. We need to focus on policies that can deliver change with the powers we have right now”. Reference point 3. “The best future for Scotland is a Labour government in Holyrood and a Labour government at Westminster
  1. Counter the European argument. Brexit was a big boost for independence, and we need to speak to those pro-EU voters. Start by agreeing with the SNP – “Like many, we want Scotland and the UK to have a close relationship with our European friends” – but then change the message – “but the best route to a closer relationship with the EU is a Labour government, because an independent Scotland would be out of the EU for some time”. Make sure everyone understands why: currency, deficit, Copenhagen criteria. “It’s not a case of being too wee, too poor, too small – it’s about the rules of entry, about changing our currency, and about simple economic facts”
  1. Be calm about independence. Of course it could happen. Of course it’s possible. Of course Scotland isn’t “too wee, too poor etc”. But there would be a border. There would be a change in currency. There would be financial issues, especially for those with debt in GBP. It would take time, and a referendum, to join the EU. Nothing can stop Scotland being independent if it wants to be, but there would be major changes which would impact people’s lives significantly. Are voters ready to accept those changes? We believe the best future for Scotland would be a Labour government at Holyrood and Westminster.
  1. Defend Scotland. The SNP have taken this crown and made it their own, and they alone are seen as bold, plucky Scots fighting for our prosperity and rights at Westminster. We need to re-take the crown. See points 1, 2, 3, 5 and 7! If Westminster (including the Labour Party!) do or say something outrageous, attack them, and if the SNP are also attacking them, agree with the SNP. Defend Scotland when Scotland needs defending. 
  1. Don’t be afraid to be Scottish. Scotland is an amazing place, and the national identity is strong here. Yes we share culture and heritage with the UK, but we also have our unique culture and heritage. Don’t be afraid to celebrate it, to tap into that national identity. It’s a powerful motivating force, and it’s important that Scottish voters see Labour as a Scottish party. Realise that, to some voters, facts matter less, and they primarily engage on an instinctive or emotional level. Connect with the voters on a shared emotional and cultural level, be Scottish and proud to be.

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