Jamie Glackin, Chair of Scottish Labour, faces up to the ‘challenges’ for ‘ordinary working families’ and finds opportunities and important work to do.
Welcome back to Labour Hame. As Chair of Scottish Labour I felt I should contribute something early on. But where to start? Oh, I know…
There are two phrases in the Lexicon of Labour Politics that consistently jar with me. The first is ‘ordinary working families,’ a particular favourite during the Brown years. I would often question just how many ‘ordinary’ families that I actually knew. Turns out it wasn’t that many. My own one, I felt, was a little bit odd, a tad dysfunctional at times, but certainly full of love and encouragement, and tinged with some ambition I might add. And whilst we could perhaps be described as ‘ordinary,’ it was not something we ever aspired to be. Nor in fact does anyone I know.
Of course life throws up all sorts of ‘challenges’ on the way, where the choices made will determine a course. Which brings me to the second jarring piece of the lexicon: ‘challenges’.
Since the referendum result I have lost count of the number of times that people have told me about the ‘challenges for Scottish Labour’. Or the ‘challenges ahead’. I believe that a healthy dose of realism is a good thing, but at the same time focussing on challenge rather than opportunity is a sure way of determining a course of travel.
And I take my hat off to the SNP in this regard. Despite a conclusive defeat for the Yes campaign, you wouldn’t think it. They have made giant strides in terms of membership and have an energy at the moment that we just don’t have. Like many people who attended Annual Conference this year, I spent most of it in a fug thanks to the previous months of knocking doors and sleepless nights. I also know that many of our elected members and party staff haven’t had a day off in ages. But then again, neither have the SNP’s.
Its vitally important, as a first principle, that we remember that we won the referendum. And in winning, we gain the freedom to explore the opportunities that playing a full part in the United Kingdom provides. As committed devolutionists it is for us to shout from the rooftops that devolution allows us in Scotland to tackle social ills and inequalities. And to show people just how radical the Labour movement can be when it puts its mind to it.
Like many Labour members, I am sometimes frustrated by the glacial pace with which we sometimes move. But I know that there is an opportunity now for us to be more radical than we have ever been. In tandem, we need to complete the reform of the Scottish Labour Party as demanded by the Review – not for its own sake, but to allow us to talk and develop policy more freely.
Thankfully the party’s Scottish Policy Forum is now looking at detail at the critical policy choices we have to make. We need to be talking now about the offer to the Scottish electorate in 2015, moving into the 2016 Scottish Parliament and 2017 local government. That’s not to say that we have show all our cards at once, but for me it has to be about fighting on our own territory. That’s housing, health and education, all of which are devolved and all of which should be key priorities in the 2015 general election manifesto.
The priorities of Labour heartlands are the same throughout the UK. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
In my day job, I often visit social housing and see the building fabric at first hand. People living in the poorest properties in terms of construction and energy efficiency are usually the poorest people in general, with the poorest health outcomes and the poorest life opportunities. When children are born into families living in these properties, their life chances are often severely limited from day one. By primary school, its easy to spot the ones who will probably succeed in life, and those who will struggle. The reason I joined the Labour Party in the first place was to do something about this scandal.
Its also no coincidence that many of the families I have just described were persuaded by the Yes campaign that independence offered a silver bullet to their problems. This, I believe, was a particularly cruel offer to make. It is political will that makes a difference to inequality, not whether power is exercised from that building or another one. The opportunity, then, as I see it, is to pledge to make lives better through our offers on housing, health and education. Not to tinker round the edges of inequality, but to fundamentally alter life opportunities. That, it seems to me, is how we deliver for our heartlands.
So comrades, dust yourselves down. The referendum is over. And remember, we’re not in the independence business, we’re in the life- changing business. Not just challenges, but opportunities as well. That’s a good place to start.