Sandra Osborne, MP for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, says the Scottish Parliament must now be the political priority for the Scottish Labour Party.
Remember that iconic moment when Gordon, having just ‘saved the Union’, is standing in front of all those posters saying ‘Love Scotland, Vote No’? Well I love Labour and want Scotland to love Labour.
In the 17 years I have been an MP I have never been in any faction or camp, I am just ‘Labour’. I have worried over the years that the New Labour project would destroy the party I love . I remember saying at my selection as a candidate that it would be no good attracting the votes from switchers from other parties if it detracted from our central aim of promoting social justice and tackling poverty and inequality. How close that came to becoming reality.
It was to draw a line finally under New Labour that I supported both Ed Miliband and Johann Lamont – and I was right. Whoever is elected the new Scottish Labour leader, there must be no going back.
This is also the right time for Labour women to rebuild the women’s movement. Over the years we have made many gains and achieved a great deal. I am proud of Labour’s record both at Westminster and Holyrood. But it has been achieved by positive action and not voluntary agreement. Everything that has been achieved can just as easily slip away again as women face the backlash that always follows any period of advance.
Without positive action, there is never a good time for advancing gender equality. Remember the General Election after devolution when the number of Scottish MPs was being slashed, or when STV was brought in for local government. Gender equality was put on hold because we had other higher priorities. We have some great new women MPs and MSPs but we need to rekindle a feminist analysis and an organised women’s movement to move forward.
I have never been on the ‘nationalist’ wing of the Labour Party, and I don’t subscribe to the romantic notion that Scots are more left wing or tolerant than elsewhere in the UK. We are no different from our neighbours in Newcastle, Manchester, Belfast or Cardiff. And I can’t tell you how often I was told on the doorstep that ‘I’m voting Yes because I hate the English!’
However, the political landscape here in Scotland has changed. The political focus has to be on Holyrood and not Westminster. Scottish MPs still have an important job to do on the big reserved issues but the Scottish Parliament must be the political priority for Scottish Labour now.
The Scottish Party must be autonomous and make its own policies, its own decisions, its own mistakes without looking over its shoulder to the UK Labour Party. I well remember the days when the Scottish Labour Party Conference debated the big issues on both the domestic and international fronts and came to its own decisions, often at odds with the UK Party position. We survived.
Finally, the leadership election allows us to focus once again on becoming the People’s Party, the party of the working class. People want to know what we stand for, what we offer, and that we are on their side. Working class people are not unrealistic – they don’t expect us to have a programme of impossible ultra left policies. They just want to feel that they are our priority and that we are on their side. They expect us to do what we can to make their lives, and the lives of their children better and more fulfilled.
We have a good policy offer for the General Election and we need to have a debate in Scotland about how we see the development of the Scottish Parliament that reflects the traditions of the labour movement in a modern setting, as John Prescott used to say.
I am glad I am writing this before I know who the candidate or candidates are and what they are setting out as their priorities if elected. This is not a thinly disguised plug for one candidate over another – just my own thoughts about the future of the party I love.