Andy MacMillan identifies what he sees as key problems with Scottish Labour’s recent campaigning, and says the answer cannot be more division or more tax.
I have written this article because I believe that something is fundamentally wrong within the Scottish Labour Party.
At the 2015 General Election, everyone took a tanking from the SNP. But at the 2016 Scottish Parliament Election it was only Scottish Labour that got mangled up. We can’t simply gloss over this and pretend that we are moving in the right direction. It’s obvious to everyone and their dog that we’re going nowhere.
First and foremost, the most obvious mistake was that our leader Kezia Dugdale gave a bad answer in an interview and allowed us to be painted as being soft on the union. This one fatal blunder was totally devastating. Nevertheless, it’s one amongst many, so let’s move it along.
In the last Scottish Parliament 2011-2016 we let a few things through without kicking up enough of a stink.
Alarm bells really should have started ringing with the creation of Police Scotland. In 2013 the eight regional Scottish police forces were taken out of local authority democratic control and combined into one unit under the direct control of the SNP Government.
The Council Tax freeze is an affront to local democracy and should have been challenged more robustly.
The SNP’s Named Person Scheme is a direct assault on the western democratic liberal tradition. This truly chilling Orwellian nightmare, guising as child protection should never have been supported by the Scottish Labour Party.
This is the backdrop as we entered the 2016 election year and all of the above factors are within the remit or influence of the Scottish Labour Party.
When you fight an election you need a good battle plan and a good selection of weapons at your disposal. Sadly in this election we had neither.
Much more should have been made of the SNP’s overwhelming desire to centralise control, taking power away from local authorities and placing it into the hands of the SNP Scottish Government.
The plan for battle should have been organised around both the positive message of the Scottish Labour Party and a negative message of our opponents, especially the SNP.
Unfortunately our positive message was not all that positive and we balked at sticking the boot into the SNP. Activists were repeatedly told that the “SNP Bad” stuff doesn’t work and that there was to be no negative campaigning. Thus we ended up with a dreadful cliché of a campaign, with our leader aping and copying much of the SNP’s act, such as being photographed with loads of little kids and having “kids not cuts” instead of “bairns not bombs”.
Then we had the “penny on tax” for education. This really is a desperate old policy, which is routinely pulled out by failing political parties. This policy was so bad on so many levels that it’s difficult to comprehend any wisdom behind it.
We are the Labour Party. Historically we built our strength on our ability to fight, and we grew out of the union movement, which was basically a protection racket for working people. With truisms like, “give us a shilling and we will get an extra pound on your wages”, coupled with “a fair days work for a fair days pay” it is little wonder so many people wanted to join unions. There was a simple truth in the phrase “unity is strength”; it actually meant something in those days.
Anyway, the point is that our movement was a success because it put money into people’s pockets. That’s why we became popular. It might not be the pretty sanitised romantic version of our history that so many like to foster, indeed many seem to think that our story started with the creation of the NHS, they don’t seem to realise that this was a destination point.
So here we are Scotland 2016. The councils we still control have yet another council tax freeze and we have to cut services and pay off workers. It’s worth remembering that these councils are democratically elected and that the people voted us in to deliver these services. Therefore it’s an affront to democracy to not allow councils to either raise or cut council tax as they see fit. If the people don’t like it they can vote the council out.
If we were going to raise tax anywhere it should have been in the councils we control. We should have fought the SNP over this matter. We should have sent out a strong and clear message that a Labour council will fight for local democracy and defend services. Sadly, this did not happen and the Scottish Labour Party leadership lay down to the SNP. In effect the Labour controlled Scottish councils were sacrificed on the altar for the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.
Of all the positive things we could have offered the electorate we came up with a tax rise. It’s like here come this Labour mob again and they just can’t wait to get their hands into your pockets!
We could have said something like: we will build X amount of council houses, we will pay employers part of the benefit money to take on the unemployed, we will create enterprise departments to bring in inward investment and jobs, we will get everyone working which will in turn raise enough overall tax to have both a penny tax cut and improve public services. There are so many positive things that we should and could have proposed, but simply failed to do.
Trying to campaign in this election was a feat in itself; you needed a fair bit of front to knock the doors with our message. This wasn’t helped by the fact that our manifesto wasn’t released until the week before the election. Basically you were going round the doors with the candidate’s leaflet (which was printed well in advance) with no policies on it. When you asked “why is this?” you got the answer that “they don’t want to bring the manifesto out early in case the SNP copy it”. When the manifesto eventually surfaced the “big” surprise policy was a breakfast club in every school. Stone me, that will get them queuing for miles outside every polling station.
So there you have it. We are a party that supports the union but then again we may support independence. You might not earn much, in fact you may well be part of the working poor, but never mind we will slam some more tax on you. We think it’s a good idea to launch our manifesto after the postal votes have been cast. Furthermore, we’re not too concerned about the creation of a police state, or having every family spied upon, all these things really don’t bother us too much. We are also pretty relaxed about letting the SNP decimate our council services and local democracy. To top it off, one of our flagship policies seems to be putting out a bowl of cornflakes for school kids.
So where do we go from here?
Home Rule? No Thanks.
In London there is a money tree that grows year on year called the “City of London”. This money tree provides massive tax revenues for all UK citizens.
The SNP want to give away our rights to this money. The Conservatives think that the rich should keep this money for themselves. Only the Labour Party wants to redistribute this money amongst all UK citizens.
But it’s not all about the money. There are some things that money just can’t buy, with friendship and loyalty being amongst them. During the height of the fighting with the Thatcherites in the 1980’s, working people throughout Britain helped and supported each other, you don’t forget things like that and you don’t turn your back on your friends.
We are the Labour Party. We have never defined ourselves by nationality, religion or race. We are the people’s party.