There’s an appetite for change that can’t be ignored

SARAH BOYACK outlines the challenges facing the party and how the review process can, and will, take us forward


Last month Jim Murphy MP and I were appointed as co-chairs of the Review of the Labour Party.   We’ve been tasked to carry out a root and branch review which looks at our vision and the organisational changes needed if we are to regain people’s trust.

There can be no getting away from the scale of the Labour Party’s defeat in May. The votes cast present Labour with no choice but to reform and move forward. 

The fact that our vote was only 0.5 per cent less than in 2007 can be of little comfort. On a 50 per cent turn out we secured only 31.7 per cent of the constituency vote and 26.3 per cent of the list vote across Scotland. While there were areas such as Edinburgh where our vote went up marginally – there were areas such as Glasgow where we lost votes in our strongest areas. Where sitting MSPs stood down our vote dropped further.

But while our vote stalled, the Lib Dem vote collapsed. While we were able to attract some Lib Dem voters to Labour, many more opted for the SNP.

So we need to look long and hard at the message voters sent us. Over the next few weeks we’ll be asking Labour Party members for their views. We need to articulate a vision for Scotland’s future based on our core progressive values. We need to consider how the whole of the Labour movement works together, how we build a stronger organisation across Scotland, how we build the next generation of Labour candidates and how we equip our party and members to campaign all year round – not just in the run up to elections.

While we need the involvement of the whole of the Labour movement in that process, we also need to make sure that we talk to voters as well.

I’ve had my fair share of conversations with friends who’ve told me that they simply felt the SNP offered a more positive message and didn’t rate our campaign. But they don’t support independence and told me that as there would have to be a referendum they could vote no and not be worried about it.

So we have our work cut out for us. And no one will do the hard thinking for us. We’re up against political opponents who have adopted a social democratic mantle in order to replace us as the best party to lead Scotland. We also need to reflect on their success in setting the terms of the election.

We have to learn from our defeat and come back stronger and united in purpose.

We need a proper debate on how we broaden our appeal. And it’s vital we don’t turn in on ourselves but that we continue to work for local communities increasingly hit by impact of the recession and the choices set in the budgets set by the Tories at UK level and the SNP at Scottish level. We need to be an effective opposition scrutinising the SNP as they exercise the power that comes from their majority in the Parliament. We need to set out a positive alternative underpinned by principles of fairness and equality – not just opposing for the sake of it.

In the last few weeks it’s clear from meetings across the country that there’s an appetite for change.  After 2007 we didn’t do enough to respond to the lack of support we received.

We can’t repeat that mistake.

In the short term we’ve got to raise our game as we build our campaign for the local government elections next May. In the longer term we’ve got to rediscover our passion for equality and fairness. We need the party structures that will help us put that passion into practice.

Our review is the opportunity for you to give us your ideas. Our review will be conducted with determination and purpose.

We need to come out of our comfort zone and address some uncomfortable truths. But the voters who stayed loyal to us and who we persuaded to vote Labour deserve nothing less.

Sarah Boyack is Member of the Scottish Parliament for the Lothian Region. She also serves as the Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Environment & Climate Change.

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6 thoughts on “There’s an appetite for change that can’t be ignored

  1. I’m glad that the review will be so wide-ranging. We need to make sure that we leave no stone unturned – and be very radical. Scottish Labour has lost vote share in every Holyrood election since 1999, and we need to look back at that as much as at the latest defeat.

    We need to go back to our core values an principles, and build a vision for Scotland based upon them. The status quo is not an option.

  2. Yet another statement with no tangible expression of any new ideas. “Our review is the opportunity for you to give us your ideas.” My impression is that the “leadership” don’t know what is needed. Why not? “In the last few weeks it’s clear from meetings across the country that there’s an appetite for change.” But what has been said?

    More than any other factor, three matters have to be established. 1) A strong leader with intellectual clout, who has a team with him who are not the old guard, from the same old sources. 2) A quality of candidate who can articulate the Labour Party’s policies. The flow of talent south must be stemmed. Labour’s view of the Scottish Parliament as an upper house for council politicians doesn’t work. Salmond may think he’s the font of all knowledge, but the image is helped by the fact that the opposition has until now not had the talent to handle him. 3) A full raft of policies, not negative SNP stances; not knife crime. How naive! OK parties’ policies may be broadly the same in many areas, but that doesn’t mean policies should be left un- or understated. It is the emphasis on Labour’s values which has to be stated.

    Where are Alastair Darling, Gordon Brown, and the other thirty or so MPs in this debate? Why are they standing back? Protocol?

    Let’s have some leadership now!

  3. Labour’s problem isn’t that its always necessarily saying the wrong things (though in some cases clearly you are) but rather the lack of credibility in what you’re saying. Take your manifesto for the election just past, in contained commitments to a 2 year council tax freeze and to keep higher education free, problems was as party you’d spent the last parliament campaigning against and attacking the SNP government for those very things! However this isn’t just for policies pinched from SNP it also extends to your own policies to the living wage and a drive to end youth unemployment no 1 believed the party of the 3rd way, of PFI, of financial deregulation and Tony Blair were serious about doing those thing and there in lie’s your problem .

    As to how to regain credibility while not in government for the next 5 years, while you’ve identified one improving the quality of MSP’s that not the magic fix on its own. While I don’t know how to fix Labour party I would suggest less assumption about what people want, more professionalism ( really for the party to launch it’s manifesto with the typo’s such as you had is a joke) and finally less opportunism, though this going back to the original point about your parties lack of credibility.

  4. We have to start with the language we use. The attacks against the SNP must be fact based and argued – not blind rage. The construction of the SNP profile has been done in such a way that attacks on the SNP appear to be an attack on Scottish values. The Labour party must reclaim the ground as the party of Scotland best placed to influence Westminster as Wullie Ross did so well. (The hammer of the SNP)

  5. As an interested observer to your deliberations…the fixation on what you call your “core” values is probably missing the point of the 2011 election results.
    These values have not prevented the deindustrialisation of our country nor enhanced the life expectancy of the “east end man”. It’s heart breaking to see that the life expectancy of a man in Gaza is substantially better.

    Sarah makes a very valid point about people voting for the SNP but stopping short of actual self detemination. We the electorate have the safety catch of a referendum! This neatly gives the scottish public real political power (probably the first time in 300 years?)

    If I were looking at the lessons of 2011 I would be looking at what the public wish, just short of leaving the Union. And on that basis creating a model that you can sell to the Scottish electorate. The status quo is not an option.

    I would be very interested to hear what Jim Murphy is thinking?

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