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.