Scottish Labour has lost its way. AIDAN SKINNER thinks he knows how to get back on course
Apocalypses come, apocalypses… (apocalypses? apocali? Spell check, and years spent watching Buffy say apocalypses, question answered… ) apocalypses go. The Labour Party remains.
Yes, we received a doing the like of which hasn’t been seen since [metaphor here]. Yes, Alex Salmond achieved the majority we warned (fear-mongered) against and will shortly enact a ban on dancing that only Kevin Bacon will be able to save us from. But the Labour Party remains.
In the interim we need to figure out what the point of the Labour party is. We clearly lost our way. While “not they Tories” is a sufficient message for Westminster elections and by-elections, reflected in our 42 per cent of the vote last year and similar levels in polling for Westminster even when the SNP was ahead for Holyrood, it is blatantly inapplicable to Holyrood elections. The Tories can’t win here – and that’s not just a Lib Dem bar chart, they really can’t.
If Labour is for anything, it’s the idea that “we achieve more together than we achieve alone”. Says so on the party card. It’s something which I firmly believe in, something which I’m sure most Scots believe in. From the village hall to the school to the steel mill to the football pitch to the shipyard to the kirk to your mates’ three-chord punk band doing Exploited covers in some sticky carpeted sweat box of a pub – Scotland is a communal place. Strongly individualistic, yes. But individuals living, working, singing, loving, with and for each other. Labour should, and does, support this. Scotland has, for a long time, believed in ensuring people have the education that’s necessary to take part in their community.
That means schools that’s aren’t geared just towards preparing those that go to university for it, but ones that give the half that don’t the skills that they need not just for their teens but for the rest of their lives. Our education system is blatantly failing them, many people leave school functionally illiterate or innumerate. But beyond those skills which, frankly, they should have learned by the time they get to high school, our education system fails to teach people essential skills such as cooking healthy meals, managing their personal finances and their sexual health. As a country and a party that likes to pride itself on our Enlightenment values we have to address this. Scottish Labour’s commitment to Sure Start and early years intervention was effective and we need to build on this.
It’s something we’ve done much to support in government at Holyrood and at Westminster, and something we can do much more on. Particularly regarding parental leave, adding flexibility so fathers can play a fuller part – the current proposals from Westminster are surprisingly good on this, but there’s room for Scottish Labour to go further. The abysmal levels of statutory maternity pay and the damage taking extended leave has on pensions and on careers have to be addressed to make genuinely shared child care economically viable.
Labour has been good at pushing equality, whether that’s fighting discrimination on the basis of gender, class, race, ability or sexuality. There’s much more that needs to be done, particularly regarding state recognition of same sex relationships and asserting and enforcing the place and rights of women and the disabled in the workplace. These things are our work. That we can achieve more together than we can alone means we should seek to involve and value everyone. Everyone has a contribution to make, and everyone needs support now and then, in one way or another.
But above all that, above all the things that Scotland deserves, one thing keeps me in the party more than anything else – more than the genuinely compassionate people fighting against the hacks, more than a fundamentally democratic socialist outlook, informed by an essentially Marxist analytical framework, and it’s this: during the recent Scottish election campaign I was stopped by an elderly woman in the street who’d seen our party paraphernalia. She’d voted Labour all her life, and just wanted to give us some encouragement. Not because of what the party would do for her in the future, but what the party had done for her so far. The NHS, houses, jobs, schools available to people regardless of their social class.
She was profoundly grateful to the party and it brought home how important the changes in Scotland and in Britain that the party won are. In four majority governments Labour worked to overturn literally centuries of poverty, exploitation, privilege and abuse. If those governments didn’t end the class war they at least started the fight back.
That woman swore she’d always vote Labour. She always has because Labour delivered for her.
But she’s not “our vote” – we’re her party and that’s a huge responsibility we need to work hard to live up to.
Aidan Skinner is a member of the Labour Party trying to stay involved. He’s professionally involved in developing Open Source software and enjoys arguing on the internet. Complaints to @aidanskinner on Twitter.