Time for a Caledonian Clause 4?

In a guest post, Scottish political blogger ‘The Burd’ asks whether Clause 4 is maybe a bit much?


I’m enjoying Labour Hame very much and also, reading the range of views and voices contributing to the Review. A lot of sense is being talked, but the distinct variance of views is indicative of Scottish Labour’s problems.

But I wonder if, in trying to come to terms with the new political order in Scotland, there’s an awful lot of bypassing of basics going on.  Sorting the structure, electing a new leader, modernising the organisation – all good but still people hover around the main issue, scared to put their finger in the flame for fear of getting burnt. We need to work out what we stand for, commentators say, then avoid offering any idea what this might be. So allow me to take you back to basics, and apologise immediately for giving us all hives by resurrecting an old Tory theme.

What is it that the SNP has that Labour appears to have lost?  Simplicity, focus and a belief to unite around.  No? Okay then. Let’s look at each party’s aims in the hope of generating light where there has been heat in recent years.

The aims of the SNP are twofold.  First – and few surprises here – independence for Scotland.  Second, *the furtherance of all Scottish interests.*  And that’s it.  Join the SNP and that’s what you are asked to pledge to and work for.

A vision, then, that thirls members firmly to core beliefs. Yes, it lacks detail but that is the point. The aims are whatever the party and its members want them to be (though there is some detail given on what independence actually means, and perhaps Mr Salmond with his current fancy for indie-lite might like to avail of himself of that during his holidays).  But it is clearly something to hold dear.

Now yours: *The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.*

Wait, there’s more… *To these ends we work for:

(a) a dynamic economy, serving the public interest, in which the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition are joined with the forces of partnership and co-operation to produce the wealth the nation needs and the opportunity for all to work and prosper with a thriving private sector and high-quality public services where those undertakings essential to the common good are either owned by the public or accountable to them

(b) a just society, which judges its strength by the condition of the weak as much as the strong, provides security against fear, and justice at work; which nurtures families, promotes equality of opportunity, and delivers people from the tyranny of poverty, prejudice and the abuse of power

(c) an open democracy, in which government is held to account by the people, decisions are taken as far as practicable by the communities they affect and where fundamental human rights are guaranteed

(d) a healthy environment, which we protect, enhance and hold in trust for future generations.*

Now I’m sure at this point you are all standing to attention, hand on heart, and singing these phrases.  And some are lovely.  I especially like the reworked controversial bit, about a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, though I am puzzled how (d) squares with supporting nuclear power…..

But as a whole, clause 4 – a bit much no?  

Let’s deconstruct a little more.  The SNP membership aims are focused outward, on the cause and their raison d’etre.  Your core aim starts off talking to yourselves: the opening gambit is self-defining and talks about party rather than purpose.  Which strikes to the heart of your current electoral difficulties.

Yes, there are beliefs in there but actually, far too many of them.  If you could only take one bit of clause four into the lifeboat with you, which would it be?  I’d imagine there would be a range of answers, underlining the problem.  I doubt if many SNP members would waiver from saying both, because both are light enough to carry (though many SNP members do so with chips on both shoulders).

Clause 4, in all its fulsomeness, reeks of having been written by committee as a compromise.  There is so much to agree with, it’s bamboozling: when you present this to new members, what is their reaction, or does no one ever bother to ask?

And for Labour yins north of the border, clause 4 lacks a distinctive Scottish flavour. What do you take from it into battle in Scottish elections that marks you out and gives you something distinctive to offer?

This lack of an authentic Scottish voice – part of the UK party, but also apart – is damaging you. Not in UK General Elections (yet) but certainly in Holyrood ones, and finding that Scottish voice is key to you recovering your electoral mojo.

Moreover, clause 4 is entirely positive – how then did your defining political stance become oppositional, where week in week out, you snarl at the SNP and aim to strike fear into the hearts of voters, trying – as you did in May – to scare them into your arms?

If I had a couple of spare days, I’m sure I could fashion the links between your 2011 election manifesto and these fundamental tenets, but it wouldn’t be easy.  Yet, running like a thread through the SNP’s manifesto was the second of its core aims. Everything they said during the 2011 campaign was about the furtherance of Scottish interests (as the SNP sees them). And every day, Alex Salmond and his group of 69 wake up to go to work for what they believe in and what they joined up for.  There’s a disciplined coherence that is currently lacking from Labour’s engagement.

If I was setting out on a Review, I’d start with a blank sheet, then set down clause 4 and dissect it, phrase by phrase. Then I’d run some party focus groups to discuss what each phrase actually means in a 21st Century Scottish context, and from these discussions, I’d fashion my purpose and blueprint for the future.

Finally, I’d make sure I framed the purpose and the narrative in language that everyone can understand and which is meaningful to Scottish people’s lives.

Because until you have worked out what it is you believe in, what it is that you are in politics for, and what it is you want to achieve in simple, clear and resonant terms, created if you like a Caledonian Clause 4, then I’m afraid the Scottish electorate will continue to thumb their noses at you for some time to come.

The Burd blogs at A Burdz Eye View and also at Better Nation. Of a nationalist bent, but don’t take that too personally – she doesn’t these days. She also tweets @burdzeyeview

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9 thoughts on “Time for a Caledonian Clause 4?

  1. Welcome to Labour Hame, Kate. Its good to see your thoughtfull posts here.

    I agree that what we need to do is set out a vision – have a mission statement in corporate parlance – about what we stand for and what we want Scotland to be. However, I think this is more fundamental than Clause 4 – its really about Clause 1 – the first thing in the rule book. That reads that the purpose of the Labour party is “to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.”

    That, I think is much more important. Is our real purpose to maintain the party in parliament (westminster or Holyrood)? I dont think so.

  2. The Burd has put it all in a nutshell for you. The last paragraph should be on the wall of every SLP member.

  3. Good post Kate/Burd/er….

    The thing to remember is that this is Clause IV mark 2, the New Labour re-writing of the original. The original being a bit more pro “the many” –

    “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

    To me, this should be the real starting point, rather than the Blair re-write. It still resonates, and crucially probably still means something to an awful lot of working class people.

  4. @Allan, I took the comment as a hint in that direction also. It’s clear that if Labour advocated nationalised industries and a state directed plan for the economy, voters would return in droves: the Greens offered the way in terms of saying that Scottish Water could drive the renewables sector as a publicly owned company. In the renewables debate Ewing seemed to take that into consideration, and the routemap does reference ‘producing more than 100% of Scottish Water’s’ energy needs as a goal, again hinting at it.

    I don’t see Labour readopting the old Clause 4 (the one worth fighting for) happening, with Labour structured the way it is, and with the focus on swing voters in SE England, but effectively that is why people in Scotland are turning to the SNP, with the party’s drive to reindustrialise Scotland. A noble aim, but one where private venture capital has to be sought because the SG cannot directly finance all of this capital investment with the powers it has. But what if it could? And what if that charge by the Greenos was instead being led by (what is now) the hardline Unionist, pro-nuclear Scottish Labour Party?

    Hey ho, I’d be tempted to vote for that, but I’m not seeing it happening.

  5. I’m afraid the article is too superficial. It goes down the same route of we are wonderful and those SNP people have no values or beliefs.
    I’ve stated in the past this arguement is wrong. The core values in Scotland of Labour and SNP voters are in general aligned. The big gap is Independence and I do not believe that the arguement can be made that not all SNP voters want independence without accepting the rationale that many Labour voters support independence.
    The values written by the founders of the Labour party remain an absolute – but are we living up to them in our costant “adjustments” to suit middle England.

    1. “many Labour voters support independence.”

      Where is the evidence for this? While all the evidence suggests that a substantial number of those who voted SNP in May don’t support independence, there is nothing to suggest that large numbers of Labour supporters in May actually wanted independence. A couple of dozen, at most, probably.

      1. where is your proof that only “a couple of dozen” Labour voters support indendance.

        Has anyone bothered to ask your electorate what they actually want ?

      2. Don’t you ask people how they would vote in an independence referendum when you canvass them?

        You may be in for a shock then.

      3. There was an opinion poll last year which asked whether people wanted an independent Scotland which surprised me. Not in the overall numbers – that was still in the 25% area. No, it was the fact that 8% of Labour voters also wanted independence.

        Not sure how reliable it was – it also suggested we would win the Holyrood election by a country mile!

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