Time to do something completely different

duncan mcneilDuncan McNeil, MSP for Greenock and Inverclyde, proposes a summer of listening and transformation instead of a repeat of a leadership debate.


Since the election defeat, three big themes have emerged in our discussions: a leadership election; some rulebook changes; and the question of whether we should move left or right.

These are the tramlines we got onto after being defeated in 2007 and 2011. It didn’t work then and it seems even less likely to work now.

We are in uncharted waters. We need to do something new and surprising or our party may never recover.

The result on 8 May was years in the making; the product of our party looking inwards over many years and losing touch with the people we are supposed to be for: a million small decisions mounting up. The way we organise party meetings. The procedures for welcoming new members. How we discuss difficult policy issues. The way in which we administer selections. How we deal with criticism. Over about 15 years we stopped listening to the people of Scotland, not at once, but gradually, bit by bit.

In the urgency of the referendum campaign we needed Jim Murphy’s energy and determination to cut through. He said at the time we should never share a platform with the Tories. He was right. And he went out there for 100 days taking abuse and worse on his crate. When we needed a leader five months out from the general election, it was Jim Murphy’s drive that was required to push us on, leaving no stone unturned. But still it was not enough and now we need a different kind of leader for a different kind of task.

Jim was right to fall on his sword on Saturday. But that means he cannot now be the person to shape and dictate what the party does next. His paper on OMOV will be welcome but it is very much a paper sparked by our internal debates. It plays to historic arguments within ourselves, not the lives of the people outside. The principle – that power should be spread across our party – is absolutely correct. We must address it, but only as part of much bigger thinking about what our party is and what it is for.

We must be honest about what has contributed to the extraordinary rise of support for the SNP. They have spoken to the despair felt by people excluded from the mainstream. They have encouraged the hope and imagination of people with an idea for their communities or the world. On a practical, organisational, human level the nationalists have reached out and befriended people. In government, the SNP have said yes when they can. And when they can’t, they have externalised the problem and blamed someone else, as nationalism always does.

For that is their weakness and our opportunity, if we are brave enough to take it. Their politics is not about delivery. Alex Salmond claimed in his election leaflet that the SNP led the way on the pensioners’ bus pass and free personal care. Those were Labour achievements. We are always at our best when we are delivering change. The NHS, the Minimum Wage, equal rights regardless of sex, disability, age or sexuality, the smoking ban. We all have our own list. Our greatest achievements have been about transforming lives.

Pope Francis said the other day: “It is better to have a Church that is wounded but out in the streets than a Church that is sick because it is closed in on itself.”

We need to get out in the streets and communities of Scotland and rejoin the people we come from. We are supposed to be the People’s Party and we should look to the people to help transform us. In Scotland’s new political landscape, what do they need us to be? We need to ask them.

We do not have long to do it but we need to get it right. And we should avoid personalising it around a leadership campaign. We need to be focused on ideas not personalities.

We have someone already prepared to be acting leader for a time. Instead of asking her to oversee another leadership election from an ever-smaller pool of candidates, could we not ask her to oversee a summer of transformation? Could she not bring us together with people from outside ourselves to decide who we are and what we are about? People of all parties and none, but who are interested in a better future for Scotland. People who want to make a progressive democratic choice between conservative unionism and nationalism.

Who knows what ideas might emerge? Who knows what we might become? And who knows what potential leadership candidates might come forward? We decided ten days ago that our leader did not necessarily have to be currently elected. If needs be we could decide that again and have a leadership election in the autumn, to see who was the best leader for our newly reformed movement.

The nationalist juggernaut feels unstoppable at the moment but 55 per cent of Scotland is fundamentally opposed to its single unifying objective. We know that many of those voting SNP did so because they believed the rhetoric about ‘an end to austerity’, ‘making a Labour government better’, and ‘delivering progressive change’. Voters who are already disappointed by the election result, or who become so as constitutional questions hold the country back from changing lives, need someone to speak for them. If it is not us, it will be someone else.

We have a short window of opportunity to tear things up and start again. Or we can choose to keep talking to ourselves about the way we do our own things. Only one route seems to offer hope for the future, but we must move fast. We need to shape up, reach out and get ready. It is time for something completely different.

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11 thoughts on “Time to do something completely different

  1. B-

    Shows strengthening grasp of the fundamental issues and an encouraging measure of self-awareness. Excellent demonstration of initiative with regard to way forward but room for improvement.

  2. “Could she not bring us together with people from outside ourselves to decide who we are and what we are about?”

    If the party needs to be told who they are & what they’re about, Labours in a far worse state than I imagined.

  3. You say that labour stopped listening to the people little by little over that past 15 years….WHY?. Why did you not listen when the people spoke of their hardship and desperation, why didn’t you listen when they were telling you their fears of the future and how labour are letting them down..WHY?

    Was it because labour didn’t care anymore or was it that you were so comfortable in knowing that you can dupe people into voting for your party.

    I live in Inverclyde and labour stopped listening in fact labour were both deaf and blind when it came to people living in damp housing where the plaster was falling off the walls and the winter rain and winds rushed through badly fitting windows.
    I lived in an area people accepted what was being dished out to them because they believed in a Labour Party that fed them sound bites and only ventured into run down areas when an election was looming.

    This labour devastation came about by your own hand and the rise of the SNP gave the people much needed hope in a labour world that was depressing and uninspiring. In 8 short years the SNP renewed people’s hopes by being approachable and understanding and the referendum campaign showed many others that we CAN change things, we CAN inspire to be something better, we felt empowered by the campaign. We were given back our pride and our self worth we which is of more value to the people than keeping the UK pound in fact what it gave us is priceless.

    The Better together campaign was a car crash no matter the outcome of the vote. Labour stood side by side with the Tories and we were shocked and appalled by the friendly nature of this partnership. We had Labour MP’s speaking at Conservative lunches (Jackie Bailey) We had closed door meetings where only selected labour supporters were the audience you had to convince to vote NO. It worked so far as Scotland voted to stay within this so called Union of EQUAL partnership, but it was all dirty tactics and scaremongering.

    Jim Murphy may have distanced himself from the better together campaign and quite right too. He may have started off well but he soon changed tact and went all out to terrify the pensioners by telling them they would lose their pension even though this was a downright lie he kept on going. Even in the election campaign Jim was still at it with the pensions and continued with we hate SNP, SNP bad.

    I watched Jim on every debate and tv appearance and let’s just say he was not the man for the job, even Kezia Dugdale fell on her face as she parroted the same lines over and over changing nothing she said and only the order in which she said it.

    Kezia loves to blay the blame game and in fact she does it so well that her own father had to reign her in on Twitter by telling her to get her facts right before she says anything. Kezia is not one for apologising either even when she gets it wrong just like the rest of the Labour Party.

    You failed because you didn’t engage with the people that matters once again meeting were behind closed doors. Even Ed Milliband couldn’t bring himself to mix with the voters but likewise neither did David Cameron and LOOK he won.

    Most of the working population were labour voters and would have never dreamed of voting anything else in fact it was like a family tradition, my great grand father voted labour and so shall I. People are living in hard times and they are also angry with all westminster MP’s not just because they come from a certain party but they have become greedy and give themselves pay rises because, well they think they have earned it.
    Ok but what about all those other perks of the job like houses, how many houses has the taxpayer paid for over the past 25 years. We furnish them pay the bills, the TV Licence and we even pay for your monthly food allowance which is now £450 per month.

    Meanwhile back in the land of the humble taxpayer and Inverclyde 1 in 4 children are living in poverty and the Labour MSP’s decided against giving all 1 to primary 3 children a hot shcool meal even though it might be the only one they get in a day.

    People are struggling to pay their bills and buy food on the measly wages they earn or on the zero hour contracts. We are forced into working for benefits and are sancti end at the drop of a hat and left without money to pay for the basics in life that we need to survive. But hold on haven’t we bought and paid for all those houses in London and paid all the bills while the bedroom tax forces families into eviction and temporary accommodation. Why should outgoing MP’s get to keep, sell or rent out these properties you should be either passing them on to incoming MP’s when you are no longer a sitting MP or they could be sold for profit and that money used for the health service. But we can’t have that now can we, why not? Because MP’s need to be pampered and be seen to be living the good life. I hope those families standing wating on their food parcels tomorrow at the food bank tomorrow remember that.

    These are just some of the reasons why you did so badly in the elections and you have a long, long way to go before you understand that we are not willing or able to let you take advantage of the sick, disabled, pensioners and hungry children and those smuggling families out there from all over the UK a.

    You seem to think that the more money big businesses make the better it is for the economy how wrong you are, the money need to be in people’s pockets and not sitting in the bank account of some business man in London.

    Take a leaf out of the SNP book give people hope, give them a future they can look forward to, give them money in their pockets, give them a health services they can rely on. But most of all listen to what people are saying REALLY LISTEN!

  4. I’m an snp supporter these days but hate tribalism. And enjoying some interesting and stimulating reading on this site at the moment, far better than much which I on labourlist, IMO. Good to see a revitalised labourhame. Personally, I’d go for a federal UK Labour Party, allowing a different policy on trident ( maybe some others) and a leader who might not fight the 2020 electin vut will encourage radical thinking in the party and not rush to a quick fix for 2016. personally, I’m a Kezia fan, would like to see her contribute to scottish politics for a long time to come. Which is why I hope she doesn’t become leader at this particular juncture.

  5. Ex Labour voter here. I watched Labour go from the party that would always get my vote to the party that was least worst. When an alternative arose in the SNP it was an easy decision to make.

    The Scottish Labour party secure in the knowledge that they would always get the vote in their heartlands began instead to impinge on conservative territory, the 35%, the triangulation, “comfortable with rich people”, light touch regulation. Yet you continued to call yourself Labour all the while allowing the worst kind of neoliberalism. Trying to pretend not to be with crap policies like freezing energy bills. I want you to stop voracious energy companies gouging bills, taking advantage of complex pricing to confuse people. Hedge funds and venture capitalists buying companies with debt and writing off taxable profits to repay said debt whilst asset stripping and screwing the company pension plans. Banks fixing Libor, mis-selling pensions, mortgage insurance, selling CDOs they knew were worthless to pensions and local authority funds and not one goes to jail! Whilst they are making hay the middle and lower classes take the strain, feel the pinch, wages freeze and real income drops until they cant take it any more. Hence SNP and UKIP.

    From what i’ve seen so far of the UK labour leadership campaign you are not about to change. So do me a favour drop the Labour from your name or separate entirely from the UK labour party, let them have their tax dodging city and focus on making peoples life in Scotland better.

  6. Reminder: WE are Labour, you merely are the people that got to represent us for a while.
    Seeing as many will have been dismissed for being Scottish as much as they have for being working class – just you keep banging on about ‘nationalism’.

  7. A summer of listening or a summer of telling us you’re listening? The assumption in both cases is that we have something to tell you. We don’t.

    Except maybe this: Scottish Labour are irretrievably gone — finished, over, done, dead, kaput — and we (the electorate) would need to be pretty daft to talk to the delegates of a dead political party.

    I’ll make a deal with you all; if you all promise to stop pretending you care about the working man, I in turn promise I will refrain from pretending I care about you folks losing your jobs. Deal?

    1. Why is Dunky McNeil purporting to be the author of this message when he has merely put his name to it? There is a gulf between “publishing” and actually doing the writing. I say this because I know that Dunky couldn’t write his way out of a paper poke.
      And so Labour’s deception continues.They never seem to learn from past blunders.
      I see that ‘Labour Hame’ has been set up -among others of he ilk – by Kezia Dugdale who of course played a leading role in Scottish Labour’s disastrous general election campaign,and who continues to make a spectacle of herself at FMQs in Holyrood. So no credibility lies with her.
      Scottish Labour should ken fine where it went wrong,but if it still really doesn’t get it,then it’s as dead as the proverbial dodo and has only itself to blame for that.

      1. Labour Hame is run by me, and has been since last October. So next time you want to make personal attacks, direct them at the right place. You know where to find me, and I’m ready and waiting.

  8. The Solution is simple.
    If Labour wants to survive in Scotland it must move left and for Independence.
    This means a new party Im afraid because the union is effectively over.
    So much was said about 18th Septmeber being a decisive NO. It was anything but that.

  9. Yet again Labour proves that it has absolutely no clue as to what is going on. They still try to tarnish us with the ‘nationalism’ label as they desperately try to defend the completely broken UK political system that puts the few before the many. The Labour Party is therefore the opposite of the Labour movement as it defends the elite.

    Do we need to spell it out that 45% of the population voted No confidence in Westminster, and many of the rest where hoodwinked by threats from the broken, corrupt establishment that Labour chose to represent.

    Theres nothing dishonourable about being proud of your country, you cannot say the same about a system that creates chronic inequality while harbouring pedophiles and other lowlife.

    Never forget, voting SNP didn’t give Scotland another Tory government, voting NO did that !!!!

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