Towards an evidence-informed Labour Party

Labour can convince only if it ditches its knee-jerk approach to policy-making, says AIDAN SKINNER


Frequently lauded as “most sophisticated electorate in the world” (mostly by ourselves, it has to be said) the Scottish electorate aren’t dim. They may not be deeply interested in wonkery, but they can tell the difference between thought through, coherent policies and ones which are backed only by truthiness.

Not only can people tell when policies haven’t been properly thought through, but they can tell when activists don’t understand them. The carry-a-knife-go-to-jail policy was under-developed and impossible to sell, as Andy Kerr comprehensively demonstrated on Newsnicht at the start of the campaign. And that was if people had been able to dig out the details in the short space of time available, as if it was just sort of lobbed in there without being properly discussed.

Which brings me to the other side of this: it’s not just enough to be properly informed about policy; we have to be properly informed in order to make good policy. Now, I’m not arguing that every party member needs to be able to spout crime rate statistics at the drop of a hat, but in order to exercise meaningful input into the policy-making process, members need to have a proper understanding of both the issue and the potential solutions on offer

This isn’t happening either. Every time minimum pricing comes up, people assert that it would raise the price of alcohol for everyone (which is, uhm, exactly the difference between minimum pricing and a rise in duty).

If we’re going to move beyond the blase, the blatantly reactionary, knee-jerk approach to policy that has served us so poorly, we need to get better at political education, and not deliberately propagate misunderstandings for short term positional advantage. That definitely has to stop. It leaves us exposed and attempting to defend the indefensible.

I’m not advocating a purely technocratic approach to policy; there are all sorts of debates to be had about what constitutes evidence, how that evidence should be interpreted, how applicable that evidence is and what policies that evidence supports or does not support. Which is why I titled this as “evidence-informed”, rather than “evidence based” (or worse, “evidence-led”).

But if we’re going to develop a credible vision for Scotland’s future then surely that has to be on as strong an evidence base as possible. Otherwise it will be unconvincing and, worse, undeliverable.

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.

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5 thoughts on “Towards an evidence-informed Labour Party

  1. Reality based politics. A thing all parties need to adopt more of. Good article 🙂

  2. Good post that highlights the two (of the three) big tactical blunders Labour made in the run up to the Election.

    The policy of carry-a-knife-go-to-jail felt like it was concocted on the back of a fag packet and, lets be honest, did not provide enough of a deterent.

    Minimum pricing was a huge tactical blunder. If Labour were going to come out against it, they should have argued that minumum pricing just isn’t going to work. That people who want to drink will drink regardless of price and that price is not enough of a deterent to drinking. yet what we had was some sort of wishy washy argument about supermarkets profiting. There was an argument against Minimum pricing, it’s just Labour didn’t make it.

    I think that what was shown is that there was little or no thought about policy, let alone any tactical nous.

    1. But didn’t the evidence show that it would work (it worked elsewhere)? Maybe that’s why Labour didn’t use that argument – the evidence didn’t back it up.

  3. What political parties need to do, is to identify an objective & then set out to find the best ways of delivering it through research & evidence. The SNP are quite good at that with some things, like justice policy. Theirs is working it is producing results. Labour’s was rubbish, because it wasn’t based on evidence, just wishful thinking.

    But the SNP can fall just as much into the trap – for example the Corporation Tax policy, that is just wishful thinking & the evidence isn’t there, although they claim it is by cherry picking what they like.

    There are lots of nice people all over the world who do research & produce evidence on just about everything you can think of. That should not be used to back up a policy just because you like the policy. Evidence should be used to evaluate what policy you should use to get the outcomes you want.

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