Barrie Cunning says, as the council elections approach, Labour should remember its proud history and work to embody the country’s aspirations again.
2016 will go down in the history books for being the year when global politics took a nosedive. Being anti-establishment was an overused soundbite on both sides of the Atlantic that sadly resulted in gains for right wing populist parties.
Thank god 2016 is behind us. The question that all politicians and political pundits will be asking is: what does 2017 have in store? What we do know is that the Conservative government is hellbent on activating Article 50 by March, which would see the the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, but at what cost? The Conservative government is strong on rhetoric and nothing else; “Brexit means Brexit” which in turn means very little to most people, myself included.
This soundbite is a vague attempt to sound authoritarian on their weak bargaining position on Brexit and further illustrates that they have no plan post triggering Article 50. If anything the Conservative government is constitutionally confused and bewildered. This has resulted in them engaging in a petty squabble with the judiciary, and in turn questioning the UK’ Parliament’s supremacy. Wasn’t parliamentary sovereignty and taking back control a key feature of the Leave camp’s argument? Quite simply this has become a political farce that has more in common with a Carry On film than a developed nation trying to forge the best deal for a country and its people.
Since 2014 Scotland will have participated in two referendums, one UK general election, one Scottish parliamentary election and, come May this year, the local council elections. Perhaps in 2018 it will be strange to not have to participate in some form of election. That said, there are rumours that Prime Minister Theresa May could call a snap election, but if the by-election result in Richmond is anything to go by I don’t think calling a snap election is at the top of her list.
There is no denying that as a party we face huge challenges, and there is no point burying our heads in the sand. Let’s be honest, Labour has been through a tough time in the last three years. We had a change of leadership in both UK and Scottish Labour and subsequently a second leadership challenge to UK Labour. Irrespective of what side of the party you see yourself with, I honestly believe that the people of Scotland still have an expectation that Labour will come through and as such give them a reason to vote for us again.
Historically the Labour Party has always been about the collective, but we have to acknowledge that within that collective is a group of unique individuals who all have different aspirations. I don’t believe that aspiration only applies to a certain section of society. For instance a young person may want to go to university but could be deterred from doing so due to the rising costs of tuition and student debt; another young person may want to become an apprentice and learn a trade and in turn set up their own business.
The UK has a growing housing crisis which has resulted in many people across the country not being able to get on the property market. In 2016 we had a strong manifesto that addressed key issues such as this and in turn we pledged to build 60,000 homes over the course of the next parliament had we won the election, of which 45,000 would have been for social rent.
The SNP rely on strong rhetoric and grievance style politics and when challenged resort to the usual nationalist rhetoric of “if we had more powers we would have done it better” or “Scotland’s voice isn’t being heard in Westminster”. (Try telling that to the bar staff at Strangers.) Everyone knows that the SNP’s end goal is independence, and the way they convey their core message is about creating a better and fairer society; yet the rhetoric and policy making don’t match up.
The power is in the narrative. This is how we convey to the people of Scotland what we stand for and what our vision is for the country. We have to be the party that addresses people’s concerns but also gives people hope. We have to be the party that says if you want to go to university, get an apprenticeship, start a business or buy a house then we will help you achieve that.
Likewise we have to be the party that ensures that the most vulnerable in our society are looked after. I honestly believe that when Labour is in power the country moves forward. Unlike the SNP we have a track record that they will never be able to compete with. It was our party that created the welfare state, it was our party that created the NHS, it was our party that established the national minimum wage.
In the lead up to the local election polls we should remind people of what it is our party has achieved, but most importantly we need to address the local issues. It’s all too easy to want to engage in a conversation on the door step about macroeconomic policy or what fiscal policy we should be adopting, but from my own experience it’s the local issues that matter to people and if you’re not in tune with the local issues, then you’re not in tune with the electorate.
We need to engage in a positive dialogue with the communities that we seek to represent, and from the offset we need to lay out what our vision is for the country, and why people should give their first or second preference vote to a Labour candidate. The SNP have successfully portrayed themselves as the progressive party in Scotland and have hijacked the language of socialism to suit their own needs, but the cracks are starting to show.
Clement Attlee once said “You will be judged by what you succeed at gentlemen, not by what you attempt”. After ten years of over-promising and under-delivering, the SNP will be judged as the government that lacked the ability to govern.