Like Love, Labour is a many-splintered thing. Never mind the narrow TB-GB divisions, more a 21st century question of style over substance to many people, our party is home to a wildly and widely divergent group of people. From the socially authoritarian types with a brother-of-sorts in Torquemada to the beardy sandal wearers who talk about Marx and Engels, God and Angels (but don’t really know what for) we can all find a home in Labour, to varying degrees of comfort.
There’s a home for us all here because, while we disagree about the means and the inputs, we do actually agree on what good outcomes look like. I’ll avoid trying to nail that down too specifically, we all basically know what that looks like: everybody who can work in work, everybody who can learn in education, that sort of thing.
Truth, social justice and the American Way (so long as that American is John Rawls).
We also know what it doesn’t look like: high unemployment, turfing tens of thousands of families onto the street. Those are, to put it mildly,
not what want.
Neither does Scotland. Well, not most of it. The Tories are very good at articulating that sort of vision and still get 15-ish% of the vote here, so there’s plainly an electoral market for somewhere we can sell one another for fifteen cents.
The Greens are very good at explaining their vision, although somewhat hamstrung by the electoral system. What they want is clearly understood by the electorate. Nuclear free Scotland, radically local democracy, an immediate transition to an environmentally sustainable economy. There isn’t any question about what they want.
The Lib Dems used to be good at that and, in Scotland at least, were seen to implement it. Their current woes (I’ll be kind) are due to the immense cognitive dissonance between what they were saying on May 4th 2010 and what they agreed to on May 12th 2010. Campaigning on A, B and C and then agreeing to not-A, not-B and not-C is just not going to go well.
As for the SNP, well. They have one policy that rules them all. One policy that brings them together. One policy that binds them. The public are in no doubt as to what they believe. It’s their answer to many of the complicated questions about things like child poverty or higher education funding. It doesn’t actually make any sense in many of those contexts and is akin to shouting “Look! Behind you! A three headed monkey!” but it’s what’s they stand for.
Labour? Well. People used to know what we stood for. People liked what we stood for. People still like what we stood for. We know what we stand for. But we don’t talk about it. When we do, we couch it in technocratic language nobody can listen to for more than a few moments without inadvertently starting to think about ham instead, even when they understand what the difference between the gini co-efficient and 90:10 income inequality is. There’s no passion. It’s almost like we’re scared to feel too much. To feel so hot we get out of control.
But that’s what people like in politics. They like passion. A clear vision, articulated with guts and conviction. They don’t, by and large, like business men humming AOR. This isn’t radical Zizekian thinking.
Tony Blair did this. He was great at this. No matter what happens, no matter what regressive governments come after, somethings that government will endure. It doesn’t even matter that he wasn’t that interested in them. What matters is that he was able to communicate what we wanted. The achievements of that first, radical, transformative Labour government like devolution, LGBTQ equality and the minimum wage will stand the test of time. That sort of communication is what we have in Wales and why we won there.
It’s what Ed Miliband had last year and why he won the UK leadership. It’s what Scottish Labour needs to show.
We need to show what we will build, and what will be left when stone is dust and only air remains. Power is hard to come by and harder to hold.
We need all the love we can get. We need to inspire.
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.