Ronnie McGowan attended an event organised by Scottish Young Labour at the weekend, and reports back on a varied set of discussions.
With 130,000 members disenfranchised from a leadership election and another 300,000 under instruction not to hold any constituency meetings, Scottish Young Labour did what any self- respecting young person would do – ignore their elders.
Last Saturday, at short notice, they put together a varied open forum that would try to address some of the issues arising from what looks, to a younger generation, like the collapse of social democracy across Europe.
The invited speakers included Alex Rowley MSP, Leith Councillor Gordon Munro and Richard Leonard MSP.
Before an audience of thirty five in Glasgow’s John Smith House, Rowley, deputy leader of the Labour party in Scotland, set out an analysis centring on how political discourse has switched from one about class to one of identity. Within his own constituency he was still being frequently confronted with questions about the constitution but at the same time he stressed that anti-poverty, housing and spending cuts were crucial areas of policy needing to be brought into sharper focus.
On matters of the constitution the deputy leader believes that Westminster is broken, and an alternative in the form of Home Rule would be a way forward. How this would differ from the Holyrood model wasn’t elaborated on. He also felt that in the light of Brexit the arguments for independence were now weaker and he proposed that one of the central reasons for the Brexit vote was a genuine concern on immigration with the resulting downwards pressure on wages. In this he called for an honest discussion and an honest debate. However, Rowley’s analysis wasn’t met with universal agreement when the discussion was opened up to the floor.
Councillor Munro gave a resume of the problems the Edinburgh administration faced when implementing the council tax freeze. He felt one of their major success stories was the extensive public bus service provided.
With a view to next year’s crucial local elections the councillor gave an insight as to how the Labour party was making efforts to regain the electorate’s respect after candidly admitting to a period of neglect. With the support of councillors and MSPs, ‘litter-picks’ were organised and publicised – a simple campaigning tool to complement the more traditional practices of door-knocking and street stalls. The challenge is undoubtedly present for the Labour party to come up with creative measures to persuade voters across many parts of the country to return to their traditional voting pattern.
During the open forum on how councils can campaign positively in 2017 there was recognition of the difficulty there will be in breaking the electorate’s habit of voting SNP, but at the same time Labour councils should not resort to the blame game when debating about cuts to council budgets. One thorny issue which did raise its head was the concern about Glasgow council’s record on conflict management with its employees and the trades unions, in which it was felt there could be a negative impact on voting intentions.
Small group discussions tried to develop some ideas on such things as local taxation, local democracy, infrastructure and how to encourage a wider cross-section of the population to become involved within the Labour Party. The lack of diversity was evident as generally those in attendance were white and middle class.
Richard Leonard contributed a piece on building a worker’s economy which chimed with a few of the ambitions expressed by Scottish Young Labour, like public ownership of utilities, and workers’ control allied with high wages and safe working conditions.
In framing the day Lauren Gilmour, a Young Labour representative, made a plea for greater community involvement, more campaigning and a programme of political education classes. She asked that the party reach out and put the social back into socialism, a sentiment John Smith would surely have echoed. He would also have welcomed the future of the Labour Party showing such initiative in organising this event.