SEC Report – June 2018

A delayed start to the usually quiet June meeting due to a combination of the tragic Art School fire and an Orange Lodge march in the vicinity.

Richard Leonard welcomed the election of Lesley Laird as Deputy Leader. He pointed to effective opposition on issues like the independent inquiry into mental health services in Tayside. A range of events will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the NHS – one a Labour’s finest achievements in government. He welcomed recent visits by Shadow Cabinet members, which showed the value of our UK links.

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He deplored the Tory Brexit shambles and the insufficient debating time at Westminster, while pointing to the irony of the SNP posing over devolution when they were at best late entrants to the cause. Like the Tories, their actions seek to undermine devolution. He still hoped that Scottish Labour’s attempt to fine a compromise would be picked up, but Labour will continue to be the defenders of devolution.

He highlighted the the SNP’s Growth Commission report as evidence of a return to right-wing economic policies, with austerity plans that were worse than George Osborne’s. He was equally scathing about Tory attempts to portray themselves as in any way progressive – as highlighted by the actions of Christopher Chope MP in talking out the members bill on up skirting.

His key message was that Scottish Labour will be the party of the radical tradition, focusing on the issues that really matter to working people – including jobs, housing and living standards.

There were full reports on Scottish Parliament and Westminster activities with our elected representatives busy on many fronts. The local government report concentrated on the underfunding of the early years expansion and the staffing challenges in particular. Members were encouraged to engage with the work of the Local Governance Review. The MEP report highlighted the key stages of the Brexit process and the tight timetable, as well as current problems over trade and political developments in Italy and Germany.

The Women’s Committee updated the SEC on plans for the women’s conference and a range of events.

The SEC devoted a large part of the meeting to the refreshed power-sharing proposal from the  Aberdeen Labour Group. There were a range of views around the table, but a clear majority felt that local and national political considerations and the need to ensure that the party rules were upheld, meant that the proposal had to be rejected. The question of individual disciplinary action is now a matter for the NEC and the National Constitutional Committee of the Labour Party. This was a difficult decision, but the councillors concerned wilfully ignored party rules and that has to be the SEC’s primary consideration.

Good progress had been made on Westminster selections since the last meeting. There was now a timetable to complete all the first 20 seats before the summer.

SEC Report – April 2018

This was the first meeting of the SEC after conference, so we started with the election of officers. Cathy Peattie was elected Chair, Cara Hilton Vice-Chair (keeping it in the family!) and Ian Millar as Treasurer.

Richard’s report covered his initiatives on public procurement and the scandal of poor employment practice being funded by the taxpayer. He had reluctantly supported the call for the Health Secretary to resign given the catalogue of failings in NHS Tayside. Labour supported the Continuity Bill, given the failure of the UK government to respect the devolution settlement.

There was an emergency motion on Syria that supported the position taken by Jeremy and Richard. It calls for a War Powers Act, which does not stop emergency action, but does restore parliamentary democracy to decisions in relation to military action.

Lesley Laird also covered the debates on Syria in her Westminster report. Brexit continues to dominate the agenda and the House of Lords decision on a customs union will ensure the issue is debated again in the commons. The group was supporting the Unite campaign on RBS closures and CLPs are encouraged to join in local campaigns to save branches. The Windrush debates on immigration has shown how the Tories have lost any sense of decency – with even the Daily Mail attacking them. There had also been a debate on anti-semitism and the new UK General Secretary had updated the PLP and Shadow Cabinet on measures to progress outstanding internal cases.

David Ross reported on the COSLA Labour group’s position on pay, but the SNP and the Tories combined in a vote that undermines collective bargaining. There had been some progress with the government on funding early years expansion and education reforms. A development paper on Labour in local government was welcomed.

Catherine Stihler also covered Syria in her report and well as the EU position on Brexit. The Windrush debate highlighted potential issues in future for EU nationals living in the uK.

The General Secretary covered the appointment of a new local government officer and new organiser posts. The next Campaign Day on 12 May would focus on council cuts. Campaign plans are being reviewed by a new group led by Neil Findlay MSP.

The timetable and procedures for the Deputy Leader election were agreed. It is a much longer process than members would have liked, but it made sense to coordinate the timetable with other party elections – resulting in a significant financial saving. This means nominations will close on 28 May and the freeze date for membership will be 22 June. Ballot papers will be distributed after the hustings on 26 July and the result will be announced on 1 September.

The timetable for the election of places on the Scottish Policy Forum was also agreed. The closing date for CLP nominations will be 25th June. Ballot papers will be issued on 26 July and the results announced on 3 September.

The organisational sub-committee report on the Aberdeen Labour Group suspension was considered. There had been progress and further discussions will be held with a further report to the June meeting.

The General Secretary updated the SEC on Westminster selections. Most were now under way and timetables will be set for the remainder of the target seats, if the CLPs concerned have not done so.

There was a motion on anti-semitism from Eastwood CLP calling on the NEC to speed up the disciplinary process in outstanding cases. This has already happened and the CLP will be advised of the action taken at UK and Scottish levels.

Finally, the SEC received an interim report on tackling discrimination and harassment that was tabled at conference.

 

National Policy Forum consultations

The UK National Policy Forum has published a series of policy consultations. This is part of the process towards developing a manifesto for the next UK general election.

Below are the eight consultation documents on key policy areas the NPF wants to hear your views on. Each consultation document contains some background and sets of questions for you to answer.

With devolution, a lot of the issues covered in these papers don’t apply to Scotland. The Scottish Policy Forum will start the policy process for the next Scottish Parliament elections in the autumn. In the meantime there is Neil Findlay MSP’s ‘Big Idea’ initiative.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of reserved matters to comment on. In particular the papers on the future of work and addressing in-work poverty.

Conference rule changes turn a chapter

Last weekend’s Scottish Labour Party conference approved a rule change that completes the Revitalise reform programme that started in 2003/4.

Conference amended Clause 17, which deals with amendments to the Scottish Policy Forum (SPF) reports.

The issue was raised again a few conferences ago by a Glasgow CLP, with particular credit to Jim McKechnie who has doggedly pursued the issue. The wording of the CLP amendment wasn’t quite right, but the SEC agreed to look again at this issue.

It is indicative of different times with regards to party democracy that I moved the amendment on behalf of SEC, more than ten years after I drafted the original proposal.

So, what does it mean.

This summer we start the SPF process that will lead to a radical manifesto for next Scottish Parliament elections.

At present when the SPF present the final report to conference delegates can only accept or reject as a whole. So if delegates thought the report was generally great, but had a problem with one proposal, they had no option but to reject or accept. Now they will be able to move an amendment on the final document, which will result in a final document that has the support of conference

This rule change is yet another indication of the real change in our internal democracy, mirroring the real change we want to see in Scotland as a whole.

Conference also made some major changes to our women’s organisation and new equalities measures. These are covered in this Holyrood Magazine summary.

National (UK) Policy Forum report

The National (UK) Policy Forum gathered this weekend (17-18 Feb) in Leeds. Representing the Scottish Labour Party is always a challenge at these events because devolution means that we only have a direct interest in a few reserved matters. The Scottish Policy Forum process will start this Autumn to develop policy on developed matters.

The main purpose of the weekend was to look at the draft consultation papers, which will shortly go out for views from members.

Being the Labour Party, we love a constitutional row, and the NPF managed to spend more than an hour squabbling over how the vacant chair’s post should be elected. In essence, the NPF was only given a few days notice of the election and the NEC Officers ruled that there has to be at least 7 days notice. So the election is deferred. It wasn’t an edifying sight with some pretty uncomradely behaviour. It is beyond me why this couldn’t have been resolved beforehand. Some proper rules and standing orders for the NPF in the UK rule book might help.

Jeremy eventually got to address the meeting. He pointed to us having largest party membership in Europe as a strength and a resource of knowledge to help develop our policy offer for the next election. He didn’t duck Brexit, clearly setting out Labour’s position that any deal must protect jobs and workers rights. His focus was on key Labour issues like homelessness, linking that to the English council elections and the funding of local government. An issue we are also facing in Scotland.

He used the collapse of Carrillion to make the case for greater public ownership and against outsourcing in the public sector. Confirming a real Living Wage of £10 per hour. Investment in English housing, education etc would also give Scotland’s Parliament the resources to end austerity. The speech didn’t break much new ground, but was well received by delegates keen to get onto the substantive business of the NPF.

I went to the ‘Future of work’ session, which is mostly reserved. The draft consultation is largely based on the 20 point plan on employment rights published before the 2017 manifesto. Barry Gardiner, the Shadow Trade minister identified the implications of dodgy trade deals, including a race to the bottom in workers rights and deregulation. I highlighted the impact of such deals on devolved issues, drawing on the work in Scotland on procurement and Fair Work. I felt the paper could say more about the inadequacies of the Taylor review and the U.K. Government’s response. We are well past the stage of nudging bad employers into fair work practices. The paper also says nothing about how Labour should respond to the ageing workforce.

In the second breakout session I went to the work, pensions and inequality discussion. The focus of this consultation is tackling in-work poverty and working age inequalities. The last Labour government did a lot to address child and pensioner poverty, so this focus is welcome. My contribution focused on making the case for tackling inequality, something we as socialists take for granted, but is not well understood more widely. I also think we need to do more work on understanding the interaction between wages and benefits in tackling in work poverty for working families. Finally, a plea for a clear policy on occupational pensions. We need to reform the system and bring greater value into pension provision that is being ripped off by investment managers.

The final plenary session on Saturday was on health inequalities, although inevitably it was largely about the dire state of the English NHS. John Ashworth gave a very clear exposition of the problems and the direction of travel for Labour’s response. He specifically rejected a Royal Commission as a trap. If you want properly funded and publicly delivered NHS, you need to vote in a Labour government.

Sunday started with Katy Clark giving us an overview of the party democracy review. The focus for the NPF is the third stage of the review that ends on 28 June on how the party makes policy. There was a recognition that the NPF process does bring together all parts of the party and gives an opportunity to develop policy over a longer time period. However, the Party doesn’t use technology well and members who do know about the process, don’t often get feedback on the ideas they have submitted. We also have to recognise that the Party has to have a narrative on the issues of the day that can’t wait for the conclusion of a two year process. That inevitably means that NPF members can feel marginalised. Policy Commissions have a range of practical difficulties, for example, I am on a policy commission that is 90% devolved. There was a call for more regional events and better moderation of the Your Britain website.

The third breakout session I attended was on a Greener Britain. Other than energy generation, most of these issues are devolved. But as the shadow minister Alan Whitehead pointed out, we need to join up all aspects of this policy. For example, if we don’t decarbonise energy generation, we will be powering electric cars with dirty energy. Alan is also strong on linking industrial policy to environmental policy, something that the Scottish Government could be better at. BiFab being an example of crisis management, rather than linking up into a long term policy for a just transition. Large scale incineration is clearly a concern in several parts of England and somewhat dominated the discussion. The UK government is particularly weak on recycling and air pollution.

And finally, it was the Brexit plenary. Keir Starmer set out Labour’s current position in opposing a hard Tory Brexit, which is not an attempt to refight the referendum, based on his six tests. In particular, no deregulation or undermining workers rights. He also understood the devolution issues, with a particular focus on Northern Ireland.

Francis O’Grady emphasised the importance of finding a solution that brings people together, given the close referendum result. She focused on the trade impact on jobs as well as employment standards. All options should be on the table including the single market and the customs union. CETA type options leaves us open to corporate interests in rigged courts. Rebecca Long-Bailey focused on the economic implications, including jobs and skills. Barry Gardiner emphasised the risks of dodgy trade deals.

Firming up Labour’s position on Brexit has practical and political challenges. Practical in the sense that the Tories are struggling to develop a coherent government negotiating position, and therefore scrutiny is challenging. Political, in the sense that Labour has to find a balance between respecting the referendum result and protecting the country from the consequences of a hard Brexit. While like most NPF members I support a soft Brexit, I believe that more policy work needs to be done on how the options for our future relations with the EU impact on our manifesto commitments.

This was my first full NPF meeting. Overall, I was impressed by the quality of the contributions from delegates and the work that had been done by the policy commissions. Even in policy areas which are devolved, it was useful to hear how these issues are being addressed in England.

I hope this report gives a flavour of the discussions and members will be able to engage in detail with the consultation papers shortly. If I can help facilitate local discussions with affiliates or CLPs, please feel free to get in touch.
Dave Watson
d.watson@unison.co.uk