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

Scottish Executive Committee – January 2018

This meeting was the SEC’s annual away day in Dunblane. Really more of an extended meeting, given the amount of business that had been deferred during the leadership election.

Richard set out his recent policy announcements, including his Dundee speech on public ownership, an initiative that is all the more relevant with the collapse of Carillion. This is part of developing a long term vision for the next 20 years of the Scottish Parliament. Setting out what Scottish Labour is for, not just what we are against.

The parliamentary focus was on the budget and Labour’s alternative will be published before the Stage 1 debate on Wednesday. For the longer term, he has asked Professor Christine Cooper to lead the work of a tax and revenue commission. James Kelly’s Football Act (Repeal) Bill had gained majority support at the first stage, and he paid tribute to the work of James and his team on this.

At Westminster, Lesley Laird reported on the EU Withdrawal Bill, which was now in the House of Lords. She commended the work of Keir Stalmer in developing Labour’s position on the Bill and the withdrawal negotiations. The group was also campaigning on the RBS branch closures and putting pressure on the Secretary of State over his Carillion advisor.

David Ross concentrated on the local government budget implications. There was a welcome common theme in all the political reports that the various teams were working better together, with a clear political focus.

A plan was agreed to start UK selections in marginal seats, together with a selection procedure and code of conduct. Most members recognised the importantance of being on a general election footing and an initial 20 seats would be selected. There was a debate about the merits of twinning as against All Women Shortlists. Twinning has its merits when you are selecting all seats as with the Scottish Parliament, but is less effective in these circumstances. There is some helpful research on the effectiveness of AWS here. There will always be CLPs who oppose AWS in their own patch, but the reality is that we are still in a position were these types of measures are required to select candidates that reflect all the population. Those candidates who stood up to the plate in 2017 will be automatically shortlisted as will those who receive more than 50% of nominations from affiliates.

It was agreed that the Deputy Leadership election will be held over the summer. This ensures that we focus on holding the Tories and the SNP to account during the parliamentary session. It also avoids duplicating ballots, with a significant financial saving. The Organisation Committee will review the lessons learned from the recent leadership election and develop new procedures.

The meeting also agreed new Aims and Objectives for the SEC, together with terms of reference and standing orders. The media guidelines seek to achieve a balance between transparency and the need to deal with confidential matters, The ‘comrade’ who thought it was a good idea to leak SEC papers to ‘The Sun’, really needs to take a long hard look at themselves.

The Women’s Conference and structures are progressing well. More work has also been done on Sexual Harassment Procedures, together with UK developments.

Agreement was reached on starting the policy framework in the run up to the next Scottish Parliament elections. Elections to the Scottish Policy Forum will take place over the summer. Richard will also be presenting a series of policy documents to this year’s conference.

The outcome of elections to the the executive of the Scottish Association of Labour Councillors was reported to the SEC. There will be a Scottish Labour Councillors conference on 10 February. Richard has also proposed a wider local government conference later in the year, to allow the wider party to engage with local government issues. Recent council by-elections had been positive and there are a number of important by-elections in the coming months.

The latest membership figures were reported. Overall membership has doubled since 2012.

The SEC will propose a rule change to this year’s conference which will give conference the right to refer back part of an SPF report, without having to reject the whole document. A long standing Revitalise proposal.

 

 

SEC November 2017

This month’s SEC was a first. The downside, it was Sunday morning – the upside, a joint meeting with the NEC.

Jeremy was in good form giving the Westminster report and his campaign plans, which include regular visits to Scotland. He welcomed Richard Leonard as the new Leader of Scottish Labour. Richard set out his vision for Scottish Labour and presented a paper on winning in Scotland that outlined his initial thoughts on an organisational and political strategy for Scottish Labour.

In the afternoon, both committees returned to their normal business. Cathy Peattie kicked off the SEC by welcoming the excellent result in the Rutherglen by-election. The swing to Labour demonstrates the progress we are making at all levels. She also thanked the staff for their round the clock efforts during the leadership election.

Katy Clark introduced the UK Party Democracy Review. She will be looking at all aspects of the party structure, from CLPs to conference, so that it better reflects the mass membership party Labour has become – the largest in Europe. There will be Scottish events and member surveys, although it is of course a matter for the Scottish Labour Party, which recommendations it adopts in relation to our rules. She plans to report in the summer of 2018, with any rule changes going to conference.

The Women’s Working Group gave an update on their work to develop the women’s organisation in the party. This includes the Scottish Women’s Conference on 17 February 2018.

Richard gave his first Leader’s report welcoming the fair degree of consensus in the leadership campaign on policy and his priorities. He would be discussing with colleagues before announcing any changes to the shadow cabinet. There was the inevitable question about events in the ‘Jungle’. Richard set out the process of events and said the Group would deal with matter on Kezia’s return.

Lesley Laird reported on Westminster issues which included the dismal UK Budget and Brexit.

Richard’s attendance at the COSLA Labour Group meeting on Friday was welcomed by David Ross in his report. The Group wanted to strengthen relations with MSPs and trade unions as they tackled the difficult budget position and campaigned for fair funding in the forthcoming Scottish budget. SEC members welcomed this and the trade unions indicated that STULP would be reviewing its campaign plans. The staffing support for Labour councillors also needed to be deployed effectively.

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The General Secretary’s report included the leadership election and the youth section ballot. There was a detailed discussion on sexual harassment procedures and it was agreed to establish a working group to look at strengthening them.

There was an update report on the investigation process into the suspended Aberdeen City councillors. The Constitutional Committee will monitor any change in circumstances to see if the Group could become compliant with the SEC requirements for arrangements with other parties, including how the Budget is handled. The conduct of individual members would still be a matter for the NEC Disputes Panel and the NCC.

There were two motions from Shettleston CLP on SEC procedures which will be given further consideration at the SEC away day in January.

Overall, a very positive set of meetings with a new Leader and constructive discussions with our comrades in the UK Party.