Revitalise Scottish Labour
Seminar Paper – 23 June 2012
This paper sets out the background and the main issues to be covered at the Revitalise Scottish Labour seminar. The seminar was an action agreed at the fringe meeting held at the March 2012 Scottish Labour Party conference with the aim of developing a way ahead for the Revitalise network.
This paper recognises the political and organising challenges that face Scottish Labour and the consequences of greater autonomy following the recent rule changes and the Review of Labour in Scotland. It also reflects that devolving power requires us to consider what sort of Scottish Labour Party we want to develop and what it is for. In particular it focuses on what organising steps we need to take to achieve our political objectives.
The Revitalise Scottish Labour network was established in 2004 to promote greater democracy within the Party. It held a conference in 2004, annual fringe meetings and brought together a broad coalition in support of constitutional change. The main proposals were:
- The power to debate reserved matters at Scottish Labour Party conference.
- Reforming the policy process including the power to amend the final report at conference.
- Engaging the wider party in the decision to reach coalition agreements in the Scottish Parliament.
Much, but not all, of this agenda was achieved and party democracy improved thanks to a well organised, broad based network. Revitalise has always been a loose network that brought together party units and individuals, rather than creating another membership organisation.
Vision for Scottish Labour
While Revitalise has traditionally focussed on constitutional change, there is a need to also focus on the battle of ideas. Defining and promoting a new vision for Scottish Labour. Re-energising the party means activists and potential new members need a cause to believe as an antidote to the markets and managerialism of New Labour. The headings for such a vision might include:
- Making devolution work and opposing nationalism with progressive values and social solidarity
- Democratically accountable public services
- Sustainable economic growth with social justice
- Social dialogue as a process for achieving change
- More equal society – ending poverty & promoting healthy life expectancy
- Greener Scotland that respects environment
- Voice for peace and justice in the world
A set of broad principles could define Revitalise and form the basis for policy development on specific issues.
Party Constitutional Change
Many of the constitutional difficulties encountered with the Revitalise campaign revolved around the position of the Scottish Labour Party in relation to the UK Party. At least some of these difficulties may be resolved by the devolution of the rule book on Scottish matters although that process has not been completed. However, devolution in itself does not guarantee the sort of open democratic party the Revitalise network sought to create. This still requires debate and possibly further constitutional change.
Possible issues include:
- Greater transparency and engagement with the policy process and not just as part of the manifesto development
- Using policy discussion to generate ideas and encourage greater debate at all levels of the party.
- Scottish Party conference is still more of a rally than an engaging political experience.
- Eligibility to stand as Leader of the Scottish Labour Party and electoral college
- All member CLP meetings and potential abolition of branches
- Accountability of MPs given CLPs to be based on SP boundaries
- Candidate selection process including ‘role’ for CLPs and non-members
- Local Campaign Forums as replacements for LGCs. Implementation guide
If genuine democratic socialist policies are to be adopted by Scottish Labour to revitalise the party, the ideas have to be generated and a level of organisation developed to deliver it.
Policy generation on the left in Scotland has historically been limited. UK organisations like Compass and the Fabians have had a limited footfall in Scotland although efforts are being made to change that. Socialist societies (SHA, Co-op, SEA, SERA) play a role in specific fields and the Jimmy Reid Foundation has recently started. The right has established high profile think tanks including Reform Scotland, David Hume Institute and others. Then there are more neutral organisations like CSPP, IPPR North, Scottish Council Foundation etc.
Ideas have to be developed to be credible and therefore does Revitalise have a role in supporting policy development or even going further by commissioning projects? How can members and others sympathetic to the party’s values be encotraged to contribute ideas?
Debate and communications are another traditional weakness within Scottish Labour. Technology has started to change that through Facebook, Twitter and initiatives like Labour Hame. STULP has also been more policy oriented in recent years. In media terms the Morning Star is growing its Scottish content. There is a growing policy community growing up around blogs and other media. Revitalise can build on this with its new interactive website etc.
We should also not be parochial and recognise that UK organisations can have relevant content. CLPD, Left Futures, Labour List, and even some UK think tanks.
Revitalise is not simply about generating ideas or becoming another think tank. It is about organising to achieve the ideas and the sort of party we want. Therefore the underlying principle is that any structure must attract a broad range of support across most of the Party. However, not so broad as to pursue a lowest common denominator position. Revitalise has been a very loose network with no formal structure. It has been argued that the network may need to be more structured and resourced to be both effective and legitimate without losing the flexibility a looser network has.
The purpose of this paper is to provide a framework for the seminar discussion. The aim is to identify a way forward around ideas, party organisation and sort of network comrades feel would be helpful in revitalising Scottish Labour.
Dave Watson blogs as UNISONDave
Check out his recent post on Revitalise Scottish Labour from Friday 15 June: