Conference Fringe report

Revitalise Scottish Labour’s fringe meeting at Scottish Labour Party conference was as popular as ever, with literally, not even standing room only.

Dave Watson went over recent organisational changes (see conference bulletin) and discussion focussed on CLP organisation and campaign forums. While there was a concern about the loss of branches, it was also recognised that flexibility for CLPs to design their own structures is an important principle and we need to give the new structures time to settle down. The breaking of the accountability link with local government was a widespread concern. Campaign Forums have a role, but they are not an adequate replacement for Local Government Committees.

There was a lot of debate about candidate selection. There was recognition that a lot of the dafter ideas in the Review of Labour in Scotland were stopped. But still concerns over dual running, professionalisation of candidates and how the gender balance rules will apply. The procedures should also be presented to conference as required by the rules.

At last summer’s Revitalise conference, activists placed equal weight on winning the battle of ideas. This baton has been taken up by the Red Paper Collective. While the focus is on constitutional change, this debate is also generating ideas that can be fed into the next policy process.

Neil Findlay MSP covered several of these in his contribution. We need to place equality at the heart of our next manifesto together with full employment and common ownership. Scotland already has the powers to take action on procurement, regulation, and decentralising powers to democratically accountable local government. Subsidiarity should be the principle.

Contributions from the floor covered many of these areas. Wales was presented as a model of how radical can also be successful, together with positive messages around housing and the creation of interesting jobs. We must also be bold on challenging austerity economics as people are looking for political leadership. As one comrade put it “When people say we must do more with less – wave the Rich List at them.”

Scottish Labour Conference

The Scottish Labour Party conference kicks off in Inverness this Friday.

In many ways this is an unusual conference because the Scottish Policy Forum process has not started, so there are no stages of that procedure to debate. However, affiliates and CLPs have submitted a range of contemporary motions and the interim report of the Devolution Commission will be presented to conference. Some predictable sniping at that from a few unnamed MPs in today’s Scotland on Sunday. We suspect the MPs concerned are such poor attenders at conference that their ‘boycott’ will remain unnoticed!

The Revitalise/Red Paper fringe meeting is on our usual Saturday lunchtime slot at the Palace Hotel. Hope to see you there.

We have also produced a Conference Special Revitalise Bulletin. It covers current organisational issues and the battle of ideas to set a new vision for Scottish Labour.

revitalise bulletin april13

Is there the will to change Labour?

Mark Ferguson has posted a piece on Labour List that is worth a read. He contrasts Ed Milband’s rhetoric about party reform with the snap turnaround in by-election selections. Topical given the departure of David Miliband from South Shields. He says:

“The Labour Party is going to have to choose very soon whether it wants to be the kind of party that opens out, embraces cultural change and believes in internal democracy – or whether it prefers the cosy but self-defeating tactic of clumsy realpolitik, snap selections (with no surprises) and the continuing pre-eminence of a cosy political elite.”

He describes dreary CLP meetings that at least we have tried to do something about in Scotland. He also highlights a concern, that I share, around excluding local members from discussions about local government policy in the new Local Campaign Forum structure.

Then there is the choice of campaigns, ignoring the National Policy Forum, not to mention shadow ministers making up policy on the hoof.

A worthwhile read and issues that are equally relevant to the Scottish Labour Party.

Time to build Labour – not ditch it

I want to highlight two contributions to the debate on the left on the best platform for taking forward socialist policies. They neatly set out some of the reasons Revitalise Scottish Labour was established.

The first from a Scottish perspective is Dave Watson’s article in Scottish Left Review ‘The Case for Encouragement’.  He reviews a speech by Scottish Labour’s Deputy Leader, Anas Sarwar MP. A former Vice-President of Progress he is an unlikely left icon, but his speech set out important principles of social justice for Scottish Labour that goes well beyond conventional New Labour caution.

This speech was attacked from the right as you would expect, but also from the left, largely on the grounds that they didn’t believe him. Dave’s piece concludes:

“So finally, I have a radical suggestion to those on the left who share the aim of creating a fairer Scotland. When politicians like Anas Sarwar make the case for tackling poverty and inequality, try some modest encouragement, rather than simply dismissing them as liars. Achieving a fairer Scotland requires a broad-based coalition that includes electable politicians to turn the ideals into action.”

My second contribution is Conrad Landin’s article in the Morning Star, ‘Now’s No Time to Ditch Labour’. He covers Ken Loach’s comments that Labour, had proved itself an inadequate opposition and could never again be truly representative of the British working class. Following seamlessly by the online establishment of Left Unity to realise Loach’s dream of a new socialist electoral force.

Conrad charts the history of the previous attempts to create such an alliance of the various Trotskyist groups and how they all collapsed. Remember Socialist Alliance, Respect and the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition. A new party for every election and they all failed dismally both as organisations and more importantly with the electorate.

After highlighting positive signs within the Labour Party towards progressive change, Conrad concludes: “What is needed now is a determined effort to transform Labour into a modern, democratic and inclusive party that will offer a bold alternative to austerity…. A new party can offer little more than false hope, disillusionment and wasted effort.”

Two contributions from a UK and Scottish perspective – but with a similar message.