This year’s Scottish Labour Party conference set out a positive vision for the sort of Scotland most party members want to see.
The focus of this year’s conference was the publication of the Devolution Commission report. This was an absolutely vital part of the No campaign, as without it voters would be asked to choose between independence and the status quo. Dave Watson’s blog post gives a good summary – strong on new powers if a bit weak on fiscal autonomy. Most delegates thought it was a fair compromise.
We also got a political vision with the ‘Together We Can’ publication. This quickly became the Red Paper – and as Neil Findlay MSP said at the Revitalise fringe meeting, it includes many of the ideas to be found in the Red Paper on Scotland. The media headlines of ‘lurch to left’ are, even if a bit exaggerated, very welcome positioning. Ten years ago an army of spin-doctors would have been deployed to head off such headlines.
Ed Miliband’s speech has been criticised for emphasising the UK perspective, which is a bit silly as that is what he was there to do. Anything else would have pre-empted Johann’s speech. She set out a clear context for Scottish Labour with a very polished performance that showed how we could use new powers effectively. The one criticism from delegates and most journalists was that there was still far to many mentions of Alex Salmond. It wasn’t until very late in the Thatcher era that we learned not to mention her – a lesson that has not yet been learned in the visceral tribal nature of Scottish politics. Some good jokes and lines though. My favourite being, “Nationalists say, my country right or wrong. We say, my country, we will right the wrongs”.
While the referendum inevitably dominated the conference there was a lot of positive business done as well. Unite highlighted blacklisting and UNISON got good coverage for their police and social care campaigns. These were backed up with well-supported fringe meetings and plenty of time for delegates to contribute in the conference hall. The health debate was particularly good in this regard.
The Revitalise fringe was well supported using a new format – one minute pitch for socialism. We got a lot of positive feedback on this and we reckon about 75% of those attending made at least one contribution. Our conference bulletin picked up some of the themes we thought were important.
There has been the predictable sniping from cybernats and fringe ultras. My favourite bit of nonsense was from a stall helper who complained that she had never seen so many suits on a Saturday and this was evidence that corporate interests had taken over the party. She had no understanding of Labour movement tradition on dress at conferences that only shows how remote these people are from real working class values.
The Scottish Policy Forum challenge papers were agreed and they will be the basis for wider public engagement in the coming months. The ‘Together We Can’ paper, while welcome positioning, isn’t Scottish Labour’s policy programme, but it will assist the process of consultation.
Overall, delegates thought this was a very good conference. There was a much better balance between the inevitable theatre and opportunity for delegates to debate policy. Very much the direction that Revitalise Scottish Labour has promoted.