I voted Yes, but I won’t be joining the SNP

I am a Labour Party member who voted Yes in the independence referendum, but I won’t be joining the SNP or any other party.

I voted Yes for a complex array of reasons and it was a close call. Partly out of despair over Westminster politics, not just current Tory policies, I expect them to be wicked, but the whole style of political behaviour. The professionalisation of politics in particular. I work for a third sector organisation and I can see how liberating devolution has been. Admittedly, often stronger on process than substance, but effective dialogue matters if we are to find solutions to the complex problems that face Scotland. I was therefore disappointed with the Labour Devolution Commission report. I also believe independence would be good for the Scottish Labour Party. Freed from the inevitable compromises it makes as part of a UK party it could develop a realistic yet radical policy programme.

I recognise that I didn’t manage to persuade many of my friends of the case for independence. They liked the vision, but felt the practicalities just hadn’t been thought through. I accept that and will move on – I won’t be joining the nonsense of ‘the45’. I am also deeply unhappy at the ‘traitor’, ‘tricked’ narrative and the attack on older people, who care deeply about a future for their children and grandchildren. This is nationalism at its divisive worse and shocking from the First Minister.

However, in moving on I did consider changing my political party. Whatever the failings of political parties, they are the route to achieving real change. Just shouting from the sidelines isn’t enough for me.

A couple of friends have joined the apparent surge in SNP membership. They say, we aren’t nationalists, but this is the best way to take Scotland forward. Sorry, but the hint is in the name, the Scottish National Party. I have been to the SNP conference and the only thing that binds together their disparate membership is nationalism. I am persuaded that independence could work, but it’s not the reason I get out of bed in the morning. I don’t often agree with Brian Wilson, I remember his opposition to devolution even if he has moved on, but I do agree with this part of his Scotsman column today.

“But if the Nationalists did not have a grievance to nurture, what would be their purpose? They are, at best, a reasonably competent administration with dangerous centralising tendencies which has been given lots of money to scatter around. But they show little evidence of original, far less radical, thought once the grievance rationale has been stripped away……. the more they can talk about the constitution, the less onus is on them to actually do anything interesting or progressive about anything else.”

I did give the Greens serious consideration. I am sympathetic to much of the environmental agenda and I think Patrick Harvie has done a good job in getting many of their traditional members to understand that they have address a wider policy agenda. However, I just don’t think the No Growth and uber localism is realistic or practical and like the nationalists it is the green agenda that drives their approach.

I fleetingly considered the SSP and the fellow travellers on the far left. I went to a radical independence event and was struck by how little listening these groups do. They have a micro dogma that can be subsumed into a mantra for a short campaign, but then falls apart in bickering over obscure points of dogma. They are not interested in serious politics because it requires compromises that they are unwilling to make. But my biggest problem with them is their obsession with attacking Labour rather than the Tories. I can and will be critical of Labour, but those who really care about social justice should concentrate on persuading others to that cause – not doing the Tories dirty work for them. That’s Rupert Murdoch’s job!

So that’s my journey in recent months. I will stick with Labour, but I will want to hear more about the positive reasons for doing so. Starting with a more radical approach to devolution, not just to Holyrood, but to local government as well. Then how we will use those powers to deliver a radical agenda on social justice. Scottish Labour needs to rediscover its core purpose and I for one have decided that it remains the best route to delivering social justice.

SEC September 2014

Unsurprisingly, the only business at the September SEC meeting was the referendum.

The General Secretary reported on the organisational side. The referendum saw the highest turnout since 1910 and that was before before universal suffrage. There has been much emphasis on the vote in Labour areas and we shouldn’t forget that SNP areas voted No in a big way. The polls at the start of the campaign showed Labour No voters on 75%, so the campaign actually had little impact in shifting more to the Yes camp.

The 10 point win was not as close as the polls predicted and he gave a big thanks to the army of activists from across the country who made that happen. There had been unprecedented contact rates and our GOTV was also impressive. Overall the campaign experience was positive and will be helpful as we move into the 2015 and 2016 campaigns.

There has been a very small number of resignations and more than 500 new members. More can now be done to reach out to those energised by the campaign. There was a recognition that we are not strong on social media while recognising the limitations with only 76k Twitter users In Scotland. Several members commented on the damage abusive social media did to the Yes cause. Outright racism and misogyny were not isolated occurrences.

More work needs to be done on the datasets and the dust needs to settle before we see if any long term damage To the Labour vote.

Johann was very positive and typically robust. Media mutterings of her imminent resignation are clearly mince.

She was proud of the professionalism of the campaign and scathing about the SNP’s divisive traitor narrative. We must not let this behaviour go unchallenged. The narrative that Scotland was robbed and tricked is simply recruitment fodder for the far left who claim to offer hope without a real offer. In contrast Labour should be inclusive.

There was a recognition that we will be fighting a different GE2015 from rest of UK. The party needs to complete the devolution journey and push back from ‘Westminster party’ badge the media use. Labour’s values are a movement for change and that is a big political task for us to energise around. The real establishment is the Scottish Government and their backers.

There was support for moving on from the prism of the referendum. Yes, we must deliver on powers and what we can do with it. Not let the SNP get away with another two years of blaming Westminster. We have extensive powers, now we need to use them.

 

 

 

After the Referendum – What should Labour do?

citizen

After the Referendum – What should Labour Do?

STUC, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow

Saturday 25th October 2014

Programme

 

This conference is for members of the Labour Party.

10.00   Welcome from Elaine Smith MSP, Depute Presiding Office Scottish Parliament and Convenor of the Campaign for Socialism (CfS) and Neil Findlay MSP, Shadow spokesperson on Health, leading discussion on the consequences of the Referendum decision.

10.45   Break

11.00   Industrial and community policies (based on STULP document)  –  a short introduction  from Jackson Cullinane (Political Officer Unite) and then group work.

The manifesto is available here: http://www.revitalisescottishlabour.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/STULP_manifesto_2014.pdf

12.00   Local Democracy – policies and powers. Councillor Gordon Munro (Edinburgh) will provide a short introduction and then there will be group sessions led by Councillors Matt Kerr (Glasgow) Angela Moohan (West Lothian) and Kenny Selbie (Fife)*

13.00   Short lunch break

13.30   What powers and what democratic structure do we need to deliver a winning agenda – introduced by Richard Leonard (Political Officer GMB) and Dave Watson (Head of Bargaining and Campaigns, Unison)

14.15   Concluding session with group feedback and agreeing a working committee to take the ideas forward – Pauline Bryan CfS

15.00   Fraternal greetings John McDonnell MP

 

*Not all of the invited councillors have responded yet

The Citizen, the Journal of the Campaign for Socialism, will be available at the event.

Improving Local Democracy, Local Government and Local Health.

I read a blog recently [1] by UNISON’s Head of Bargaining and Campaigning regarding the recently published report “Effective Democracy: Reconnecting with Communities” [2]. In their report the Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy, state that they feel that years of centralised government have left Scotland with huge financial and social costs. Do they have a point?

On 18th September we will be invited to think about where power should lie but would repositioning power centrally from London to Edinburgh tackle the complex problems different communities face? Would it be more effective to put local people in charge of their own lives and leave national governments to focus on setting minimum rights that all communities should enjoy? Would this be the silver bullet to increase electoral participation?

The authors of the report feel that the transition from more than 200 local councils in 1974 to 32 in 1996 was one of the world’s most radical decentralisation programmes. However, in addition to these, a variety of public corporations, agencies and quangos are accountable to the Scottish Government, rather than local communities. So what should the Labour Party do?

Much like the authors of the Red Paper on Scotland 2014, I feel that today the Labour Party ignores local government as a place to take forward socialist policies [3]. Taxation and the redistribution of national wealth is vital but in the late 19th century, huge change was brought about by local government in response to the terrible poverty seen across the UK. Today’s Labour councils could use their powers of general competency to do pretty much anything that they are not expressly forbidden from doing. So what could Labour councillors to do?

Labour councils could provide free breakfast clubs, free milk, free lunches and free after schools for children. They could provide apprenticeships for every school leaver. Councils could impose rent caps and create minimum standards for private landlords. Labour councils could even go as far as creating local energy companies to generate and distribute reasonably priced electricity to local homes, businesses, charities and services.

My professional background is in healthcare and what I find interesting that if we look at the list above, income, education, jobs, childhood experiences and physical environment all paradoxically have a greater impact on the health of individuals within communities than health service provision. Furthermore, if we think about the biggest public health breakthroughs in history, such as water and sanitation services, clean air, town planning and improved housing all occurred when public health was the responsibility of local government. Should the Labour Party look to move public health and even healthcare services into local government?

This would certainly be more democratically accountable than Health Boards but as mentioned above, could also incentivise councils to use their other levers of local government to tackle the actual determinants of health. Local councillors have better links with the communities they represent than Health Boards and have a much better understanding of the local problems in their wards, so this could really strengthen local democracy. Surely if constituents knew their local councillor was directly responsible for their GP waiting time, electoral participation would be much improved?

However, my major concern is exemplified by health as the NHS in Scotland has resisted the “any willing provider policy” seen in the NHS in England yet currently Scottish councils are very happy to commission services to arms length organisations. I do not believe that Labour councillors are huge supporters of neo-liberal ideology but I feel we are in a situation in which Labour councillors are increasingly apolitical.

Perhaps-as the Nationalists claim – Westminster constrains Scotland by reserved powers or perhaps Scottish Government constrains local government using policy like the council tax freeze. Regardless of which, for the above changes to occur on a meaningful scale, councils will need additional funds. Here we come again to the problem of ideology. Increasing the powers of councils to raise funds or borrow will produce a postcode lottery of services so I feel a Labour government – at whatever level following September 18th – will need the political ideology and a commitment to raise taxes. We all know how the SNP feel about this and I would like to see the Labour Party championing redistribution. I call on every Labour representative to make a case to the public that a government cannot fund Scandinavian levels of public services with Texan levels of taxation.

Scott Nicholson

References

  1. http://unisondave.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/strengthening-local-democracy.html
  2. http://www.localdemocracy.info/2014/08/14/time-to-rebuild-scottish-democracy-what-the-referendum-decides/
  3. http://redpaper.net/2013/09/12/class-nation-and-socialism-the-red-paper-2014/