The first SEC meeting of 2015 was also the first for the new leadership team. Strategy for the General Election and beyond was predictably the focus of the meeting.
Jim Murphy spent some time going through the party’s polling results which offer a more subtle analysis than some of the published ones. He identified what he believed were the target groups and how Scottish Labour needed to respond to their concerns. This group includes the 190k Labour voters who voted Yes. Often described as ‘Glasgow Man’, but as ever it’s not quite that simple. There was a broad consensus on the need for positive policy offerings which form a basis for a critical analysis of the failings of the SNP administration.
Reports from Westminster focused on the Autumn Statement and discussions about devolving powers in the Smith Commission consensus ahead of a new Scotland Act. Licensing for fracking and the work programme in particular. As usual the SNP are trying to look both ways on fracking when they could simply rule it out using planning powers.
The big issues at Holyrood had been the fall in the oil price and the NHS – real government issues that can’t simply be avoided by a continued debate on the constitution. The £444m Scottish Government underspend was a particular concern to councils facing the brunt of cuts. SEC members highlighted the need for a more political approach by Labour councils, rather than simply administering the cuts.
MEPs reported on the response to the terrorist attacks in France as well developments over GM crops and TTIP.
Then onto party rules. The 7th March conference will now be a special conference to consider rule changes recommended by the SEC (see below for wording). The main change is a significant amendment to what is currently Clause 2 of the Scottish Labour Party rules. The rules will be renumbered to make it Clause 4 – symbolism is all here!
There was a broad consensus on the strategy behind the changes, even if some wry smiles at the enthusiastic support of MPs. If this had been proposed under the previous leadership, just imagine the apoplectic briefings to the media – ‘slippery slope ….’ and much else! That’s not to say that there was a consensus on the precise wording, with members concerned about some of the language. Most were grateful that we were spared anything about the “ingrained … Scottish character”. Dictionary and literary definitions were bandied about in a very erudite, and good humoured, debate.
While attention will be focused on tartanisation of the aims and values, there are other changes in this section that differ from the UK version, including an explicit reference to social justice.
Conference will also be asked to approve changes that give the leader and deputy leader a seat on the SEC and SJPC. The current rules still refer to the leader and deputy leader of Labour in the Scottish Parliament. This is one of many outdated references in the current rule book that need attention before the Autumn conference.
The Scottish Policy Forum met in the afternoon to consider the feedback from the first stage consultation papers. The individual policy commissions worked on the detail and a draft second stage consultation paper will be prepared. The policy process has been sidelined somewhat due to Indyref and the leadership election. Given GE2015 it’s likely to be the summer before most of the party gives this process the attention it deserves.
Renumbered Clause 4 – Aims and Values
The Scottish Labour Party is a democratic socialist party rooted in social justice, which seeks to represent the people of Scotland. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few; where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe and where we live together freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect. To these ends we work for the patriotic interest of the people of Scotland:
• For the success of a permanent and powerful Scottish Parliament.
• Decisions on policy that is devolved to the Scottish Parliament will be decided by the Scottish Labour Party.
• In common purpose with all parts of the Labour Party and Labour Movement across the UK for the advancement of Scotland’s interests and the benefit of all.
• With the Scottish people, to create policy in Scotland for a just society, a prosperous economy, a vibrant cultural life, and a more sustainable, democratic Scotland.
• With others, across the UK and internationally, to unlock the potential of all and to create a fairer society.
Scottish Labour will work towards these aims with trade unions and the co-operative movement, and also with voluntary organisations, consumer groups and other representative bodies.
On the basis of these principles, Scottish Labour seeks the trust of the Scottish people to govern.