Scottish Labour Leadership race begins

The Scottish Labour Party Leadership nominations have now closed with no unexpected candidates.

For the Leader, Kezia Dugdale has an almost clean sweep of those able to nominate, with Ken Macintosh only just reaching the minimum of seven nominations. She had some strong lines at her campaign launch positioning Scottish Labour as the “anti-establishment voice” in Scottish politics. She said: “Scotland needs a strong opposition that asks tough questions, not a one-party state where every institution and every cause is linked to just one political party.”

Her support has come from all sections of the party because she is viewed as a unity candidate with a more collegiate approach to leadership – in party that has seen what havoc a ‘presidential’ style leadership can cause. This is likely to be reflected in the supporting nominations from trade unions and CLPs.

Ken Macintosh has reiterated his less adversarial pitch saying: “We need to be more generous in defeat, less tribal, less partisan and more open to working with others, more willing to build a progressive alliance across traditional political divides”. This is a better line than his attack on Kez for her lack of experience, which went down badly even amongst some of his own supporters. It drew the inevitable rejoinder that it could well be that ‘experience’ that has got the party in the current mess!

For the Deputy Leader we have three candidates.

Alex Rowley was the only candidate to achieve nomination thresholds in both sections. This demonstrates his parliamentary and council background and could offer a bridge between two groups who currently don’t work well together. He also has a radical reform agenda and strong trade union links going back to his early years as a NUPE shop steward and later work in trade union education. Showing considerable tactical flair, he has ruled out using the deputy leadership as a guaranteed first place in his list area.

Gordon Mathieson has not made a similar offer, confirming for many that the top MSP list position is his primary motivation. There is strong support from many in the party for a bigger leadership role for councillors, as a way of getting them more engaged in the party’s campaigns. However, it’s hard to see how a secure MSP berth achieves that objective. Gordon will play up the achievements he believes his leadership of Glasgow City Council has delivered. On the other hand, the councils current industrial relations problems wont play well and he could be seen as a divisive figure in local government, being a key player in the CoSLA split.

Richard Baker is the third candidate with significant MSP backing, but limited support from councillors. Richard is well liked across the party with a reputation for hard work in his portfolios and locally. It remains to be seen if he can stretch his support outwith the North East. He also has the problem of explaining his shift from MSP to MP candidate and now back to MSP.

The next stage is a series of hustings across the country and supporting nominations from CLPs, trade unions and socialist societies. The timetable is set out below.

slp leader

Scottish Executive Committee – June 2015

Jim Murphy’s last day at the office resulted in the predictable media spin over substance, but in fairness any shortcomings in his ‘report’ was entirely appropriate.

Jim’s report on Scottish Labour’s political future was neither a report or had very much to do with Scottish Labour’s political future. It was a series of papers on some internal mechanisms (developed with the Constitution Committee), not the political strategy we need to go forward. Not even a look at the bigger constitutional changes that the party needs to consider such as a more federal or even independent Scottish Labour Party. That’s not a criticism, because the party doesn’t need another quick fix and it’s not Jim’s role as the outgoing leader to offer that vision.

Scottish Labour has previous on this approach. In 2007 and 2011 we had reviews that majored on internal mechanisms and put political strategy on the back burner. We can’t afford to do that again. The SEC agreed that these issues would be taken forward by the Campaigns Committee. Fine, but it mustn’t be parked again.

The most urgent issue is the election of a Leader and Deputy Leader. Much attention is given to the move to One Person One Vote and the role of trade unions in the current electoral college. What is forgotten is that trade unions voted for this change because the current system gives parliamentarians, not trade unions, a stranglehold on the vote. So, trade unions in Scotland also support the move to OPOV.

The 15% (7 nominations) threshold with only one parliamentary pool was agreed. The Deputy has in theory been open to councillors as the other elected members and that is being made easier in practice by a 15% (60 nominations) threshold for councillors. There was a debate about opening it up to every member, but a majority thought this was too complex a change to make in the short time available.

The timescale was more difficult. On one hand there is a need for time to sign up affiliated and registered members, on the other an obvious need to get a Leader in place ahead of the UK timetable because we have elections next year. A compromise was reached with the result being announced in 15 August, so the new leader would be in place for the start of the next parliamentary session.

On Scottish Parliament selections it was agreed to open regional list selections. This appears to be the majority view of members, but we need to remember that the more important issue is having a list strategy – something that has been sadly missing in the past. There is a certain irony here, because mandatory reselection used to be regarded as a ‘looney left’ proposal! There was also a political concern about MPs who have lost their seat being selected on to lists. Importantly, the freeze date for members to vote is today.

Given there are likely to be more candidates, a shortlisting system will be developed along with a timetable by the Constitution Committee. There will also be a review of existing selections based on the candidate contract, recognising that there is already an existing provision that allows the SEC to remove candidates in exceptional circumstances. Those with less than 12 months membership can apply and that will be publicised, but again there is already a provision to allow this in exceptional circumstances.

There will be further consideration of selection of councillors by the local government committee in consultation with the Scottish Association of Labour Councillors. This reflects, as some warned, the replacement of local government committees with campaign forums, simply hasn’t worked. However, selections are only part of the picture, we urgently need a political strategy for local government rather than simply administering councils.

There was a brief discussion about the selection of Westminster candidates for 2020, including the possibility of holding primaries. It was simply agreed to refer it to the Constitution Committee, recognising that this may be considered at a UK level as well. This is currently a UK rule book issue, but this needs to be looked at as part of a wider review of Scottish Labour’s position in relation to the UK party.

Normal reports were very condensed given the debate over constitutional matters.

The mechanisms debated today are of course important, but there is an element of moving the deck chairs on the Titanic about this debate. Scottish Labour’s primary challenge is political not structural.