SEC November 2015

The 14th November SEC meeting is the annual meeting following on from conference.

New officers were elected:
Chair – Jackie Martin
Vice Chair – Linda Stewart
Treasurer – Cathy Peattie

Kez Dugdale reported on the Statement of Intent she had agreed with the U.K. Leader on party autonomy. There would be some joint work on this between the NEC and SEC. Members welcomed this while always being wary about delays given past experience.
She also said that conference was open and positive and whilst recent polls showed how much still needed to be done, an increase of three points in the Labour vote was in the right direction.
Her immediate policy priorities would be Tax credits, Time to Care, Fair Start fund, and looked after children.

Alex Rowley added that he would be leading work on the economy and jobs. SEC members argued that there was no Scottish Government strategy or even a credible procurement policy.
Alex was also coordinating work on local govt including next Saturday’s Labour councillor conference. A theme that came up later in the meeting was a concern that the replacement structure for local govt committees wasn’t working and the local connection with council groups was being lost. At national level, while a Labour councillor conference was fine, there needed to be a wider engagement on local govt issues including trade unions and constituencies.

MSPs reported on recent public service debates on policing, health and education that highlighted serious government failings. There had also been debates on Trident and the Trade Union Bill.

At Westminster, Ian Murray updated the SEC on the Scotland Bill that had delivered ‘The Vow’. There was a very late SNP amendment devolving tax credits after Kez’s initiative. Motions devolving powers Is one thing, but delivering is more challenging for them.
There was some concern about the behind closed doors discussion on the important fiscal framework and borrowing powers.
There had been three SNP debates on Trident, but nothing about Tax Credits, poverty etc.
Ian paid credit to Baroness Hollis’s successful motion on Tax Credits in the House of Lords that shows what intelligent opposition can achieve. Members urged similar action on the Trade Union Bill, ensuring that members of the House of Lords were fully briefing on the devolved issues. Ian pointed out that the SNP hadn’t been as slow to press for an LCM in relation to the Green Investment Bank and it had been the Welsh government that had led the way on the LCM issue.

Local Government representatives reported on cuts and budgets that would be clearer in December. They were also concerned about the levy on training as they already had a good track record on this issue.
Members returned to the need for a clear political strategy over council cuts. 40,000 jobs had gone from local govt and not a task group to be seen! Most Labour councils had done a good job on the Trade Union Bill, but we needed to finish the job in others.

The list selection procedures were finalised with shortlisting panels appointed. There was a discussion on changing the freeze date to at least bring it in line with the U.K. Leadership freeze date. The current rule would exclude a lot of new members who joined during that campaign. Others felt we couldn’t have different dates for constituency selections and the list. The practical impact of the early freeze date is to favour incumbents and long standing members with party networks, and that effectively discourages new faces. Not of course that this would influence any members of the SEC!
Members reiterated the decision to include the Leader and Deputy on the list and the reasons for that, while recognising that this is a matter for the individuals concerned.

There were a number of reports on progress with selections and panel interviews.
Otherwise one of the shorter SEC meetings of late!


Scottish Labour Conference

Delegates left Perth after the new style Scottish Labour conference feeling they had a real debate – free of the control freaky that has dogged party conferences in the New Labour years.

Conference also took some radical decisions. Not least in opposing the replacement of Trident, opposing the Trade Union Bill and outright opposition to TTIP. Both trade unions and CLPs selected the same priorities – a good sign that the movement is on the same page.

The media showed their usual inability to grasp what these votes mean. Both Trident and TTIP motions went to a card vote and were passed by a two-thirds majority. That means they go into the Scottish party programme. It is still up to the Scottish  Joint Policy Committee to decide what goes into the manifesto, but it would be very strange, given the big majorities, if there wasn’t some mention of these new policies in the manifesto.

The fact that these issues are largely reserved doesn’t mean that Labour is in ‘chaos’. Scottish Labour has taken its position and under the current rules will argue its case as part of whatever policy process develops. Under the new federal approach that Kezia and Jeremy have set out in their statement of intent, there will need to be a process to resolve differences.

This may appear radical to journalists wedded to the the UK unitary state. However, in federal systems this is normal politics. Dave Watson does a sort of ‘Federalism for Dummies’ in the Sunday Times, for those who need to catch up. It is worth remembering that the SNP would have to go through the same process in negotiating a coalition deal at UK or Scottish level.

Jeremy’s keynote speech, lifted conference away from the parochial, reminding us of our internationalism. Kez’s speech had some solid commitments, not least the imaginative approach to tax credits. Here is a reminder of some key proposals:

  • Scottish Labour’s plan to restore the money Scottish families stand to lose from tax credit cuts, paid for by scrapping the SNP plan to cut the Air Passenger Duty and the Tory plan to cut taxes for those on the higher rate. Labour stands for #familiesnotflights.
  • A Fair Start Fund to give every primary pupil from a poorer background £1000 which their school can invest in closing the gap between the richest and the rest, paid for by asking those lucky enough to earn over £150,000 to pay a 50p rate of tax.
  • We will give full grant support worth £6,000 a year for every looked after child who wants to go onto higher education.
  • We will guarantee a real Living Wage for care workers

The Red Paper/Revitalise fringe meeting was also buzzing with ideas for a socialist Scotland.

As Magnus Gardham conceded in The Herald: “holding the debate has been good for Ms Dugdale. For all Scottish Labour’s many problems, she can count her first conference as leader something of a success.”

Peter Jones in The Scotsman was one of the very few commentators who recognised that Scottish Labour can have different policy positions. He said: It has only taken 16 years but, finally, devolution has come of age. To be precise, the Scottish arms of the two major unionist parties at Holyrood and Westminster have come into the devolution age. They have finally recognised that devolution means the right to be different, to have different policies north and south of the Border.”

Overall, I didn’t meet many delegates who weren’t enthused by this year’s conference. It’s a long haul, but Scottish Labour made a good start last weekend.