National Policy Forum consultations

The UK National Policy Forum has published a series of policy consultations. This is part of the process towards developing a manifesto for the next UK general election.

Below are the eight consultation documents on key policy areas the NPF wants to hear your views on. Each consultation document contains some background and sets of questions for you to answer.

With devolution, a lot of the issues covered in these papers don’t apply to Scotland. The Scottish Policy Forum will start the policy process for the next Scottish Parliament elections in the autumn. In the meantime there is Neil Findlay MSP’s ‘Big Idea’ initiative.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of reserved matters to comment on. In particular the papers on the future of work and addressing in-work poverty.

Conference rule changes turn a chapter

Last weekend’s Scottish Labour Party conference approved a rule change that completes the Revitalise reform programme that started in 2003/4.

Conference amended Clause 17, which deals with amendments to the Scottish Policy Forum (SPF) reports.

The issue was raised again a few conferences ago by a Glasgow CLP, with particular credit to Jim McKechnie who has doggedly pursued the issue. The wording of the CLP amendment wasn’t quite right, but the SEC agreed to look again at this issue.

It is indicative of different times with regards to party democracy that I moved the amendment on behalf of SEC, more than ten years after I drafted the original proposal.

So, what does it mean.

This summer we start the SPF process that will lead to a radical manifesto for next Scottish Parliament elections.

At present when the SPF present the final report to conference delegates can only accept or reject as a whole. So if delegates thought the report was generally great, but had a problem with one proposal, they had no option but to reject or accept. Now they will be able to move an amendment on the final document, which will result in a final document that has the support of conference

This rule change is yet another indication of the real change in our internal democracy, mirroring the real change we want to see in Scotland as a whole.

Conference also made some major changes to our women’s organisation and new equalities measures. These are covered in this Holyrood Magazine summary.

National (UK) Policy Forum report

The National (UK) Policy Forum gathered this weekend (17-18 Feb) in Leeds. Representing the Scottish Labour Party is always a challenge at these events because devolution means that we only have a direct interest in a few reserved matters. The Scottish Policy Forum process will start this Autumn to develop policy on developed matters.

The main purpose of the weekend was to look at the draft consultation papers, which will shortly go out for views from members.

Being the Labour Party, we love a constitutional row, and the NPF managed to spend more than an hour squabbling over how the vacant chair’s post should be elected. In essence, the NPF was only given a few days notice of the election and the NEC Officers ruled that there has to be at least 7 days notice. So the election is deferred. It wasn’t an edifying sight with some pretty uncomradely behaviour. It is beyond me why this couldn’t have been resolved beforehand. Some proper rules and standing orders for the NPF in the UK rule book might help.

Jeremy eventually got to address the meeting. He pointed to us having largest party membership in Europe as a strength and a resource of knowledge to help develop our policy offer for the next election. He didn’t duck Brexit, clearly setting out Labour’s position that any deal must protect jobs and workers rights. His focus was on key Labour issues like homelessness, linking that to the English council elections and the funding of local government. An issue we are also facing in Scotland.

He used the collapse of Carrillion to make the case for greater public ownership and against outsourcing in the public sector. Confirming a real Living Wage of £10 per hour. Investment in English housing, education etc would also give Scotland’s Parliament the resources to end austerity. The speech didn’t break much new ground, but was well received by delegates keen to get onto the substantive business of the NPF.

I went to the ‘Future of work’ session, which is mostly reserved. The draft consultation is largely based on the 20 point plan on employment rights published before the 2017 manifesto. Barry Gardiner, the Shadow Trade minister identified the implications of dodgy trade deals, including a race to the bottom in workers rights and deregulation. I highlighted the impact of such deals on devolved issues, drawing on the work in Scotland on procurement and Fair Work. I felt the paper could say more about the inadequacies of the Taylor review and the U.K. Government’s response. We are well past the stage of nudging bad employers into fair work practices. The paper also says nothing about how Labour should respond to the ageing workforce.

In the second breakout session I went to the work, pensions and inequality discussion. The focus of this consultation is tackling in-work poverty and working age inequalities. The last Labour government did a lot to address child and pensioner poverty, so this focus is welcome. My contribution focused on making the case for tackling inequality, something we as socialists take for granted, but is not well understood more widely. I also think we need to do more work on understanding the interaction between wages and benefits in tackling in work poverty for working families. Finally, a plea for a clear policy on occupational pensions. We need to reform the system and bring greater value into pension provision that is being ripped off by investment managers.

The final plenary session on Saturday was on health inequalities, although inevitably it was largely about the dire state of the English NHS. John Ashworth gave a very clear exposition of the problems and the direction of travel for Labour’s response. He specifically rejected a Royal Commission as a trap. If you want properly funded and publicly delivered NHS, you need to vote in a Labour government.

Sunday started with Katy Clark giving us an overview of the party democracy review. The focus for the NPF is the third stage of the review that ends on 28 June on how the party makes policy. There was a recognition that the NPF process does bring together all parts of the party and gives an opportunity to develop policy over a longer time period. However, the Party doesn’t use technology well and members who do know about the process, don’t often get feedback on the ideas they have submitted. We also have to recognise that the Party has to have a narrative on the issues of the day that can’t wait for the conclusion of a two year process. That inevitably means that NPF members can feel marginalised. Policy Commissions have a range of practical difficulties, for example, I am on a policy commission that is 90% devolved. There was a call for more regional events and better moderation of the Your Britain website.

The third breakout session I attended was on a Greener Britain. Other than energy generation, most of these issues are devolved. But as the shadow minister Alan Whitehead pointed out, we need to join up all aspects of this policy. For example, if we don’t decarbonise energy generation, we will be powering electric cars with dirty energy. Alan is also strong on linking industrial policy to environmental policy, something that the Scottish Government could be better at. BiFab being an example of crisis management, rather than linking up into a long term policy for a just transition. Large scale incineration is clearly a concern in several parts of England and somewhat dominated the discussion. The UK government is particularly weak on recycling and air pollution.

And finally, it was the Brexit plenary. Keir Starmer set out Labour’s current position in opposing a hard Tory Brexit, which is not an attempt to refight the referendum, based on his six tests. In particular, no deregulation or undermining workers rights. He also understood the devolution issues, with a particular focus on Northern Ireland.

Francis O’Grady emphasised the importance of finding a solution that brings people together, given the close referendum result. She focused on the trade impact on jobs as well as employment standards. All options should be on the table including the single market and the customs union. CETA type options leaves us open to corporate interests in rigged courts. Rebecca Long-Bailey focused on the economic implications, including jobs and skills. Barry Gardiner emphasised the risks of dodgy trade deals.

Firming up Labour’s position on Brexit has practical and political challenges. Practical in the sense that the Tories are struggling to develop a coherent government negotiating position, and therefore scrutiny is challenging. Political, in the sense that Labour has to find a balance between respecting the referendum result and protecting the country from the consequences of a hard Brexit. While like most NPF members I support a soft Brexit, I believe that more policy work needs to be done on how the options for our future relations with the EU impact on our manifesto commitments.

This was my first full NPF meeting. Overall, I was impressed by the quality of the contributions from delegates and the work that had been done by the policy commissions. Even in policy areas which are devolved, it was useful to hear how these issues are being addressed in England.

I hope this report gives a flavour of the discussions and members will be able to engage in detail with the consultation papers shortly. If I can help facilitate local discussions with affiliates or CLPs, please feel free to get in touch.
Dave Watson
d.watson@unison.co.uk

SLP rule changes

This year’s Scottish Labour Party conference has agreed substantial changes to the Scottish Labour Party’s rule book.

The current rule book is a slim volume. It would fit into your bag or coat, so you can discuss the finer points of Clause 10(b)(2) with your pals down at the pub on a Friday night. That joy is going to be a bit trickier in future, because the new rule book is a substantial beast, more suited as a door wedge than a light read. A proper grown up rule book – it even has appendices!

So why?

This all goes back to 2015 and a joint agreement between Kez and Jeremy that the Scottish Labour Party would become more autonomous. A joint SEC/NEC working party worked up the details and that was followed by a consultation across the Scottish Labour Party. The last UK Labour Party conference agreed to changes in their rule book and today conference incorporated those changes into our own rule book. The opportunity has been taken to tidy up a few out of date provisions and omissions at the same time.

The main changes are:

Clarifying that conference can debate reserved or devolved matters. Any differences between Scottish and UK Labour policy will be resolved at the Joint Policy Committee and the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party will represent the positions taken at this conference on reserved matters.

A new Clause 16 devolves the selection of candidates for Westminster elections. The procedural rules will be set out by the SEC in an appendix.

In practice local government devolved some years ago, but the rule changes were not fully implemented. Clause 15 now covers the rules for Labour Groups and again the detailed rules with be in an appendix, together with procedural rules for candidate selections. And yes, that includes the rules that require any coalition agreements to be approved by the SEC.

The SEC also takes full responsibility for the organisation and management of CLPs and other units of party organisation in Scotland. Again there will be detailed rules for these in appendices.

The remaining changes are tidying up and confirming practices that have been in place for some time, but not confirmed in the rule book. Sadly, I still don’t qualify as a youth delegate!

These rule changes mark a significant journey in creating a more autonomous and democratic Scottish Labour Party. As the party of devolution we have not always moved as quickly as we should have done to keep our own organisation in line with political devolution. That has now changed.

Scotland needs economic as well as political power

While political structures are important, what really matters is the distribution of wealth and power.

The Scottish Labour Party conference tomorrow will debate a motion on federalism that takes Labour much further than it has ever gone before in devolving political power away from London. The Scottish Government may soon fire the starting pistol for another referendum on independence. Both of these developments are obviously important, but they mean little if we don’t also address economic structures.

The UK constitutional convention called for in the motion to the Scottish Labour Party conference is the brain child of Jon Trickett MP. He was in Glasgow last Friday, addressing trade unions on how he wants to take the convention forward, drawing his inspiration from the constitutional convention that drove the devolution agenda in Scotland, rather the more usual government commission. He said:

“In my mind, our socialism requires three things:

  1. a federal solution for Britain which breaks up the centralised power of the British Westminster elite and hands decision making about local matters to local people;
  2. redistribution of wealth and power so that we can rebuild a socially just country based on a strong economy in every region and nation and not just in a few affluent areas;
    3. the cooperation and solidarity between all the parts of the country which will mean the pooling of common resources to make sure that there is more equity.

So this is why the Labour Party is committed to a constitutional convention. It’s because the political structures aren’t working any more. Instead, they have been a primary factor in the long-term decline of areas outside of London and the South.”

However, his key point comes in this paragraph:

“Political reform is necessary. But it is not sufficient to solve our problems. As I’ve said, it does not change the economic structures which have allowed our regions and nations to be left behind. We cannot solve this problem with just more devolution of political power on its own because we also need fundamental change to the way our economy works.”

The Red Paper Collective has expanded on these themes in their latest publication on Progressive Federalism. Jon’s introductory chapter builds on his theme of addressing economic power. My chapter ‘Scotland is not our local’ makes the case for double devolution of power from Westminster to local communities, something Jon Trickett reinforced in his Glasgow speech. John Foster shows just how little economic power resides in Scotland. Even the small foothold we had has largely disappeared since 2005 as the table below shows.

scot company takeovers

Other authors show how much more we could achieve if we focused on taking democratic control of our economy, developing a real industrial strategy, including energy and renewables. Using taxation powers to build a better education system and other public services. And finally, using the powers that should be devolved post-Brexit as an opportunity for radical reform.

The bottom line is when we focus simply on political structures, we are missing the bigger picture. Unless we challenge the economic structures that control Scotland’s economy – political structures; independence, federalism or unionism, will count for very little. That’s why a wider look at power through a constitutional convention is a meaningful initiative.
You can discuss these issues at the Revitalise/Red Paper conference fringe meeting on Saturday 25th February at The Royal George Hotel, Perth, starting at 12:30pm.