SEC Report – May 2017

This was the first SEC meeting after the local elections, but it was also the annual meeting. Linda Stewart was elected Chair and Kevin Lindsay was elected Vice-Chair. Cathy Peattie continues as Treasurer.

Kez reported on the very few highlights in the Scottish Parliament at present. There remains very little legislation and the Scottish Government uses the chamber debates for broader political purposes. The recent ‘rape clause’ debate was good example. Labour will continue to highlight the Scottish Government’s day job, with a debate on health this week.

Kez also reports on her attendance at NEC meetings that have been focused on candidate selection in England. There are draft dates for the UK campaign launch and manifesto following the Clause 5 meeting. There will be a similar process in Scotland for the Scottish manifesto.

There was a brief interim analysis of the local government elections. While the results were not good compared with 2012, the outcome was better than 2016 and significantly better than recent opinion polls with Labour claiming 22% of the seats. Not the predicted wipe out and some positives including 48% of Labour Councillors elected for the first time. Given the lack of political awareness amongst many councillors, some new blood can only be positive.

Several members pointed to the irony that PR benefited Labour in this election, given the views of many councillors over the years. Labour’s effective voter organisation paid off, as did the 2nd preference strategy. There is still a problem over rejected papers and that showed up particularly in postal votes. More education is needed on the voting system.

The binary constitution question remains the challenging issue for Scottish Labour. There was a predictable range of views on how to address this ranging from those who want to take a more overt unionist position, to those who believe such a strategy is a dead end. The federalism plan is not in itself a vote winner, but it does give Labour a distinct position on the constitution, while our focus remains on substantive issues. There was plenty of feedback from the doorsteps that many voters can see how little the SNP is delivering while they, and the Tories, obsess over flags.

The data will be used to inform targeting for the general election. Media reports on which seats Labour is targeting in Scotland are inaccurate. Jeremy is planning two visits to Scotland during the campaign. The final list of General Election candidates was circulated. The panel had unanimously agreed these.

The MEP report said it was business as usual in the European Parliament. Brexit has ironically created unity amongst the 27 on their bargaining position. Catherine highlighted the Irish Government’s paper on Brexit as a considered read.

The main item for discussion was the framework for coalition agreements. All Labour groups will be reminded that the rules require SEC agreement for any local arrangements. The framework does not rule out local agreements with any party, but they have to be based on opposing austerity. That won’t be easy given that Tory austerity has been dumped on councils by SNP. The policy basis is the two local government motions from UNISON and the GMB agreed at conference. There was a strong view that a period of opposition would enable a more overtly political approach, so missing in recent years.

Finally, the new rule book agreed at conference has been published Scottish Rule Book 2017.

SEC Report – April 2017

There was a special SEC last Saturday following the announcement that there will be a General Election on 8 June.

Kezia reported on the arrangements that had been put in place including her attendance at the UK NEC meeting earlier in the week. She also reminded the SEC that we still had important local government elections to focus on.

She welcomed Jeremy Corbyn’s unequivocal position rejecting any so a called progressive alliance with the SNP. The SNP not a progressive political party. One of the very few Bill’s that they have introduced in the Scottish Parliament is the Airport Departure Tax – a regressive tax cut for more wealthy households at the expense of vital public services and the environment.

It was hoped that Jeremy would make several visits to Scotland, starting with the STUC on Monday.

The manifesto process will also be condensed, and it is hoped that the Scottish manifesto will be published earlier than it was in the last general election. The starting point would be the 2016 manifesto updated with the Party’s latest initiatives. Of course none of this binds the policy process for the next Scottish Parliament election.

The main business was to agree a process for the selection of candidates. This process has been devolved to Scotland in accordance with the new rules establishing a more autonomous Scottish Labour Party.

While there is always a preference to have local selection meetings, it was recognised that this is simply not practical. Organising 59 selection conferences over a couple of days is logistically hugely difficult, but more importantly, it would be a huge distraction from local election campaigns.

Applications to be a candidate have been widely publicised and there had been a substantial response. Candidates have to be members for at least 12 months, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

It was agreed that a panel of 7 SEC members would be established to select candidates 2 TU, 2 CLP, 2 from balance of the SEC, plus Kezia. There is an expectation that at least 50% of candidates will be female.

There was also an update on the local government election. The next SEC meeting will consider a framework for approving any coalition agreements. The focus will be on delivering Scottish Labour’s anti-austerity policy.

SEC report – January 2017

The Scottish Executive Committee met last Saturday (Jan 17) in Stirling. There was a good turnout of local government candidates at the training day in the same venue.

Alex Rowley gave the Leader’s report in Kezia’s absence. He focused on the parliamentary response to the SNP’s local government budget cuts and the launch of the framework manifesto. A number of members referenced the support some groups needed to sharpen up local campaigns with reference to the ‘Scrap the Debt’ campaign and other ideas in the STULP ‘Workforce Agenda’.

Parliamentary debates continued to dominated by Brexit, with only three Bills introduced since the election. There was a welcome for the common stance on the constitution in Jeremy Corbyn’s speech in Glasgow. Difference over substance is to be expected, that’s what devolution brings, but we should avoid mixed messages on use of language.

Mary Fee MSP, on behalf of the parliamentary group, highlighted the NHS campaign that is challenging the poor management of the service under the SNP. The Tories making an even worse mess in England, isn’t a credible excuse. Campaigns on bus re-regulation and Scotrail had also been effective.

Local government representatives highlighted the 4.8% cut in their budget allocation and the pressures that was placing on local budget setting. The minister was setting deadlines without parliamentary approval.

The General Secretary reported on fundraising and financial plans. 78% of council selections had been completed. In practice this is better than past years given low take up areas. It was agreed to waive 12 month rule, although with appropriate checks and balances.

Scottish Labour has made a submission to the Westminster boundary review, based on local consensus responses. The current proposals are based on existing wards which will change. So the second stage is likely to bring more changes.

Future Community Leaders Programme was agreed. 125 applications had been received and 20 will be selected in each year of the 3 year programme. The candidates selected cover a range of ages, experience, gender etc.

A complaint had been received regarding the use of email addresses in SEC elections. It was reluctantly recognised that the rules could not be changed at this stage, but any breach of the rules by candidates or their supporters would be dealt with by the Constitutional Committee.

The conference programme was discussed. Tom Watson, Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn would all be speaking. Contemporary motions would be considered throughout conference rather than just on Sunday. Votes will be handled electronically so it is important that delegates register by the deadline.

The Constitution Committee will meet to agree the necessary rule book amendments following the changes agreed at UK conference.

SEC Report – November 2016

The focus of the Scottish Executive Committee’s November meeting was on political strategy.

There was a presentation on the party’s latest polling, which is asking some different questions to help inform strategy. The broad numbers are similar to the published polls, with the Labour vote not recovering from May and voters still largely characterised as taking unionist and nationalist stances on the constitution. There has been movement within these blocks, but little shift between them. However, there are some interesting nuances that challenge popular perceptions – particularly amongst demographic groups.

There is a risk that this could lead to a short-term view that Labour should be focusing on simply contesting the unionist block with the Tories. However, while there is clearly no majority support for another referendum, there is still a large group of voters in the middle, who are not hard core unionists or nationalists. Scottish Labour is neither a unionist nor a nationalist party, a point well articulated by Alex Rowley in his latest blog post, but we do need to develop a clearer position on the constitution.

Talking in more detail with the groups Labour can usefully focus on will develop this initial polling. That can inform, but not lead strategy. Any new strategy has to be value led, but based on evidence of where resources can best be targeted.

Political reports were shortened to allow time for the strategy discussion. The key issue will be the Autumn Statement and the subsequent Scottish Government budget on 15 December. In the Scottish Parliament, local government issues have been prioritised as well as exposing the SNP’s failings in NHS Scotland.

Scottish Labour now has a full team of senior appointments and Tommy Kane from Neil Findlay’s office will also work part-time as Jeremy Corbyn’s advisor on Scotland.

The latest recruitment data shows that party membership in Scotland has doubled in the past two years. All new members are receiving a new introductory pack, with an emphasis on how to get fully involved. This is also reflected in a record number of nominations for CLP places on the SEC. The revised ballot timetable means ballot papers will go out early in the New Year to avoid the Christmas period. A code of conduct was also agreed.

Local government election selections are on schedule with priority selections completed by the end of the year. The local government conference will take place in Stirling next Saturday. Members who are considering standing can also attend.

Now that Westminster selection procedures are devolved to the SEC, decisions will need to be taken on all aspects of the process. Good local messaging and candidates have been successful in recent by-elections along with new approaches to digital marketing. The autonomy rule changes agreed at conference were noted and these will need to be incorporated into the Scottish Labour rulebook at next year’s conference. Now that Scottish Labour is represented on the NEC there will be regular reports to the SEC.

The Westminster boundary review has been published. CLPs will be consulted and able to feed into a single Scottish Labour submission.

UCATT welcomed the support they had received over access to the Dumfries hospital site. SEC members highlighted the broader failures of the Scottish Government to deliver on their rhetoric over blacklisting.

SEC Report – September 2016

Saturday was the September meeting of the SEC. One of the few party organisations meeting at present due to the UK leadership elections.

Kez highlighted the themes that the PLP had focused on over the summer, post-Brexit. The focus has been on investing in public services and opposing the cuts. Scottish Labour’s alternative legislative programme reinforces that focus, rather than constitutional debate.

Education and the Council Tax are some of big issues coming up after the recess. £100m for attainment gap is being funded by Council Tax, decided by central govt, not councils. What happened to ending ring fencing! Councillor reps emphasised that we need to see this in context of council cuts.

Trade union reps strongly made the point that some council actions don’t match the alternative legislative programme and Labour groups need show more political awareness locally.

Despite the ‘bread and butter’ focus, there was a recognition that the voters constitutional focus is not going away and therefore we need a conversation about the next stage for Scottish Labour. There was broad support from the SEC, irrespective of position on the detail, recognising that the SNPs post-Brexit constitutional fig leaf is likely to collapse. There is also a helpful UK Labour initiative on power led by Jon Trickett MP.

At Westminster, the debate rarely moves away from Brexit. What exactly does ‘Brexit means Brexit’ translate to in practice. There will also be a big shift of powers to Holyrood as a consequence of Brexit and thought needs to be given to this as well. A useful discussion on migration and the concerns in some communities, balanced by the importance of migration to the economy and public services. Employers in Scotland are exploiting migrant labour and that should be our focus. The SNP government has been been criticised by a UN committee on their human rights record in relation to employment rights.

In local government there is significant opposition to the proposed Education Bill and centralisation of services, together with adding even greater bureaucracy on schools. The early years expansion also needs to be addressed. Funding is inadequate and a risk that it will only be achieved by a new race to the bottom in poor quality provision. Also need to address the devolution of powers from Holyrood to local government.

On next year’s council elections, the SEC agreed a paper on how many candidates should be put up in each ward, following work with each Local Campaign Forum. Some plans are still outstanding and we are awaiting parliamentary consideration of the Boundary Commission report. There was a welcome consensus in this year’s process. A range of positive action measures are being taken, including all women short lists in winnable seats, with the aim of returning more women councillors than in 2012. Still plenty of challenges to change the culture of under representation of women in councils across all parties. An organisational strategy paper for local government will be presented to the November meeting.

The meeting agreed the process for the election of CLP places on the SEC later this year in time for the February conference. The closing date for nominations will be 4 November.

An excellent paper on accessibility issues within Scottish Labour, ‘Not just chairs and stairs’ was agreed. A really good piece of work done by Ryan McMullan.

The party autonomy proposals are on track. It will go to the UK conference in September and then to Scottish conference next February. This is a significant step forward and will bring the party rules into line with devolution.