SEC report – July 2017

This was the first SEC since the general election. It started with a presentation on the campaign and the outcome, together with some thoughts on next steps.

Scottish Labour’s recovery from 15% polling at the start of the year, to 20% in the local elections and 27% in the general election, demonstrates real progress. Five out of six target seats were won and two more from the second tier.

There was a big thank you to the candidates and their teams for the huge effort they personally put in, in some cases without as much local support as they deserved. Many candidates volunteered at a time when this looked like a hopeless task and the careerists went missing. They reflected an authenticity in the campaign from Jeremy downwards.

The meeting also congratulated Lesley Laird on her appointment as Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland.

SEC members contributed a range of views on the campaign and where we should go from here. The trade unions also shared their feedback from member campaigns. The big shift in voting intention came late in the campaign and this was largely thanks to the positive manifesto. As ever there was a debate on the fine balancing act between messaging on the constitution and austerity. There was limited evidence of tactical voting in some seats, but the Tory vote has to be addressed in Labour’s strategy going forward.

The September meeting will give further consideration to the campaign going forward. However, there will be a busy summer of campaign events and Jeremy is planning to come to Scotland three times before September. SEC members indicated that they would also welcome other shadow cabinet members coming to Scotland. The election had enthused our membership and supporter base and it was vital that we build on that momentum.

With the risk of another UK general election, consideration was given to selecting candidates. There are a number of considerations, not least the possibility of boundary changes. Members wanted to ensure that we retained the 50:50 gender balance of candidates as well as other underrepresented groups. There was also a need to review the rules for selection contests to ensure there is a level playing field for all potential candidates. It was therefore agreed that while we need to progress the selection of candidates, the constitution committee would give detailed consideration to these issues and report to the September meeting.

On local government, the SEC congratulated Alison Evison on her election as President of COSLA. There will be a meeting of council Labour groups on 15 August to look at how groups can be supported and political strategies better coordinated. SEC members also indicated that there was a need to look at how the Local Campaign Forum structure was operating.

The panel appointed to consider power sharing arrangements reported to the SEC. Ten requests had been received from Labour groups. Several had been sent back for further consideration and three rejected. Aberdeen councillors had been suspended and a formal disciplinary investigation would be initiated.

A motion was received from one CLP questioning if their Labour group had broken the rules. This will be investigated and report brought to the next meeting.

Finally, a report was presented on new structures for women’s forums and the UK women’s conference. A task group will work up new arrangements in Scotland.

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.

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.