Henry McLeish: The pillars upon which the Labour party can be reinvented

Written by Henry McLeish on 2 June 2015 in Comment

Labour has to avoid denial, resentment, a sense of entitlement, and take seriously the political and constitutional changes now shaping our nation

For Labour in Scotland, electing a new leader is vital to creating a modern social democratic party, rebuilding trust with voters and writing a new narrative for what the party stands for. This is not the time for factions, personality politics or the old tired debate about whether we should lurch to the right or left! Labour has to avoid denial, resentment, a sense of entitlement, and take seriously the political and constitutional changes now shaping our nation.

Identity, purpose and vision are everything. There must be: an independent Labour Party in Scotland taking on the SNP; progressiveness over populism; a more inclusive civic engagement and creation of coalitions of interest; an attempt to learn from Europe; an embrace of nationality and identity to confront nationalism and independence; a reassertion of philosophy and principles, values and vision; social justice and mobility, aspiration, and the common good as our platform; passion, patriotism, pride and a broader humanity as the spirit; and a credible alternative to independence. These are some of the pillars upon which the Labour Party can be reinvented. 


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An independent Labour Party in Scotland: Labour in Scotland needs to be the voice of Scotland as well as the party that provides progressive policies.  We need to learn from Europe. In Bavaria, the CSU operates very successfully in one of the most prosperous states in Germany. They are totally distinctive and autonomous within German politics but contribute at federal level to the CDU in its attempts to form a government. Four-nation politics is the new reality in the UK.

A movement not just a party: Labour needs to become less insular and include others who share our views, regardless of party; more inclusive, radical and with more self-belief.  Hence, philosophy, principles and progressive policies are inextricably linked. Social justice and social mobility are built on aspiration, ambition and the common good. Trust is built on certainty, credibility and consistency.

Identity, nationality and progressiveness: Labour must focus on the differences between identity and independence, nationality and nationalism, and progressiveness and populism. It should accept the importance of identity and nationality, in sharp contrast to the narrower ideas of independence and nationalism. Similarly, Labour should highlight the differences between progressiveness and populism. The battleground should be populism, nationalism and independence versus progressiveness, identity and nationality. 

Philosophy and principles: The philosophical differences between Labour and the SNP have to be spelled out. The SNP is not intellectually or instinctively a progressive centre-left party, but it could become so. The make-up of the SNP and its wide and eclectic support requires populism, not progressivism, to keep together a wide coalition of interests based on the idea of independence for a large core of their traditional vote and then policies which can garnish electoral support, which they have been very successful in achieving. The SNP is neither a party that is based on deep philosophical roots nor one that has a vision where equality, justice and fairness dominate. Labour has to expose their weak points.

Social justice, aspiration and social mobility: A vital part of Labour’s vision and agenda is social justice and fairness, the public good, equality, and virtue. This is linked to social mobility, tackling inequality and poverty. 

Passion, patriotism and pride: Labour has allowed one party to monopolise national sentiment. People want to express themselves in this way which is all about national identity. Consequently, people have migrated to a party that represents their innermost national pride and aspiration.  Labour could be the voice of Scotland in Westminster, Holyrood, Brussels, in every council chamber and promote, alongside others, the interests of Scots and Scotland. Our internationalism, including our Europeanism, should be an important part of our vision.

Home rule or federalism, alternatives to independence: Labour and Scotland need a credible and intelligent alternative to independence based on a vision for Scotland in a new union. This has to be home rule or some form of federalism. It makes no sense to drip-feed the idea of independence and fuel nationalism by pretending that the transfer of powers from Westminster is a logical response to every SNP surge. If Scots want to stay in the Union, Labour needs a credible, sustainable alternative. Labour may have decided it wants Scotland to remain within the Union but it has not addressed how this can be achieved!  The SNP knows where it is going. Labour doesn’t! 

The Holyrood election is less than a year away. Labour must proclaim loudly and clearly that radical change is in hand, a renewed party with a bigger vision is being created, and Labour will aspire to be a voice for Scotland as well as being the party of social justice, aspiration, and social and economic mobility. 



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