Henry McLeish: the era of multi-party politics, government and coalitions has arrived

Written by Henry McLeish on 14 April 2015 in Comment

Labour needs to promote with conviction and passion that they remain the party of social justice and fairness

Why is it so difficult to weave the wisdom of the past into a modern, progressive narrative for the future? For Labour in Scotland this is the priority. Recent events have shown that social justice, equality and fairness are the issues that the people of Scotland want to talk about and support.

The leadership debate involving the seven party leaders was remarkable, registering the arrival of multi-party politics but also the idea of multi-party government, where political parties will have to work with each other as the norm and not the exception. 

What was also revealing was the political fault line running through Britain where the right leaning Lib Dem leader (I hope many of the Scottish Lib Dems don’t share his views), UKIP and the Tories seem to be in sharp contrast to Labour, Plaid, the Greens and Labour.

We are witnessing more and more parties competing for the votes from people concerned about fairness and social justice

There is a blurring of the difference between parties and their traditional manifestos.

What we are seeing is the formation of broader alliances of interest around core values and principles.

The era of multi-party politics, government and coalitions has arrived and the days of exclusive manifestos, majorities and the domination of the traditional parties is at an end. We are witnessing more and more parties competing for the votes from people concerned about fairness and social justice.

For Labour in Scotland this is the challenge and the only agenda. Labour’s history, the inspiration of our founding fathers, progressive principle and ethical socialism, real practical achievements of the NHS and the Welfare State reinforce our claim to be the party of social justice.

This view unfortunately is not shared by a growing number of electors who, question what Labour stands for, believe the party should give up the mythical centre ground of politics and stop chasing polls as an driver of what Labour should be thinking or doing. Labour in Scotland has to counter the perception that the SNP is now the party of social justice and the poor.

The leadership debate allowed Nicola Sturgeon to argue that her party was anti-austerity, for universalism in terms of tuition fees and prescriptions, for social justice and ready to support extra public spending on sensible social investment: these are Labour’s issues. 

Glasgow and Dundee represent the cities where this perception is gaining ground as we enter the final weeks of the campaign. There has to be a new narrative challenging the SNP on their philosophical base and a critique of how a populist party is able to sustain a broad coalition of political interests to deliver constitutional change and at the same time move to the left.

On the other side of the argument Labour, after a period of being unclear about their political identity, needs to promote with conviction and passion that they remain the party of social justice and fairness and argue a convincing social democratic case for tackling inequality and promoting social mobility.

Of course this will be difficult but it is the only way forward. Reframing this narrative is complex and certainly can’t be done in the few weeks left of the General Election campaign. But a start has to be made! Beyond the general election we have 12 months before the Holyrood election.

A major test for Labour is whether they can create a convincing, credible, supportable and sustainable solution for Scotland, within the Union

A major test for Labour is whether it can create a convincing, credible, supportable and sustainable solution for Scotland, within the Union. Home Rule has to be the answer. Social Justice and Home Rule are the big issues which will determine the future of Scotland and seal the fate of both Labour and the SNP.

The stakes are high. Labour’s founding fathers had something to say which was relevant to the times they lived in, were passionate about a different tomorrow and engaged electors in a common cause; the common good not the middle ground. Labour needs to reassert a powerful philosophy for our politics where self belief and inspiration are evident and ethics, values and principles provide the enduring base. This is what standing for something means.

Labour has to stand for something significant and be relevant, credible and convincing. A new political order is there to won. No one should ever doubt the importance of the timeless assertion of the dignity of men and women and what we can do to enhance self worth and realise human potential. This is the social justice agenda: new demands and old politics! 

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