Welcome to my Blog

I was the Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland until my retirement in September 2018. I now work on several policy development projects, so all views are very definitely my own. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Thoughts on the Labour Leadership election

The Labour Party leadership ballot papers dropped on the doorstep this week. Hold the front page, I voted for Jeremy Corbyn! Not that I welcomed this ballot paper. This election is entirely  unnecessary - foisted on the party by MPs in the Westminster bubble, who should have been fighting the Tories rather than the leader elected less than a year ago.

On Tuesday, I was speaking at a Scotlandfest event in Edinburgh that discussed what Keir Hardie would have made of the leadership ballot. As those who have read my chapter in the book 'What Would Keir Hardy Say?', will know that I am bit sceptical of those who seek to put modern day words into the mouth of historical figures. So, I wasn't terribly impressed with Owen Smith's piece in the Daily Record, quite apart from the fact that Hardie wouldn't be spinning in his grave for anything - he was cremated!

The discussion did cover an important feature of the leadership ballot. Yes, Hardie did see the importance of the parliamentary road to socialism, but he was also an agitator who understood the importance building a social movement behind the parliamentary action. He would have revelled in the Corbyn rallies and the sheer enthusiasm of the audiences.

In my view it's not an either/or, Labour has to do both. Becoming the largest political party in Europe is a staggering achievement, but I accept that Jeremy has more to do when in comes to converting that into an electoral machine. Owen Smith has tried to learn the lessons of last year's campaign by saying some substantial and radical things. However, he still looks and sounds like a professional politician and has failed to really enthuse even his own supporters. 

On Thursday Jeremy was in Scotland, setting out some pretty solid policy ideas. They do need to be developed, but the claim that he is policy light, has little substance. I was speaking at his policy launch, explaining the impact of austerity on Scotland's public services. Jeremy set out how we should tackle austerity in language that public service workers understand. He could not have been clearer when he said:

"We need to challenge not just austerity, but the failed economic model that has undermined our treasured public services and created a more unequal, and more brutal society."

He also gets devolution, and has laid out an ambitious programme for democratic reform across the UK. He understands that real constitutional reform addresses the sources of power in society - not just playing with the institutions.

Then there were substantial economic commitments. Doubling capital investment, democratic control of the energy sector, 60,000 council houses and a real industrial strategy. He gets the concerns of workers over insecure jobs and low pay with a commitment to end 'the cheapskate economy', restoring workers rights.

The leadership ballot has thrown up some silly season stories. Dave Anderson's very tentative musings on relationships with the SNP at Westminster were picked up somewhat hysterically by Kez Dugdale, no doubt influenced by her position on the leadership. She would do well to remember that her comrades in Edinburgh Council are in coalition with the SNP. The simple fact is that when the electorate deal you a hand you have to play with it. Jeremy dealt with the issue very clearly on Thursday, but the criticism of this from Neal Lawson of Compass, simply demonstrates political naivety and the London-centric focus of Compass. Talk of progressive alliances implies pre-election deals and that isn't going to happen.

The real gain for Scotland from a Jeremy Corbyn leadership is a leader who is prepared to campaign for a new economic model that ensures that no-one and nowhere is left behind. If he can achieve that at a UK level, then Scotland can decide its own priorities. 

The difference with Jeremy and most other political leaders I have met, is that he really believes in the case he is making. He is not tacking for a particular audience or a short term political strategy. His record speaks for itself. Authenticity may not be everything the Labour Party needs - but it is a start.


  1. I voted JC last time on policy and don't doubt his commitment - but the accounts of his leadership are awful . See his failure to denounce booing of Kez until today, as a small example. JC clearly has authenticity but I don't think we should doubt Smith and others' commitment to progressive causes. There's a hare's breadth between them on policy - so, for competence, unity and wider electoral, it's Smith this time for me.

  2. John, the difference between JC and Smith is that what Corbyn says is what he would actually do as PM. I'm not so sure about Smith - who by all accounts is a career politician. He keeps bringing up Bevan, but he worked for "big pharma".. Truth, honesty, authenticity - words that actually mean something in most peoples' books.