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.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

A brisk walk along the beach to clear my head from the excesses of last night, leads to reflections on 2017 and thoughts for the year ahead.

The UK general election was obviously one of two dominant issues last year. Jeremy Corbyn led a recovery in Labour's position that few predicted, based on radical policies that tuned into the concerns of the many, not the few. The other was Brexit, which continues to polarise opinion and distract from the huge challenges we face as a society. I would add the Scottish Labour leadership election which, through the election of Richard Leonard, sets a new direction for the party in Scotland.

Looking back on my blog statistics for last year, posts on local government finance topped the number of reads. While the reason and content varied, the substance was the same - Tory austerity has largely been dumped on local government in Scotland.  Partly because it is one step removed from ministers, but also because we haven't done enough to make the case for local democracy and services. It is something we need to focus more effort on in 2018.

The next most popular batch of posts was, perhaps surprisingly, on health and safety themes. In particular, research I did on shift working and before that the ageing workforce, clearly tapped into a wider audience. The impact of technology, automation and life expectancy are workplace issues we should give more consideration to. The basic income pilots in Scotland are one response and I suspect I will be spending considerable time on our pension schemes in 2018.

Election posts and the Scottish Labour leadership election came a close third. We must always be prepared for another UK general election in 2018. The Scottish Labour leadership contest means we are a bit behind organisationally, and we will need to catch up early in the new year. However, being a truly mass membership party is a good starting point and the party needs to change to reflect that new reality. The review led by Katy Clark should help to focus minds on the key issues, although it is a matter for the Scottish Labour Party to take forward change here.

The potential of a break in the annual cycle of elections in Scotland is an opportunity to be more creative in policy development. Public service reform is likely to be high on the agenda this year and I hope to find time to develop the ideas I outlined in my Reid Foundation paper on this issue. I will also be doing some work on the local governance review, which is an opportunity to breathe some new life into local democracy. The Scottish Parliament was created 20 years ago and while I am not going to join those who denigrate its achievements, I agree that it is time for our parliament to be bolder, particularly over tackling inequality.

The early part of the year will be dominated by the budget and austerity will continue to blight our economy and public services. Local government and pay will be our focus. On pay, the new government pay policy, while progress in the right direction, still falls short of what we were looking for. Equally important, a paper policy is of little use if it is not fully funded.

I fear the rest of the year will be dominated by Brexit as the UK government attempts to balance their internal conflicts and the hugely difficult negotiations, without any sense of direction. Something that even the newest shop steward understands is a vital element of any negotiation.

I have no time for those who want to dance on a pin in defining Labour's position, or use it as a proxy for attacking the leadership. However, the consequences for Scotland of Brexit are potentially severe and probably not yet fully understood. We should also not forget the opportunities for Scotland, both in terms of devolved powers and in those areas were EU regulation has been a barrier. All this requires some very tricky balancing acts.

Some of my personal goals for 2017 were not achieved - not least I am no lighter and Fulham's performances on the football pitch mirror inconsistency in other areas of public life. However, I am if nothing an optimist, in my view the essential quality every socialist needs.

So here's wishing everyone a prosperous 2018 - I hope a year in which we make further strides in creating a society that works for the many not the few.

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