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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.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Why I am supporting Neil Findlay for Scottish Labour Leader

Scottish Labour needs an authentic voice to win back support and that's why I am supporting Neil Findlay as the next Leader of Scottish Labour.

The days when voters could be won with spin and little substance are long gone. Professional politicians have a lexicon all of their own. They are listening, even when they patently are not. They are in favour of good things and against bad. They care about 'hard working families' and other such meaningless banalities. So when they say they are concerned about 'social justice' or 'children and families', voters say fine but what are you actually going to do. In contrast, Neil Findlay says, 'we will build 50,000 homes and ensure everyone is paid a living wage'. Straight talking and practical solutions. Of course we are listening, but we are going to do something about the gross inequalities in our society as well.

The other problem with the spin culture in the Labour Party is that it's all too often directed, not at political opponents, but at comrades. The constant briefing against Johann Lamont in recent months 'by friends of' is just the latest example. If Neil Findlay has something to say to you, he says it to your face. We need a leader who will lead by example on this point.

To Neil, politics isn't some game or a profession to be learned in student politics and refined as a parliamentary researcher. He was a bricklayer, who benefited from a real apprenticeship and then used the opportunities a Labour government provided to become a housing officer and then a teacher. His politics were forged in his own working class community, refined as a local councillor and a shadow minister, and he has never abandoned them. That's why his passion comes through, not in glib sound bites, but in the language people understand.

I have seen so many professional politicians talk to our members and when they move away the member says, "they were very nice, but what are they actually going to do?" When the Daily Mail attacked the 'wit and wisdom of comrade Neil', the reaction of most people I spoke to was - that's brilliant. I particular liked his retort to a Tory MSP on Thatcher's record on mine closures, he said, "Presiding Officer, you will have to excuse me as I wipe the vomit from my chin having listened to Murdo Fraser's rewriting of history". Most of our supporters hearing that would be cheering!

I have a lot of respect for Jim Murphy's achievements in winning and holding a constituency that would be safe Tory seat in England. However, Newton Mearns is not typical Scotland. We have to win back support in Glasgow, Clydebank and many other areas that have very different problems. The 20 year old 'New Labour' textbook just won't hack it any more. 'Triangulation' only starts to work if you have a core base to triangulate on. Labour is at risk of losing that base and we have to start by offering real solutions.

Ever since the New Labour era, many Labour politicians sound timid and unsure. Predistribution is the right policy, but instead of just asking bad employers if they would stop taxpayer subsidised poverty pay - we should say, 'we will raise the minimum wage to the living wage'. Instead of saying, 'we will see if we can build a few more houses' - we should say, 'we will build the 10,000 homes a year Shelter say we need'. And by the way neither of these policies need have a net impact on public spending.

Now, some people say the 'New Labour' textbook has worked for the SNP. Of course they have adopted much of it and there is often a gap between their rhetoric and delivery. However, the difference is that they can and do blame any and all delivery failure on wicked Westminster - although even this will wear thin eventually. I would also say, is power without purpose what most of us joined the Labour Party for? No, we want power and we want to do something with it.

Neil also comes without negative political baggage. Labour's political opponents can't say, he voted for or did any of the unpopular policies associated with past Labour governments. This means he can focus on the future, not spend all his time defending the past.

It is not surprising that the establishment is not supporting Neil. His politics are a challenge to the politics as usual that they are comfortable with. But Neil is no wide eyed 'leftie', he can be just as scathing about fantasy politics on the left as he is when attacking the real enemies of working people. He can build a broad coalition of support for a fairer and more equal Scotland, because many of those doing well can understand that a more equal society benefits everyone.

Neil Findlay is not a perfectly groomed professional politician, with a ready sound bite for every occasion. But in the current political environment that's a strength, not a weakness. He's the real thing. An authentic politician of the sort that Labour used to produce in droves - before politics became a career choice. That's why I am supporting Neil Findlay for Leader and I hope you will too.





  1. Agreed. We need principles, not platitudes. The worst example was my Labour Party answering "No" to this question on the consultation on the 2006 Consumer Credit Act:-
    Will the Act introduce maximum limits on interest rates for consumer credit?
    Something we had criticised Conservative government for but seemed to toss aside our belief in power. I always felt Gordon Brown lost his way after his old Mum died!

  2. Rosie Murray Councillor15 November 2014 at 19:38

    To Dave Watson's post I simply want to say 'hear, hear!'