I’ve just got back from two days in Glasgow for UNISON Labour Link training yesterday , and today the annual Labour Link Forum. Friday’s session gave me some interesting ideas on working within UNISON to take our policies into the Labour Party, but I was looking forward most of all to the hustings held on Saturday for the Scottish Labour leadership candidates.
I had no strong leanings towards one candidate or another, but I felt that Johann and ken had more to do in term of letting me know where they stood, but that might have been because I know Tom Harris better instead of any lack on their part. Likewise in the deputy contest, I felt I knew more about Lewis Macdonald, and wanted to hear more from Ian and Anas.
Johann started well, and told us how she had been an EIS activist for twenty years and she identified many of the issues which affect union members across Scotland, but didn’t, I felt, offer any solutions. She did, however have an intriguing offer of a place in her shadow cabinet for representatives from the Trade Unions. Johann said that Labour had lost its way, and hence we had lost Scotland, and Unison members must help shape Labour’s, and Scotland’s future.
She also, and this is something I have also been saying for some time, that too many Trade Union Levy payers didn’t vote Labour. Not just levy payers, say I. One remark that I liked was she felt it was great to visit Liverpool and not feel like it was a foreign country.
Ken Macintosh started by telling us of the unison campaigns he had supported as an MSP in the past, and he would continue to do so regardless of the result. He identified that the Labour vote in Scotland had been in continuous decline since 1999, and that if we do nothing it will continue to shrink. The Labour movement, he said, was bigger than the SNP, but we need to be positive in order to turn things around.
Ken said he had always believed in Home Rule, and that something which had worked well for him in Eastwood was to get all Labour representatives to work together, MPs, MSPs and councillors. However, there arnt (in his opinion) enough Labour voters in Scotland to give us victory, so we have to have broad appeal. Our attacks on the SNP need to be focussed, and when they will resonate with the wider public. His priorities are Jobs, Growth and Education, and he wants us to be able to say we are both pro-Scottish and Pro-British.
Tom Harris shocked me with the fact that more Scots had voted for Thatcher’s Tories in 1983 than had voted for Labour in 2011. This gave us an idea of the size of the task ahead of us, and to turn it around, we have to take the SNPs arguments head on. The independence referendum seemed to be the main issue confronting us, and we have to realise that despite the hype, the SNP were only ever positive about independence – we must stand up for Scots – unlike the SNP.
Tom said that Labour had defined itself by its arrogance, and we became too managerial. He wont defend PFI, but did say he wanted his constituents to have the new schools and hospitals that it provided – with hindsight things should have been done differently. Challenged on policy, Tom said that we shouldn’t be making policy on the hoof now, 3 and a half years out from an election, but that he would be listening to all stakeholders, not just trade unions. He was, however, in favour of full employment, and as a start we should be campaigning for GARL (Glasgow Airport Rail Link), as work was the real way out of poverty. I think this was a tough audience for Tom, as I suspect many had already made up their minds about him.
Many activists were able to ask questions of the candidates, but one I wanted to ask them was what they felt they could do to help promote Labour and Trade Union values in areas outside the movements core areas.
To sum up, I felt Ken performed better than I had expected, and Tom had performed poorer than I thought he would. Johann came across well – especially in terms of understanding the issues, but was, I felt, light on the actual solutions. At the end of the day, I still haven’t made up my mind, although UNISON Scotland has now endorsed Johann.
Tomorrow I will talk about how I saw the deputy leadership hustings, but looking back, the real highlight for me was actually the chance to meet fellow activists, and put faces to those friends I have on Facebook. It was good to meet up with Katrina Murray and Gordon McKay again from Labour national conference, to meet Alan Cowan and Stephen Low – not to mention Dave Watson! It was good to make new friends such as George McIrvine and Tom Ferguson from Dundee as well. George and Tom certainly made the train journey home more interesting!