My last blog post talked about what the candidates for the Scottish Labour leadership said during the hustings held during the UNISON Labour Link forum meeting held in Glasgow. The end result was for UNISON to nominate Johann, while I still remain undecided. The deputy leadership hustings however ended with me firmly deciding who I would be supporting for deputy leadership.
Like the leadership hustings, I viewed the candidates all equally, although I did know more about Lewis Macdonald. Lewis opened the session and stressed his experience in working in Holyrood, with much of that time as a minister. He has a long family tradition of involvement in the trade union movement, and personally has done a lot to promote the health and safety work of unions. His proudest moment was the work he had done when he was working for Frank Doran to help the families of the victims of the Piper Alpha disaster and the trade unions to vastly improve the health and safety regime for offshore oil workers.
Ian Davidson was next and recognised the bad situation the Labour Party was in, and that this was because of faulty politics, not faulty organisation. The Labour Party had basically forgot who their friends were, and he saw taxation as a way of paying for public services as a mark of a civilised society. He absolutely supported the November 30th strike, and would be out on the picket lines supporting public sector workers. He felt that only by Labour politicians doing this could they help reconnect with trade unions. He was also a firm beleiver in pushing powers down to the most appropriate body – especially down to local authorities, and not centralising them in Edinburgh.
Anas Sarwar talked about he had been awoken politically by a visit to Palestine at the age of 12. He made the good point that unlike the nationalists, we dont define ourselves by allegiance to a flag, but however the Labour Party and the Labour Movement are now two separate movements – and that was the fault of the Labour Party. He said that the party must challenge the pay freeze and the increase in pension contributions, especially at a time when prices were rising.
There then followed a number of questions from the floor. When questioned by Katrina Murray on what he saw as the role of the deputy leader, Lewis said he felt that their function was to support the leader, especially in the tough times that Labour will face ahead, as well as to engage with the unions. He said that working with MPs, MSPs and councillors had worked in Aberdeen and he would look at doing that across Scotland. Ian said the job should be to inclusive and provide a key link with trade unions, local government and the wider party. Anas said he would be a key part to unify the labour movement, and would work to reconnect MPs, MSPs and councillors.
Alan Cowan asked about the candidates views on Gay marriage, and all the candidates said they supported it, although Lewis said we had to mindful of not forcing churches to accept it.
Another question was raised about repealing anti-trade union legislation. Anas gave an unequivocal ‘Yes’ while Lewis identified the rules which had allowed courts to overturn ballot results on small technicalities as deserving of special attention. Ian said that Labour had got the politics wrong. The legislation had come from an ideological position, of seeing trade unions as “the grit in the machine” or business, while he saw unions as being good for business, working for good relations between employers and workers.
In their final summary, Ian said we had to connect our achievements with the reality of peoples lives – he highlighted that many people didn’t see things such as the minimum wage, working tax credits etc as being Labour achievements. He talked about the recent allegations against him, and made the point that not one of the officials, or any of the other members of the committee had corroborated the allegations – it was a mark of how much the SNP feared him. Anas said we had to make being a member of the Labour Party fun again.
I have to say that I felt that Anas came across as very “New Labour” to me, and that I wasn’t sure he really believed some of the things he was saying, especially about support for trade unions. Ian, on the other hand came across to me very well, showing he understood the problem we faced, and his record in taking his seat from the SNP, and increasing his majority every election proved he was capable from taking them on and winning. He had also worked very closely with trade unions, not least as Secretary of the Trade Union group in parliament, and even in maintaining links with RMT and FBU, unions who are no longer affiliated with Labour.
I think that Ian is the best of the candidates to be deputy leader, his commitment to the trade union movement cannot be questioned, and I think he has shown he can take on the nationalists. I am pleased to say that UNISON also thinks the same way, and Ian has been endorsed him.