Let’s talk about the Real Divide 

Statement from the CfS Executive on the 2017 local election:

We have majored on opposing an independence referendum in Holyrood 2011, the last desperate days of Jim Murphy’sGeneral Election campaign in 2015, and Council elections in 2017.

We need to shift the focus during the rest of the General Election campaign to policies around work, wages and housing. 

This isn’t to say that Scottish Labour should be advocating an independence referendum – far less independence. Merely to say that if we are to make any sort of comeback we need to force the centre of political debate away from ‘the national question’. We will need to do this because it is very much in the interests of both the Tories and the SNP to keep that particular pot boiling. 

Talking about a “divisive indyref” means that we aren’t talking about the real divide in Scotland. The divide between people with plenty and people using foodbanks; between the people who have it all and the people who are just looking to get a rent they can afford; a job that pays them enough to live on. Our big pitch in the local government elections wasn’t about that.

The main emphasis for the party leadership in the last year has been, rather than try to appeal across the board on policies that will deliver for people across Scotland, to ramp up a unionist identity in a bid to stop support going to the Tories. 

Kezia Dugdale’s much feted visit to London wasn’t about Labour as a party of federalism and radical change – it was about launching the idea of “a new Act of Union”. 

This was the theme right the way through Scottish Conference. Tom Watson and Sadiq Khan both talking about the need for “a new Act of Union”, even though that wasn’t the policy we had passed. Presumably someone who was briefing them felt the need to keep pushing that line, however. 

The contrast with Alex Rowley’s speech – which majored on Labour’s record in local government and what we wanted to do was massive. Needless to say Alex’s speech received very little coverage . We’d have done better if Kezia had delivered the speech Alex gave and that approach had dominated the local government elections– rather than the other way round. 

Now, one hundred and thirty seats down, with no majority anywhere and the tories making gains at our expense, we face the issue of how Scotland’s councils are to be administered. We, particularly in the midst of a General Election, need to be making ourselves look distinct. Deals with Conservatives on Councils won’t do that.  Labour groups who are forming coalitions with the Tories won’t be putting through a programme, so much as contributing to further decline.

We need to shift to an approach based in essence (though not in vocabulary) on class rather than country. On people lives and living standards, rather than national identity and constitution mongering. 

This isn’t a silver bullet of course, the roots of labour collapse are multiple and long term, recovery is likely to be similar. We are, of course, in the middle of a General Election so we must do what can be done now.  The current approach has failed (again). It’s time to major on the Living Wage, on zero hour contracts on ending the housing crisis – on the real divide.