My Speech to Conference

In the run-up to the 2015 Scottish Labour Conference, when the refugee crisis that is still affecting millions today first came to prominence, my home CLP, Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, proposed an emergency motion to respond. That motion was selected to be debated on the Conference floor and was passed with unanimous support.

During the debate, I addressed Conference, urging the floor to remember our proud history of supporting refugees and making clear my firm belief that we had a duty to do more. The transcript of my speech is below.


Conference,

When David Cameron announced his plan to accept refugees into the United Kingdom, his headline figure was 20,000 refugees. 20,000. Barely enough to fill one fifth of Wembley Stadium. Two thirds of 1% of the total number of refugees from Syria. Less than 31 refugees per constituency. These are not figures to be proud of.

Britain has a proud history of welcoming refugees. From the tens of thousands of Asians escaping persecution in Idi Amin’s Uganda, to the Jews who fled from Hitler’s Germany, the United Kingdom has led the world in welcoming those who have nowhere else to go. Because, just as with refugees from Syria today, they had nowhere else to go.

Those who flee Syria do not do so from choice. They are not, as some suggest, economic migrants who come to Britain based upon a calculated decision to seek a higher standard of living. They flee Syria, leaving behind everything they know, because doing so is their only chance of survival.

This nation has a duty to do more. When our friends and neighbours across Europe are taking as many as half a million or more refugees, we cannot simply sit here today content with 20,000. There is a moral imperative upon us to do more. That starts with working with our friends and neighbours across Europe to secure a fair, equitable and moral distribution of refugees throughout the continent.

Conference, it cannot be said that refugees, or indeed immigration in any of its forms, have negatively affected the UK. In a time when our population is aging, an influx of the young is essential in ensuring the continued success and prosperity of the economy, and the stability of our welfare system. Nor can it be said that refugees will harm community cohesion: examples throughout our history suggest otherwise, and I firmly believe that modern Britain is more tolerant than ever before in our history.

Conference, we are all human. Each and every one of us, be we Scots, Syrians, refugees or British citizens, share within us those essential things that make us human: compassion, kindness and solidarity. It’s time the United Kingdom stood up and said this. It’s down to us to make that happen.

Conference, I urge you to support this motion.

 


For reference, the text of the motion debated is, I believe, as follows:

That Conference rejects the Government’s proposed imposition of a restriction on the number of asylum seekers received in the U.K. to 20,000 during this Parliament as a denial of their rights of refuge from violence, oppression and poverty and an abuse of the traditional right of our citizens and humanitarian organisatons to provide asylum to those in need;   calls on the National Executive to demand that the UK join in and support the EU Agenda Programme on Migration;  and for that purpose undertakes, through the Labour Party Task Force on Refugees, the research and preparation needed for a planned programme of refuge, welfare and opportunity to reside and contribute to Scottish society to all asylum seekers, whether in camps around Syria or in transit in Europe or in Northern Africa.

Why I’m Standing

Scottish Labour is at a crossroads, and the choice before us is a stark one: do we embrace a modern, boldly socialist vision that can and will lead us back to power and change Scotland for the better, or drift onto the vague road to electoral irrelevance, clinging to the past instead of moving with the times? It may sound dramatic, but these are the issues which face us today, and the time for a decision is now. There is no doubt in my mind which path we must follow.

Throughout history, it has always been the young who are at the forefront of change and progress. It has always been the young who push boundaries, challenge established wisdom, and ultimately make change happen. The Scottish Labour Party today is in a rut, and only by ensuring the voice of young Labour members across Scotland are heard can we hope to escape this. The importance of the youth positions on the SEC are therefore of vital importance.

Today, young Labour members are overwhelmingly of the Left. Across Scotland, and indeed the UK, young people are being mobilised by the politics of Jeremy Corbyn, the politics of equality, fairness and socialism. The youth of today have grown up in the crisis of capitalism that has shaken the very foundation of the economic system that for so long was seen as unassailable and so today’s youth does not see politics anywhere near the same as those who grew up twenty or thirty years ago see it. As has been proven time and time again in recent years, there has been a fundamental shift in the way politics works. Scottish Labour must catch up, and young Labour members must be at the heart of that.

The significance of these youth SEC elections is therefore clear. It is essential that the elected youth representatives be able to clearly and passionately articulate the views of the majority of young members on the direction that Scottish Labour must take. It is vital that they are committed to the boldly socialist ideals that must be at the heart of Labour’s future success. And it is crucial that they have the determination and grit required to fight for the bold, socialist Labour government we need to change Scotland for the better.

I believe I fulfil those values.

I joined Scottish Labour on my 14th birthday. Since then I’ve been fighting to advance the socialist Labour values we all believe in. From speaking at Conference in defence of refugee rights, to standing up for the interests of young members in my constituency, to campaigning for Labour candidates both in my constituency and across Scotland, I have proven time and again my commitment to our socialist values.

I have experienced first-hand the fundamental economic inequalities which are at the heart of the growing gig economy. I worked on a zero-hour contract, with irregular, short-notice hours making planning a proper work-life balance all but impossible, and the painfully low wages that go along with such work. I know the vital importance of trade unions in fighting for the rights of young people against the bosses who seek to take advantage of our perceived inability to challenge them and I completely believe in the necessity of the whole Labour movement, party and trade unions both, working in tandem in order to transform the status quo to make work pay for everyone.

Ultimately, I want to take my commitment to and involvement in the Labour Party to the next level. It’s time for a boldly socialist Scottish Labour Party to stand up and make our voices heard. I want to represent all young members across Scotland on the SEC, to put our shared values into action so we can build Scottish Labour into a radical force for change once again. That’s why I’m asking you to vote for me to be your young SEC representative. I hope I can count on your vote.

Time For A Leader Who’s Visibly From The Left

Originally posted on LabourHame

When BBC News broke the story that Kezia Dugdale had resigned the leadership of Scottish Labour on Tuesday night, I was shocked, and saddened. Perhaps no leader in the history of Scottish Labour has been so brave, so determined, or faced so vast a challenge. When Kezia took on the leadership Scottish Labour had just lost 40 seats in the most devastating general election in our history. To be brave enough to step up and take on what so many saw as a ‘poisoned chalice’ is laudable; to do so at the age of 33 even more so.

Kezia began the rebuilding process that is vital to Scottish Labour’s political survival. Under her leadership, Scottish Conference voted to back the abolition of the Trident nuclear missile system, an important step in renewing Labour’s centre-left credentials in Scotland. Under her leadership, the SNP’s feet were held to the fire, and the Scottish Government’s left-wing mask has crumbled under the pressure of a renewed, vocal and determined opposition. And under her leadership, Scottish Labour began the essential task of rebuilding our parliamentary cohort, with 6 new MPs elected in the June 2017 general election.

This rebuilding process is far from complete. But I believe Kezia was right when she said it was time to “pass the baton on” to a fresh new leader.

For all Kezia has done much to detoxify the Labour brand in Scotland, that has come at a cost. The constant pressure of media scrutiny and public backlash against Scottish Labour’s past failings has naturally, though through no fault of her own, tarnished Kezia’s personal brand. In the eyes of many, she is undeniably linked to the hated New Labour political class, and this perception is only reinforced by her closeness to Murphy’s leadership, and her longstanding opposition to Corbyn’s leadership of the UK party. Kezia’s personal convictions have been a real strength of her leadership, giving her an authenticity that is rarely seen in politics and that Nicola Sturgeon simply cannot match. But it is these very same convictions that has made her position increasingly difficult.

Scotland is, on the whole, a progressive country with a strong socialist tradition. For all people point to the recent Conservative revival in Scotland, it is important to note: over 70% of Scots voted for parties broadly on the left in the 2017 general election. But many among that 70% cannot see Kezia as a true socialist worthy of their vote.

The truth of that perception is doubtful. Kezia has moved Scottish Labour firmly leftward in her time as leader, as was clearly demonstrated through the manifesto on which we fought the 2016 Holyrood election. But like it or not, in politics, perceptions matter. And the perception of many is that Kezia Dugdale is not the sort of socialist people want to see leading Scotland.

Scottish Labour is a party founded on the principles of democratic socialism and that ideology has been central to our success in the past and to what we stand for even to this day. Indeed, it is when those principles of democratic socialism fade, as they did during the later years of Blair as Labour became too accustomed to the excesses of government both in Westminster and Holyrood, that Scottish Labour struggles. Huge droves of voters have abandoned Scottish Labour, many in large part due to the perception, wrongly or otherwise, that we have lost touch with our socialist roots. It is no coincidence that our worst ever general election defeat came under the leadership of Jim Murphy, a man who to many embodied the worst of neoliberal New Labour.

For all the scepticism, Jeremy Corbyn’s new Labour vision has drawn hundreds of thousands, even millions, back into the Labour fold. For all the scepticism, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership transformed an election that many believed could spell the final end for Scottish Labour’s representation in Westminster into an unexpected success. This surely must demonstrate the importance of a perceptibly bold left-wing platform to Labour’s political success.

We are at our best when we are at our boldest. We are at our best when we offer a clear, progressive, and socialist message and can convey the boldness of that message to the public. Kezia has put the building blocks of that message in place but it has become apparent she is not the person to deliver that message to the Scottish public.

We need a leader firmly of the left, who is, importantly, visibly of the left. In the highly-scrutinised world of modern politics, appearances are often as important as policy, and for that reason it is vital that whoever next leads the Scottish Labour Party not only be politically aligned with Jeremy Corbyn’s boldly socialist new Labour, but visibly and vocally aligned with his leadership. Despite the cries of the critics to the contrary, Corbyn’s bold left-wing vision has proven highly effective. One can only wonder what the future might hold were Scottish Labour to fully embrace that vision.

 

Don’t Let The Constitution Be A Distraction From Local Elections

Originally posted on LabourHame

Since 2014, indeed since 2011 when it became apparent that the SNP had enough seats in the Scottish Parliament to call an independence referendum, one question has dominated Scottish politics: the constitution. That question, intended to be settled on the 18th of September 2014, has continued to dominate Scottish politics for half a decade and it is a question that shows no sign of abating soon.

Scottish politics has split into two camps, unionist and nationalist, each united by their animosity towards the other, and this polarisation has had devastating effects on our politics as a whole. No debate, no discussion, no policy proposal is complete without a mention of the constitution, and this constitutional focus has led the real issues which effect the ordinary people of Scotland to be ignored. The result? A failing education system, an NHS in crisis, disastrous cuts to essential public services. We say we are all agreed we want Scotland to be a better, more prosperous place, but our actions simply don’t back that up.

For all the SNP’s protests, the Scottish Parliament does have powers to make a difference, powers that they are refusing to utilise. But the SNP cannot be held solely to blame for the dire situation in which Scottish politics finds itself. For all their protestations about the SNP being concerned only with independence, the Conservatives and Labour have themselves enabled the question of the constitution to define Scottish politics in one way or another.

The constitutional question is important, clearly, but it is far from the be all and end all. The unyielding focus on constitutional politics has led to every vote in Scotland since 2014 being a rerun of the independence referendum. The people of Scotland have largely stopped paying attention to the policies of the party they are voting for, only what their stance is on independence. That is no way to build a modern functioning democracy. This must change.

The importance of this is demonstrated nowhere more clearly than in the upcoming local council elections. Years of austerity have pushed local authority budgets to breaking point, and essential local services are increasingly under threat. The most important consideration when voting on 4th May must surely be which candidate, which party, will offer the best protection to these services which local people rely on. But there is a very real risk that that this vote will instead turn into yet another rerun of the independence referendum, with Scotland split between the nationalist SNP and the unionist Conservatives while those trying to offer real action to improve the lives of local people are squeezed out.

There is a time and a place for the constitutional question to be debated and Scottish Labour would do well to keep in mind that there is a strong case to be made that the situation the UK finds itself in has indeed changed dramatically from 2014. But local council elections are absolutely the wrong place for that argument to be discussed. Local councillors have no powers over the constitution but they do have powers over vital services local people rely on every day, services the SNP and the Conservatives have little interest in running effectively. If people vote on the basis of the constitutional question, the results could be disastrous. But if instead people decide to vote based on the issues which really matter, it could be the start of a real positive change to Scottish politics.

It’s time we as a country stop putting the constitution at the heart of every political debate. For too long, our politics has been held in stasis by that question, and the real issues have been left at the wayside. The constitutional question is not going away any time soon – that by now should be clear – but at the same time we cannot allow it to override every debate, discussion and policy proposal.

It’s time to redefine the debate, and get back to discussing the real, relevant issues. There is a time and a place to discuss the constitution. But that is not where we could be making real change instead.

We Must Reclaim Our Mantle

Originally posted on LabourHame

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I didn’t believe the exit polls when they were published at 10 PM on May 7th. I’m certain I was not the only one for whom flickers of uncertainty grew into a creeping dread before exploding into a fury of anger and confusion over the course of Thursday night and Friday morning. I know I was not the only one who found the fact that the United Kingdom had returned a majority Tory government and that Scotland had returned only a single Labour MP simply incomprehensible.

It was a devastating defeat. But it was also a wake-up call. For far too long, Scottish Labour has been slowly sleepwalking to its own demise. The warning signs have been there for a long time: 2007, when the SNP first took control of the Scottish Parliament; 2011, when they won a majority in a system designed to prevent such an outcome; 2014, when 45% of the Scottish populace, particularly in Glasgow, our traditional heartland, rejected Labour in favour of independence. Throughout all of this we refused to listen. Now, we must listen.

There is a somewhat justified sentiment held by many Scots that in Labour’s eyes, Scotland existed solely to obediently send 41 Labour MPs down to Westminster – nothing more, nothing less. There is a real feeling among Scots that Labour just doesn’t care. Regardless of the truth of these sentiments, it is the emotion that counts; as Lynton Crosby, the Tory’s vindicated election strategist, once said, when reason clashes with emotion, it is emotion that invariably comes out ahead. Never has that been so clearly demonstrated than in Scotland last Thursday.

All are agreed: Scottish Labour must rebuild. Where conflict arises is in how that rebuilding process should occur. There are many in the party, notably the majority of MSPs and former MPs, who, at least publicly, say that Jim Murphy is the right man for the job. Humbly, I disagree. Jim Murphy is emblematic of the problems facing the Labour Party in Scotland: Blairite, a major New Labour figure, seen as being installed by the party from London. These are the last qualities Scottish Labour needs in their leader.

Labour in Scotland needs to go in a different direction from Jim Murphy. We need to go in a direction that breaks with the past, and embraces the future. We need to go in a direction that recognises our historic achievements without trying to recreate history. We need to go in a direction that is specific to Scotland, but that doesn’t abandon the United Kingdom.

We can’t pander to nationalist myths nor promote nationalist half-truths. But we also can’t abandon the voters who have abandoned us in favour of nationalism. We must remember that so many of those who voted SNP did not truly vote for nationalism; they voted for an end to austerity, for social justice, for a real left-wing alternative to the establishment they saw Labour as a part of. With this in mind, there is only one road for Labour in Scotland that can lead us back to success.

It’s time Labour in Scotland became that bold and radical Socialist alternative once again. It’s a role we once embraced; it’s a role that still draws so many people across the United Kingdom to the Labour Party. This doesn’t mean a return to the 1980s – as society and culture changes, so too must Socialism. This isn’t something that can be done from the top down. It needs to come from the grassroots, from the people and communities across Scotland that once embraced Labour, and that made Labour the party that it is. We need to have an open, democratic, engaged discussion, not just amongst ourselves but with the people of Scotland, including those who voted Nationalist. Only then can Labour reclaim Scotland. Only then can Scotland reclaim Labour.

This won’t be an easy process – there can be no short-cuts, no easy paths. It’s that quick-fix mindset that placed Jim Murphy in the leadership, and we’ve all seen how well that worked out. If it requires a split from the UK Labour Party, then so be it. Of course, fraternal relations should be maintained, and Labour MPs elected in Scotland should vote with the rest of the Labour Party in Westminster on most issues. But we can’t let the cautious approach of the UK-wide party hold Labour back in Scotland. We must reclaim our mantle as the home of left-wing politics in Scotland and we must offer the people of Scotland the bold and radical alternative that they have demanded – or face oblivion. I just hope it’s not too late.

Why I hope it’s Neil

Originally posted on LabourHame

On October 24th, Scottish Labour was plunged into chaos. The sudden resignation of leader Johann Lamont shook a party that was already left reeling in the aftermath of a referendum campaign that, despite being an overall victory for the pro-union Better Together camp, made dire reading for a Labour Party that had just experienced the rejection of much of its traditional heartlands. Hundreds of thousands of traditionally Labour voters had turned their backs on their former loyalties, embracing the nationalist ideal of independence at all costs, and now it seemed that Lamont had turned her back on Labour too.

But out of the chaos and ruin, two challengers arose, both committed to rebuilding Scottish Labour in their own ideological image. On one hand, a real, radical agenda for a Labour Party true to its roots; on the other, a continuation of the shallow shell of style-over-substance Blairism that defined the New Labour era. In many ways, this leadership race mirrors the titanic struggles of the 80s and early 90s between the left and right of the party, yet the public mood could not be more different.

In the 1990s, a once-leviathan Conservative government still held sway over Britain, the Labour Party left in the shadowy fringes of opposition for well over a decade. Determined to end eighteen years of opposition, Labour under Blair abandoned principle in favour of power, blind to the devastating consequences of their actions that would only surface in years to come. The public supported them, desiring a change, any change, from a Tory government that had grown too used to power, regardless of policy.

That contrasts sharply with the state of Scotland today. The SNP, who have governed Scotland for the best part of the last decade, are only now entering their zenith in the aftermath of the referendum that many SNP supporters seem a tad confused about who won. Soaring in the polls, much of the nationalists’ success is owed to the failures of New Labour, and the style over substance approach that went hand in hand with it. Perhaps more importantly, the abandonment of principle that accompanied Tony Blair’s ascension has greatly disenfranchised vast numbers of traditional Labour voters. During the 90s, the New Labour crowd insisted that these voters had no-where else to go; today, the SNP are proving them wrong.

Labour in Scotland is on the brink. Continue on the trajectory of Blairism and Labour will fall. The weight of the Iraq War is simply too heavy on the shoulders of both the New Labour veterans and the New Labour brand to go backwards. The betrayal of socialism still stains the New Labour name in the eyes of many, particularly Scottish, working class voters. If New Labour, in the form of Jim Murphy, rears its head in Scotland once more, Labour will topple into the abyss. But there is still hope left for Labour. That hope is Neil Findlay.

Railway nationalisation. An end to poverty. The scrapping of Trident. These radical, popular, vote-winning policies are what Neil is offering. It is these sorts of policies that are going to win the hearts and minds of not just former Labour voters who have left for the SNP, but also of the countless people who have abandoned the ballot box, seeing nothing but a sea of homogeny. With the alternative being vague commitments to change and a promise not to raise taxes on the middle class, it’s not difficult to see what would win the votes.

Neil Findlay can deliver for Scotland in a way no other candidate can. Out of all the candidates, not just in this leadership election but also in the upcoming Holyrood election in 2016, Neil is the only choice with real experience in the real world. Only elected to Parliament in 2011, Neil has had real experience, as a bricklayer and later as a teacher, that gives him a perspective on issues that careerist politicians just cannot have. This sets him apart, gives him a splash of colour in a monotonous world, and that is exactly what Labour needs.

In a time were all politicians are seen as the same, a time when voter apathy is at an all-time high, Labour needs to offer something different. Voters are abandoning the Labour Party in droves, accepting the suffocating embrace of nationalism in the belief that it offers a new politics, a change from the establishment, however misplaced this belief may be. In years past, it would be the Labour Party that the people flocked to, the workers’ party, the peoples’ party. We can be that party again. But it will take radicalism, real commitment to change, and a very real break with the Westminster establishment to do so. And that’s something only Neil offers.