Katy Clark: Only radical rethink can save Scots Labour from wipeout

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could help turn things around with the grassroots party. Picture: John Devlin

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could help turn things around with the grassroots party. Picture: John Devlin

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JEREMY Corbyn’s leadership affords party north of Border a chance to get back in tune with its grassroots, writes Katy Clark

We have a massive problem with economic and social in­equality which is only getting worse. It exists in all parts of Britain. Many don’t think it’s in their interests for there to be radical change and are fearful of what it might mean. The growing power of multinationals has made it even more
difficult for people to believe any significant change is possible, whether at a Scottish or UK level. Our job is to show that not only is progressive change possible but also very much in the interests of the majority.

In Scotland, the SNP has done well electorally by making the Westminster establishment the problem. But it doesn’t talk about capitalism, the power of the markets or how these could be changed as its essential mission is not about challenging the relationship between those who hold most of the power and the vast majority who do not.

So what Scottish Labour now needs to do is embrace the energy and enthusiasm which Jeremy’ Corbyn’s campaign created with radical and thought-through policies which can deliver for the people of Scotland.

In addition to popularising existing policy over bringing the railways back into public ownership, Jeremy has also campaigned against the tendering of CalMac and his campaign made housing a top priority. Scottish Labour too must make delivering a housing policy which ensures we build enough homes to meet need, at a decent standard and that rents are at an affordable level, a major campaign.

Consequently, Scottish Labour has the possibility of recreating its relationship with the Scottish people if it’s willing to develop radical solutions to the social and political challenges we face. However, re-building electorally to improve Labour’s share is going to be a big challenge. It will be a long term project to win people back and get new supporters.

The referendum campaign dominated Scottish politics and fuelled the almost wipeout of the Westminster representation of Scottish Labour, which had become a toxic brand largely due to its conduct during that long campaign.

We all know Labour in Scotland has been losing elections for years. The SNP winning the largest number of seats in the Scottish Parliament in 2007 was a defeat that Scottish Labour probably still hasn’t recovered from. The 2011 result was considered an electoral disaster by Labour at the time. However, Scottish Labour could easily see that representation halved if the 2015 general election result were to be repeated in May 2016 based on current polls of voting intentions.

Much of the attractiveness of the Yes campaign was based on hope – and a belief that it was no longer possible to deliver social justice at a British level. The demand to “end Tory rule forever” gave the promise of a fairer Scotland. If it becomes increasingly believed that a more radical alternative is available which can deliver across these nations, it will be interesting to see how this impacts on the demand for “independence”, particularly on the Left.

The attempts to give members and local parties a stronger say in Labour policy will lead to more radical policy. We need to make Labour into a truly participatory democratic voice where different views are discussed and respected. Scottish Labour needs to build on these first attempts to bring more democracy into the structures of the party. We need to ensure that we become a party genuinely controlled by the grassroots, thus, reaching out to communities to listen and involve them in what the party does and says.

Many of us believe we still don’t have the constitutional settlement which is best able to deliver and that power needs to be devolved much further. The centralisation of power at Holyrood and the lack of redistributive policies are disappointing. Scottish Labour needs to spell out what the Scottish Parliament should be doing with the powers it has but also detailing what further could be done with further specific powers and why those powers are best placed either at a Scottish Parliament or local government level. It then needs to fight to make sure those polices become a reality.

As a party, we will be setting up a Constitutional Convention to look at a coherent settlement not just for Scotland but all parts of Britain, including how to deal with abolishing the Lords. That Convention will not just be looking at the constitutional issues but the social justice challenges in these nations where so much power and wealth is concentrated in the south-east of England and in the hands of so few, most of whom are subject to little democratic accountability.

The independence campaign made “Westmonster” the enemy but most of the decisions which affect our lives are not made anywhere near either the Houses of Commons or Lords. The problem is the way capitalism works or fails to deliver for the vast majority. We need to create a movement which is so strong and with a great enough traction with a large enough swathe of the electorate that politicians and others have to respond so that we can bring far more parts of the economy under the influence of mechanisms which we can control.

What we now need to debate are effective ways to bring about more control over decisions. We need to develop an understanding of why austerity isn’t necessary and why it’s a political choice.

A century after Keir Hardie’s death, Labour has an opportunity to rediscover its roots. If it rediscovers its mission to provide working class representation and to deliver a very different world, we can start turning back the tide. Socialist change has become more possible in all parts of Britain as a result of Jeremy Corbyn’s election.

• Katy Clark was the MP for North Ayrshire and Arran (2005-15) and is currently political secretary to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. This is an extract from her contribution to ‘Is there a Scottish road to socialism?’ edited by Gregor Gall and published on Friday 26 February

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