John McTernan: Labour needs message of socialism

John McTernan has some advice for Ed Miliband: his party needs to remind Scots that we need social solidarity, and ‘we’ means GB

Ed Miliband needs to ask Scotland what kind of country it wants to be. Picture: Getty
Ed Miliband needs to ask Scotland what kind of country it wants to be. Picture: Getty

ED Miliband got a warm reception in Motherwell last week, as did his shadow cabinet. He made a powerful, socialist case for the United Kingdom, but it was just the start. He and his parliamentary colleagues – in the Commons and the Lords – now need to wear out their shoe leather criss-crossing Scotland. They need a powerful and consistent argument, expressed in a stump speech. Here’s my first draft for Ed.

“Friends, the question on 18 September is the same question that has been asked in Scotland since Keir Hardie stood in the Mid-Lanark by-election, 126 years ago. What kind of country should we be? Keir Hardie lost that fight, but he won the war. How? By fighting and winning a seat. First in West Ham in London. Then finally in Merthyr Tydfil in Wales – the seat he held for the rest of his life. Keir Hardie’s answer then is my answer now. We need the Labour Party and we need socialism. And England, Wales and Scotland need a Labour government.

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“Equality is at the heart of Labour today, just as it was a century ago. This has never been an easy struggle to win. There are powerful forces that are ranged against us. But we have prevailed. And we will again.

“The first Labour MPs were told that the simple things they wanted – jobs, decent homes and free health – were impossible. Now those demands are backed by every political party. Though, as we see today, not delivered by them. We make progress, but the fight goes on.

“Today’s inequality demands new solutions. That’s why Labour backs the living wage. That’s why Labour will increase taxes on those most able to pay. That’s why Labour will build homes and tackle rising rents.

“Today’s inequality has new friends. The Tory and Liberal Democrat government, for example. We will repeal their bedroom tax. We’ll reverse their tax cut for the rich. We’ll cut energy prices for families and businesses.

“But inequality has other friends too. Does anyone here seriously believe that the biggest companies in Scotland pay too much tax? No, I didn’t think so. But Alex Salmond does. He wants to cut their corporation tax. Like George Osborne, he wants to start a race to the bottom. On top of that, he’s against raising income tax for the richest.

“I’m not saying it’s wrong for him to hold those views. I am saying it’s wrong for Scotland. I’m not saying it’s wrong for him to support Tory policies on business and the economy. I am just saying it’s wrong for the SNP to say that makes them a social democratic party. It’s a democracy. The SNP are free to promote inequality. But they shouldn’t pretend they are on the side of working people. Raising the cost of a beer is one thing – slashing the tax bills of CEOs is quite another.

“Scotland has a proud history of social solidarity. From Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald to Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander, it has provided Scots to lead the Labour Party. Scotland wants a Labour government. It voted for one last time, and the Liberal Democrats gave Scotland the coalition, austerity and the bedroom tax. Some people say that because of that we should break up Britain. They say a one-off event – the first ever peace-time coalition – should make us tear up a 308-year-old partnership. Now that would really be taking the huff.

“No-one, not even the Swedish Social Democrats, can win every election. When you lose, you redouble your effort to win the next time. When the SNP won an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament, no-one suggested scrapping devolution. Instead, we fought to regain the trust of Scottish voters and come forward with new policies and powers for the parliament. You don’t change the rules when you lose, you change yourselves.

“And change is what Scotland and the UK needs. We saw in 1997 how quickly the damage of 18 years of Tory government could be reversed. Section 28 abolished. Civil partnerships introduced. The right to join a union restored. Rights for paid holidays. New maternity and adoption rights. Schools and hospitals rebuilt. Public spending doubled. Pensioner poverty ended. A million children – 100,000 in Scotland – taken out of poverty. A national minimum wage and tax credits. Unemployment falling until the Great Recession. Peace in Northern Ireland. The constitution transformed. A Supreme Court. Lords reform. The Human Rights Act. The Welsh Assembly. The Northern Ireland Assembly. The Scottish Parliament. The rebirth of Britain. We did it. We did it together. Those were great achievements. Could we have done better? Of course. You can always do better. Have we learned from the experience? Yes, we have. I am proud of the government I was part of, but not satisfied.

“That’s why I’m committed to shaking up cosy cartels. In banking – where we need to give consumers and small businesses the services they deserve. In energy – where we need real reform, and customers need a break. Our price freeze, opposed by Alex Salmond, is just the start. In Whitehall – where, having learned the lessons of devolution, we are going to set England’s cities and counties free from the man from the ministry. And in housing, where we’ll fix the failed markets with one million homes in five years – 20,000 a year here in Scotland.

“Scotland led the way but the Tories have now lost the North and English cities. In 53 weeks there will be a Labour government. And the Tories will be in opposition. Tearing themselves apart over Europe; the only issue they seem to be passionate about any more. The Liberal Democrats? Well, they’ll be trying to find the people who thought getting into bed with the Tories was a good idea in the first place. And Labour? Labour will be making the changes the country needs.

“The coalition has done some terrible things. But they can be reversed.

“The break-up of Britain can’t.”