Scottish Labour have lessons to learn and quickly

LABOUR has lessons to learn and little time, says Richard Baker
Scottish Labour has lessons to learn and little time. Picture: Andrew O'BrienScottish Labour has lessons to learn and little time. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Scottish Labour has lessons to learn and little time. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

The first lesson we need to learn is on unity. In 2003 when I was elected to Holyrood the SNP lost badly. But with almost a complete absence of internal acrimony they elected a new leader, were incredibly disciplined as a party, got back on the front foot quickly and the rest is history.

In contrast after our defeats in 2007 and 2011 we had long periods of introspection, were plagued by turf battles which affected both our election campaign and referendum strategy, and things went from bad to worse. We must move away from the days of the big beasts in our party fighting for their territory. The opportunity is there for the rest of us to pull together and be a strong, effective team. It is an opportunity we need to seize.

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The second lesson we need to learn is about energising our membership. Again this is something the SNP have been successful at. But we can succeed in this too. The higher levels of engagement in politics in Scotland benefits us as well as the SNP. But we need to do much more to involve and enthuse our membership. We also need to give members a more meaningful role in leading the work of our party and reform our policy process.

The third lesson is that we need to be a grassroots movement again. This is what the Yes campaign achieved so successfully at the referendum, and if we get this approach right I believe there is a great opportunity to get a hearing from voters again.

We can show we can do better than the SNP on the issues which affect people in their lives – local health services, affordable homes, opportunities at school and college to name just a few. In each of these areas we should be more ambitious for our country and our people. At Westminster the SNP portrayed themselves as the party of change. However at Holyrood, it must be Scottish Labour, fighting for more powers at a local level rather than the centralising agenda of SNP ministers. An invigorated and effective approach to community campaigning, supported by Labour organisers based in the regions allied to improved social media resources, can help us prosper.

The opportunities are there but time is short. Debates on constitutional reform are important but should not distract us from the work of tackling inequality and fighting for a fairer Scotland.

• Richard Baker is a Labour MSP for North-East Scotland