SCOTTISH Labour must ease off highlighting what it opposes and start talking about hope for a fairer Scotland, writes Ken Macintosh
‘HOW do you build the Good Society? There are many places to start but education must be near the top of any list. As the son of two head teachers, I was inspired from an early age with the empowering force of learning. It opens the door to social mobility, to prosperity and success. Unfortunately, over the last few years, we’ve had to watch from the sidelines as lifelong learning slipped off the political agenda, as tens of thousands of college places were lost and with them the opportunity offered by Further Education to give people a second or even a third chance.
‘We shouldn’t concentrate on those with traditional Labour values’
Yes, we tried to raise this at the last election, but how many people heard our message? Scotland has stopped listening to Labour and if we want to win again, to put our ideas and our vision for a better Scotland at the front of the public debate, this is where we need to start.
That’s why I’m standing to be leader. I want to take the party in a new direction, one that’s more democratic, devolved and positive about Scotland’s future. I want people to recognise our honesty and sincerity rather than our tribal hostility to others. I believe that by making those changes, we can win the trust of the people we want to represent.
Whenever I’ve been tested, I’ve always put my constituents first, no matter what that meant for my own ambitions. I believe across Scotland people want to hear that message from Labour. People want to see that we put their interests above our jobs, power or position. In fact, despite winning four elections in East Renfrewshire and increasing my vote in 2011, I still don’t see myself as a career politician. I had a career in broadcasting before becoming an MSP. I am a family man with six children and a whole life outside of politics. Yes, I’ve been in the Labour Party all my adult life, but I only stood for election because of the Scottish Parliament, because I believe in openness, transparency and the sharing of power, not controlling it.
It’s that approach and integrity I’d offer Scottish Labour. My leadership style will be different – less aggressive and adversarial, more collaborative and cooperative. I believe that to build a decent, compassionate and kind society, you have to demonstrate those values yourself in your language and behaviour. Every week at FMQs we seem to simply blame the Scottish Government for everything that’s wrong in Scotland, we constantly define ourselves by who or what we’re opposed to, when we should be talking with conviction, hope and passion about the successful and fairer Scotland we want to create.
I have worked across the political divide on issues as diverse as skin cancer, economic wellbeing and just this week, a new “right to buy” for football club supporters. Let’s find the progressive policies where we can work together for the common good.
Just one example: I believe we should be making the case for staying in the European Union and I would share a platform with representatives from any other parties with similar views. We need to put the benefits to Scotland before our own party interests. The lesson of the referendum for me is not to avoid sharing a platform with our opponents, it is to avoid arguing against change. So I would be putting the case for a more democratic and accountable Europe, but one that brings with it clear social, economic and environmental benefits. I would also allow those in Scottish Labour who hold a different view, the space to say so. If we believe such an issue can only be decided by a referendum, then falsely imposing party discipline strikes me as the wrong approach.
I want to reach out to civic Scotland and the third sector and a sign of our intent would be to stop charging voluntary or non-profit-making organisation thousands of pounds to attend our party conferences. We constantly support and campaign for good quality public services, but I want the 70 per cent of Scots working in the private sector to know we stand for them, we share their concerns and aspirations.
Too often when we approach friends in business it’s to ask for money not ideas, so alongside a new and improved relationship with union members, we should involve employers and private companies in our policy process too. I am sure the small businesses in Scotland would love to hear our plans to gear government support away from the tax-avoiding multinationals like Amazon and to offer more practical assistance for our indigenous SMEs.
I want to stop concentrating our efforts on an ever-declining audience of Scots with so-called traditional Labour values. I want people throughout Scotland to know we are listening to them. My family is from Skye and Peebles. I was brought up in Portree, Oban and Edinburgh. I live in Busby on the south side of Glasgow. Scottish Labour needs to be the voice of all Scotland and we can show that by policies which devolve powers to all of Scotland, not centralise them at Holyrood.
I’ve already started to explain some of the changes we need to make, including asserting our autonomy as a Scottish party and I want to make clear that I see myself as the change candidate. We could continue along the same path, lurching from one election defeat to another but I want to change the way Scottish Labour operates. I want to move away from machine politics, to break with the past and give the party back to its members and the people we aim to represent.”