Leaders: Scottish Labour's selection process woes | Music tuition

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale. Picture: Julie BullScottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale. Picture: Julie Bull
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale. Picture: Julie Bull
It was planned as a major breakthrough which would help revive the fortunes of the Labour Party in Scotland after it was so humiliatingly defeated by the SNP's performance in the general election.

But now it has become resoundingly clear that the overhaul of Labour’s candidate selection – aimed at bringing in new people from a range of backgrounds such as NHS staff, charity workers and business people to stand for office – has been a dismal failure.

The regional list of MSPs for the 2016 Holyrood election has only four new faces.

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Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, vowed to carry on the reforms approved by her predecessor Jim Murphy, who resigned his position following a Labour revolt.

Sitting Labour list MSPs would no longer be automatically re-selected but would have to seek re-selection from members in a move that would allow local parties to replace poor performers at Holyrood.

But rather than ending the routine production of the same sort of “pale, male and stale” candidate as if from some sort of political central casting warehouse, there has been almost no change at all.

The upshot is that despite changing the system, there has been no clear out.

The reforms made sense. But what we have found is that there appears not to be a wealth of talent out there banging down the door to get in, no surge of impressive professionals who can transform the image and ability of Labour’s ranks of MSPs. And ultimately improve the party’s chances of getting back into power at Holyrood.

This is worrying news for Labour, and for its leader.

Presenting the same faces to the electorate just invites the same response as the last time.

What we might be seeing is further evidence of just where Labour stand – and it is not in a good place. The polls look bad, and the selection process offers little encouragement that a recovery is on the way.

It is possible that not enough time has passed for the reforms to be effective. Labour’s problems did not arrive overnight, and they cannot be fixed overnight. Full recovery – if that is possible – could take years, because of long-standing problems that have seen previously loyal supporters look elsewhere for representation.

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But the outcome also suggests that the Labour leadership is going to have to work a lot harder on attracting stronger candidates to stand for election, and convincing members to give those people their backing. Members must work with their leader to make this happen. The hoped-for transformation of the calibre of candidates available cannot be a “stand back and watch it happen” process.

There hardly needed to be a reminder, but it is going to be a long way back for Labour, and the Holyrood election is only three months away. It looks like Labour will have to rely only an unforeseen catastrophe for the SNP to improve their chances of election, because nothing they have tried so far has suggested they can do it for themselves.

Music helps us get in tune with life

While the rousing sound of the pipes will try to inspire Scotland to victory against England in the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield today, there are concerns many Scottish children are missing out on learning how to play the instrument.

Cuts to cash-strapped local authority budgets means education chiefs are continually looking for savings, especially in subjects not deemed core curriculum.

But “education” should include music, giving children a skill which may lead to a career or to taking centre stage at celebrations which bring the community together.

Not all parents can afford private tuition, making school music lessons vital. New research reveals fewer than 25 per cent of Scotland’s school pupils are given the opportunity to learn the bagpipes, Scotland’s national instrument. There will be arguments over “national instrument”, but let us be honest, that is how the rest of the world sees it. What could be more Scottish than the skirl of the pipes?

We must recognise that in the current economic climate it is not possible to have bagpipe tuition in every school. But it should be possible for local authorities to ensure every child at least has the chance to try the chanter, after which lessons could be pursued. This is not dissimilar to the opportunity given to every primary school child to try golf, during the build-up to hosting the Ryder Cup in Scotland,

This is not a dire warning that if we don’t do something now, we risk damaging our culture and our heritage. It is simply a case of highlighting an opportunity which should be available for all to try.