Labour in Scotland is to ditch the legacy of Tony Blair and return to its “socialist principles” as it seeks to counter the rising Nationalist threat and win power next May, one of the party’s most senior figures has said.
In an article for Scotland on Sunday Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran says Labour is “no longer the party of a decade ago” and in Ed Miliband now has a leader ready to stand up to big business.
“The socialist principles of equality, redistribution and social justice need to shape our politics as much today as they did when I joined the party,” she states.
Curran is about to embark on a tour of the ten traditional Labour strongholds that voted Yes in last month’s referendum in an effort to win back the party’s core support ahead of next May’s UK general election.
Her signal of a leftward shift comes amid growing demands for change within Scottish Labour, with former first minister Lord McConnell yesterday warning that the party must rediscover its sense of purpose.
Recent polling evidence suggests that the SNP’s surge in membership and popularity since the No vote has left the Nationalists poised to make major gains in Scotland from Labour next May, which could jeopardise Miliband’s hopes of entering Downing Street as prime minister.
About a third of Labour supporters voted Yes in the 18 September referendum.
Curran says: “When we see a country divided, we should not be satisfied. It should make us work even harder to bring our country together.
“That’s why I am going to the ten constituencies in Scotland with the largest number of Labour supporting Yes voters. We need to listen. But what people say also needs to shake us into action and we need to change.”
In a clear reference to the New Labour era of Tony Blair, who was prime minister from 1997-2007, Curran says: “I am confident we are already changing. The Labour Party of today is not the Labour Party of a decade ago.
“We have a leader across the UK who has learned the lessons of Iraq and opposed military action in Syria, who refuses to kowtow to vested interests like the banks and the energy companies and who believes that politics is about building a movement of working people to change our country.”
Lord McConnell yesterday described the state of the party in Scotland as “very sad for Labour but more importantly it’s very sad for those we represent”.
He claimed senior figures in the party “have found it far too difficult to get over their anger at losing, their anger at Alex Salmond being First Minister, their anger at the media for not holding the SNP to account enough, their general anger at the state of the world”.
He added: “What we haven’t had is an expression of what Scottish Labour stands for as we move through the 21st century. What is our purpose? Why should people support us? Why should we want to be the Scottish Government? We must rediscover our sense of purpose, our vision for Scotland, our ability to stand up and articulate the concerns of the people we most represent. We need policies and ideas that reflect that – and we’re running out of time.”
A new group of Labour activists, who want the Scottish party to consider changing its name to the Independent Labour Party, in an echo of the labour movement’s beginnings more than a century ago, staged its first meeting yesterday. The Labour for Scotland group includes senior MSP Michael McMahon and former MSP Pauline McNeill, as well as Unison chief Dave Watson. It backs Holyrood being given full control over income tax, as well as complete responsibility for welfare – a position which goes further than Labour’s existing plans for further devolution.
Nationalists last night insisted that Labour is paying the price for its “alliance” with the Conservatives in the pro-Union Better Together campaign during the referendum.
SNP MSP Sandra White said: “Rather than contributing positively to the debate on Scotland’s future, the Labour Party has had no real vision for Scotland and has been content to simply parrot their Tory partners’ attacks on the SNP.
“People who previously voted Labour won’t forget Johann Lamont’s decision to enter the toxic alliance with the Tories – a decision which haunts her leadership and for which Labour will pay a heavy price at the ballot box.While Labour tears itself apart over its alliance with the Tories, and the whispering campaign against Johann Lamont continues, the SNP is going from strength to strength.”
The MSP also dismissed McConnell’s claim that Labour should be speaking up for “poor and disadvantaged” people. White said: “The idea that a party which worked hand-in-glove with a right-wing Tory government intent on attacking some of the most vulnerable people in society can ever truly represent disadvantaged people is absurd.
“This is exactly why Labour’s poll ratings are tumbling – and why more and more people in traditional Labour heartlands are switching to the SNP.”
In her article for Scotland on Sunday, Curran says that if she becomes Secretary of State for Scotland next May, her “number one priority” will be a Scottish Jobs Guarantee and getting the country’s young people “back to work”.
For working Scots, the party will seek to “improve their conditions so they don’t have to work two or more jobs just to make ends meet”.
Curran added: “That means ending exploitative zero-hours’ contracts and starting to increase the minimum wage to £8 an hour.
“And we will show exactly whose side we are on by freezing energy prices and reforming the energy market once and for all. Even with less money, we will change the country for good.”