Saturday, 9 May 2015

Time to take back Labour’s clothes and rebuild from our core socialist values

You know, however difficult I find the euphoria of my friends who support the SNP, at a time when all I can think of is that as a country – and we are still part of the UK – we have voted in a majority Tory government for the next five years, I can’t and don’t criticise them.

I found it hard to take the day after the election, when all I could see, and what still consumes me, is the impact on the poor, the vulnerable, immigrants and working people of another five years of rule by a party that cares little for those groups other that as a source of cheap labour, and has presided over the mass transfer of wealth from the rest of us to the very rich.

I really don’t know how it happened that the Tories got in with a majority, but I am unwilling to set the blame at the door of the SNP and find it hard to take from many SNP supporters  – without much evidence – that it can be laid entirely at Labour’s door.

It is true that the SNP ran a fantastic campaign – mostly positive, unapologetically anti-Tory, anti-austerity, pro public services, and for social justice and equality. Labour’s clothes to some extent, articulated far more ably than Labour was able to do. We paid the price!

My sister supports the SNP. She knows that I don’t but she said that listening to Nicola Sturgeon speaking was like listening to me. I’ve heard Nicola speak and she does articulate all the things that I would say, and with the same sincerity, passion and belief.

My sister added that she also wished I’d been there to ask the hard questions about whether the SNP will walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Whether they will end the council tax freeze which has been shown to benefit the rich at the expense of the poorest in communities, and which will be essential if public services are to survive the inevitable further onslaught by the Tories at Westminster.

Whether they will return monies to colleges – one of the ways that poorer children can move out of poverty; that children with additional support needs can be supported to move into work. SNP cuts and mergers have undermined all this.

Whether they will include the living wage in procurement – a no brainer if work is really to “pay” but which the SNP has so far failed to implement, despite pressure from trade unions and other groups.

I’m not carping here – these are matters that UNISON has been challenging the SNP government on for ages and they are questions that their supporters need answers to if they truly believe, as my sister does, in social justice.

But what of Labour? You know, I rejoined the Party recently to support Neil Findlay for Labour Leader in Scotland and when he didn’t get in, it seemed churlish to leave again just because a democratic process didn’t go my way. My heart wasn’t in it fully though. I will admit to that.

However, since the election result, when I have seen and shared the despair of my Labour Party friends and colleagues – all of us keen activists for social justice on a daily basis, speaking up for the poorest and most vulnerable at every turn, working through our trade unions and other campaigning groups to promote the causes of oppressed people in this country and round the world, speaking out against corporate greed and calling for fair taxation and a return to greater equality – the more I have rediscovered my commitment to the Labour Party and its basic values and I find myself determined to be part of a process of rebuilding it from our core socialist values.

There has been a lot of criticism – some of it right and some of it just hysterical – but you only have to read the writings in the Red Paper Collective to know that there is a real socialist core in the Party. You only have to speak to my UNISON Labour colleagues, who have fought passionately for social justice their entire working lives, to know that there is hope to rebuild from a solid base.
Can it be done? I hope so. Apart from anything else there needs to be a proper opposition in Scotland and in Westminster. There needs to be a way of holding the SNP to account and ensuring that they maintain their welcome and stated commitment to social justice, that they put it into practice in a real way for real people and that they are challenged when they fall short.

There needs to be a way of challenging the worst excesses of the Tories and I hope that Labour and the SNP will join forces to do this where there is common cause.

So, as my friends were telling me yesterday, time to pick myself up, dust myself down. Time to gird our loins for the battles ahead.

And if there is one thing I am very clear about it is that this is not the time to turn our backs on Labour, but time to play a part in rebuilding a Labour Party in Scotland that we can be proud of.

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