Article for CLPD newsletter (Aug 2014)

Organising for Labour in Scotland

The Scottish Labour Policy Forum members were elected in January 2014, and Commissions have been set up around four broad policy themes. These are: Creating Safe and Prosperous Communities; Providing Opportunities for Learning; Building a Healthier, Fairer society; and Working Together to Generate Growth. The chair of the Scottish Policy Forum this year is Agnes Tolmie (UNITE). In March, at Scottish Labour Party Conference, the SPF members were brought together for a brief meeting to look at ‘challenge papers’ which have now been issued to Scottish CLPs for members to consider. Commissions are holding meetings with stakeholders and a range of external organisations, and three Party member meetings have taken place in July in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee.

With the Referendum on Scottish independence now imminent (Thursday 18th September) it has been difficult to get wide discussion across the Party membership and affiliates, but there is no doubt that developing strong policy commitments that will tackle economic and social inequality in Scotland will be essential for the future of the Labour Party, whatever the Referendum outcome.

The relationship between the Scottish Labour Party and the Labour Party in the UK is continually evolving, and the last couple of years have not been without difficulties. The increase in policy announcements from the UK Labour Party leadership, preparing the ground for the 2015 Westminster General Election, sometimes seems to disregard the current political situation in Scotland.

Leading on the concerns over rising cost of living and on employment conditions, challenging the casualization of the labour market on zero hours contracts, have been welcome and resonated well across the UK. This contrasts with the policy announcement late June which appeared to commit Labour to penalising and removing JSA support from young people, badly handled and seriously misjudged for an audience in Scotland which includes 16-18 year olds being able to vote for the first time ever, in the Referendum on the 18th September. Much more thought needs to be given to the way in which Labour’s UK messages for 2015 are delivered in Scotland at this crucial time.

A welcome development in the Scottish Labour Party has been the growth of Labour Women’s Forums. In both Edinburgh and Glasgow women Party members are now coming together regularly, for well attended and lively political discussions. There is not clarity over how this fits into the revised rulebook, but the Scottish Labour Party Executive Committee has indicated its support for re-establishing Labour Women’s organisation and structures, and announced a Scottish Labour Women’s Conference for Saturday 15th November 2014, in Glasgow. Members are now asking how the agenda will be drawn up, seeking input, possibly motion based, from members and from Women’s Forums, and guidance for all CLPs on building a Labour women’s organisation again in Scotland.

CLPD and the former Scottish Labour Women’s Network (shortly to be re-named and relaunched) will be continuing to work together in the coming months, and would welcome further contacts from anyone interested.

The Scottish Policy Forum challenge papers can be obtained from the CLP Secretary, or by emailing me. The closing date for comments is later in October.

Ann Henderson (Scottish Policy Forum member)