Labour’s crisis in Scotland is among issues discussed at the UK Labour conference in Brighton
THE May 2015 UK General Election saw Labour lose 40 of its 41 seats in Scotland, and part of new leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn’s claim to electoral viability rests on his ability to reconstruct Labour’s support north of the border.
The Brighton conference is UK Labour’s first national conference since its defeat in the General Election, its collapse in Scotland and Corbyn’s shock leadership election landslide. As well as the conference itself, various party figures have been speaking to the media about the pertinent issues.
CommonSpace takes a look at what has been said about Scotland so far.
Scotland’s only Labour MP, Ian Murray, told BBC Radio Scotland that Corbyn wanted to convince the public and the party of the case against Trident renewal despite the conference’s decision not to debate the nuclear weapons system.
“Jeremy has said quite clearly he wants to persuade the party, the shadow cabinet of the Parliamentary Labour Party, the wider membership and indeed the country that we shouldn’t be renewing Trident,” he said.
“He has been pretty clear that he wants to have that debate and that argument, but it is not happening because the membership of a democratic party has voted not to have that. Only seven per cent of the 10,000 people that are here this week voted to have that debate on Trident.”
Corbyn told Andrew Marr: “I understand colleagues’ views I hope to persuade them that a nuclear free world is a good thing.
“There are many people, military thinkers who are concerned indeed opposed to trident because they don’t see it as part of modern security or defence,” he said
Quoted in the New York Times, former Labour party adviser John McTernan said that Trident was “deeply and broadly supported by British voters” and denounced Corbyn’s the decision to make Trident an issue”.
“So to make the centrepiece of your first conference a turn towards unilateralism is a resounding signal to the public that you don’t want to be a party of government,” he added.
On the Andrew Marr Show conference special Corbyn ranged a series of attacks against the SNP’s record in government.
“Yes the SNP have a headline of being opposed to austerity, fine. The SNP are also privatising Calmac, are also behind privatising ScotRail, also cutting college places, also privatising services, also cutting local government funding,” he said.
However, Corbyn was quickly slammed by the SNP for giving inaccurate information. The SNP is not privatising public company Calmac, however the contracts to run ferry services are out to tender and could be won by a private bidder. The SNP claims that its hands are tied over the tendering of the ferry company by EU regulation. ScotRail was not privatised by the Scottish Government, it was already in the private sector when the SNP came into power.
Corbyn also appealed to class politics over national identity: “If you are poor in Glasgow and you are poor in Birmingham you’re poor,” he said.
“If you need a house in Glasgow and you need a house in London you need a house, and so there is the class politics of it, that’s the message I’m campaigning in Scotland just as much as I’m campaigning anywhere else. Flags don’t build houses.”
In his first speech as shadow chancellor, John McDonnell also criticised the SNP’s record: “Let’s be clear, the SNP has now voted against the Living Wage, against capping rent levels and just last week voted against fair taxes in Scotland to spend on schools.”
Kezia Dugdale travelled to Brighton to speak representing Scottish Labour. In her conference speech she said: “For eight years, the SNP Government have had the chance to change our schools, change our hospitals, change our country for the better. But the truth is they haven’t.
“In Scotland, we have a government that is presiding over falling standards in our schools and hospitals. A government who have governing as a second priority, opting instead to carry on an argument that the vast majority of Scots don’t want to have.
“And this has consequences. It means difficult decisions delayed, progressive choices dismissed and, tragically, a lack of political will to use the powers we have in the Scottish Parliament.”
Dugdale told the conference that Scottish Labour was now changing: “Under my leadership, the Scottish Labour party will not just talk about change. We are changing.
“In just seven months we will go to the country with a renewed team, policies for a fairer country and a vision for modern Scotland that will set us apart from the SNP.
“The days of listening and not acting are over. I will change my party so that once again, together, we can change our country.”
Corbyn said that “above all this is the growth and rebirth of Scottish Labour. Membership has gone up incredibly in Scotland in the past few weeks”.
The number of Scottish Labour members and supporters now stands at almost 30,000 according to Scottish Labour, including almost 19,000 members and just under 11,000 affiliated members and supporters .
In his speech McDonnell said he was “devastated by the Labour losses in Scotland” and called on Scottish voters to return to the party.
“So here’s my message to the people of Scotland. Labour is now the only anti-austerity party. For those in Scotland who want to campaign against austerity, now is the time to come home. Come home to Labour.” he said.
Picture courtesy of Son of Groucho