Following last nights Scottish election results I have rejoined the Labour Party after a gap of over 20 years. I had been considering this for some time, but had satisfied myself with contributing through the political levy and voting in leadership elections through my membership of my union (Unite). I was one of the many young labour activists who drifted away from politics after the 1987 general election defeat. Like many, I ended up in campaigning roles in the voluntary sector, and in lobbying of one sort or another for important causes, but it is clear in hindsight that real societal change requires engagement with the political process. So this morning I decided to fill in the online membership form and rejoin Labour.
Why Labour? Well I have always been concerned that although we are all made the same, some of us seem to get a better chance in life than others simply because of the circumstances we are born into. This diminishes society and makes us all lesser people. I also think that poverty is wrong and any political party which accepts a level of poverty in order that some may be rich is immoral. If i was to come up with one statement of my concerns and beliefs it would be Fabian Society Tract no 1 “Why are the many Poor?” Written in 1884 by W L Phillips (click here to download or read it as a PDF file - you will be glad you did). The world may have advanced since 1884, but those core questions about inequality and our response to it is still at the heart of the Labour Party. Those are my values and only Labour is committed to defend them.
Now, before any reader shouts at me, yes there are other parties which claim to hold to socialist ideas or have a heritage of some sort in the Labour movement. None of these has ever achieved a single change that benefits the poor, and most resemble new religious movements with cults of personality and constantly shifting memberships. The only player in town is Labour, and although the party has changed policies regularly over the years, it has stuck to those core values I mentioned above. That’s one reason why I can safely rejoin the party knowing that I don’t agree with all its policies. I don’t feel I need to agree totally to support the party’s aims, and if there is anything I disagree with I can always speak against it.
What I found most disturbing about yesterdays Scottish parliamentary election result is the number of friends who are active in opposing poverty and promoting equality, but who voted for the SNP. The SNP do not share these core values. I am sure that most SNP members do, but its not what’s at the heart of that party. Their commitment is solely to independence (beyond which they make no policy prediction or commitments).
The other disturbing aspect of these results is the real danger that voting Labour may become as incompatible with being Scottish as voting Conservative did in the 1980’s. I am not saying its gone that far yet, but there is a real risk of this unless the Scottish party carves out its own identity and connects with the core Scottish values of fairness, hard work and looking out for others. These are also Labour’s values and they need to be kept central to Scottish political debate.
At a practical level, Labour is going to need to learn from the trade unions and engage with people through campaigns that involve real engagement, not just run from a central office or just at election time.
What can I do to make a difference? In reality probably very little, but I hope that at a local level I can do some practical work to ensure we maintain Labour representation at local and Westminster level as well as helping to engage people on the real issues.