Tom Harris’s election email to Scottish Labour members

As leadership ballot papers arrive through members’ letterboxes, I want to remind you of the task Scottish Labour now faces.

Political recovery starts with acceptance: not just acceptance that we lost, or even acceptance of the reasons why we lost. But acceptance that we deserved to lose, that the electorate is never wrong.

Too often, Labour gives into its instinct to blame the electorate for our failings and we spend the next four years telling the voters that it was they, not us, who got it wrong. And when we do that, we lose again. And deservedly.

And if it wasn’t the voters who got it wrong, then we blame the leadership. They ignored the wider party, says received wisdom, and produced a manifesto that the grassroots had no say in. An easy excuse, but just that: an excuse, with very little truth to support it.

The fact is that May 2011 was a rejection, not of a manifesto or of a leadership: but a rejection of our party. A party so set in its ways, so convinced that it and only it has the answers to the challenges facing Scotland, that it stopped saying anything interesting or relevant to the Scottish people years before that cataclysmic election defeat six months ago. The seeds of our 2011 defeat were sown many years earlier, not in the few weeks of the campaign.

There persists a myth – and it is a myth – that Scottish Labour rejected New Labour and Blairism because we were too socialist. Wrong. Scottish Labour rejected Blairism and New Labour because we were too conservative.

The ability to change has never been one of our strong suits. That’s why we’re in this mess now.

Let me give you three examples of our reluctance – our refusal – to change.

Next week, all the leadership and deputy leadership candidates will take part in yet another hustings debate in front of an audience made up exclusively of Labour MPs in London. That’s as it should be, since parliamentarians have the exclusive right of nomination. Yet our MSPs at Holyrood will hold no such meeting. Why? Is it because the decision about who becomes leader isn’t important enough? Or because they’ve already made up their minds and have no plans to change them, whatever the candidates have to say or how they perform?

Then there’s the electoral college being used in this contest. We already recognise that it’s not good enough to select parliamentary and council candidates, but we keep its life support system plugged in so it can be wheeled out for leadership elections every few years. It gives MPs and MSPs at least 200 times the vote of any ordinary member. That is not even remotely democratic. And if you don’t accept that our party is conservative in nature, consider this: in which other modern political party would a move to one member, one vote, be considered dangerously radical?

And thirdly, there’s the desperate need to have a proper strategy for electing list MSPs. That’s a strategy we needed long before now. But proposals to allow constituency candidates to stand on the list as standard practice, rather than as exception, were rejected on the grounds that “that’s not how we’ve done it in the past”.

If we carry on this way, then “that’s not how we’ve done it in the past” will be the epitaph carved on the gravestone of this party.

We used to be a movement – now we’re a monolith. We say we want change – all the candidates mention it repeatedly so it must be true – but only the kind of change with which we’re comfortable; change on our terms, not the electorate’s.

I’m standing in this election because it’s vital that the kind of change we need –uncomfortable change, difficult change, unpopular change – is at least an option on the ballot paper. It’s your choice. But don’t be deceived into thinking that business as usual represents any kind of change whatever.

We don’t have to go down to defeat next time. We can once again be the first party of choice for Scottish voters. But we have to earn those votes.

We can do that by being the champion of devolution and – yes – of the Union as well.

And we can do it by being the party of aspiration, by recognising and embracing the fact that working people in this country are quite right to want to make their own lives and the lives of their families better, to make them better off.

The choice is a very simple one: we can continue to be the party of no change. We can continue to be seen as the party that’s just a bit suspicious of aspiration and of the desire to be better off. And in so choosing, we can retreat into well-deserved obscurity and irrelevance.

Or we can be the party that voters identify as the best vehicle for improving the lives of working people in Scotland. We can earn the right to lead our nation to a new era of prosperity and optimism, a strong, confident Scotland with a strong confident voice within the UK and the wider world.

I believe I am the only candidate who has the necessary vision and determination to lead our party to success on the other side of the difficult years ahead.

Please give me your first preference vote to be leader of Scottish Labour and our next candidate for First Minister.

Tags: ,

6 Responses to “Tom Harris’s election email to Scottish Labour members”

  1. paul barker says:

    I was rather impressed & surprised by your piece. Not much use to you as Im an English Libdem but you have my best wishes.

  2. Amber Star says:

    @ Tom Harris

    But proposals to allow constituency candidates to stand on the list as standard practice, rather than as exception, were rejected on the grounds that “that’s not how we’ve done it in the past”.
    It’s a good policy. It makes the constituency candidates work harder to get elected.

  3. Amber Star says:

    Please give me your first preference vote to be leader of Scottish Labour and our next candidate for First Minister.
    Sorry, but no. We’re voting for ‘What’s his name’ 🙂 Ken Macintosh.

  4. swatantra says:

    Can’t say I’m in favour of ‘List Candidates’ in any election; it sounds more like a stitch up to the punters out there. But thats PR for you, so we may have to accept them for the time being, until a better way is found, ike open primaries to select the best Party candidate.
    But if Tom is offering a challenge and shifting ScotsLab out of its complacency, then good luck to him. He won’t win anyway.

  5. Mike Homfray says:

    The thought that embracing a Scottish version of Blairism from a position outside the Scottish parliament is going to dislodge Salmond is laughable. Hopefully, he will come third.

  6. derek says:

    I believe your right Tom, when you say that the Scottish electorate seen Scottish labour as no better than the conservatives.

    There’s no doubt that there will be difficult times ahead but the vision to improve the life’s of working Scots is paramount to success and so is the vision to look after the sick and vulnerable and that’s an area I’d like to hear you support, I truly believe that you’d be farting against thunder trying to go down the Purnell route on that issue.

    Well Tom believe it or not, you are the strongest candidate and the time is now ripe to claw back from Salmonds SNP, he has had almost 5 years in office now and the record he plays weekly about the last government has worn thin, not to mention his ridiculous position on the NHS public sector pension rise, Salmond scored a spectacular O.G. there because he continually told the Scottish people he would protect them but when push came to shove he crossed the picket line and pished all over 300,000 striking workers, the ones he said he would protect at his 2010 conference.

    If you read this Tom, let me now what you would like to see happening with the welfare sector and benefits, I’ve opened an eye Tom, make me open both?

Leave a Reply