I grew up in one of the most deprived areas of the UK – a council estate in Kirkcaldy during the 1980’s miner’s strike. My route out of that was to work hard at school and go on to complete a degree and eventually a PhD.
This solid educational base has led me to a career which has taken me to dozens of cities right around the world – from Sydney to Rio, Dubai and Tokyo.
My experience tells me that education is fundamental to reducing inequality in Scotland and elsewhere in the world. As a academic who manages one of the UK’s leading engineering programmes, I continually come across students with backgrounds like mine who must leave university in Scotland because they simply cannot afford to support themselves. I had a better deal under Thatcher. This injustice is why I joined Labour.
Since I joined our party in October 2014 it has faced unprecedented electoral “challenges”. We’ve gained a massive amount of new members, but lost elections, MPs, MSPs and leaders on an epic scale. The reasons for this are legion, but they can be traced back to long before Better Together was conceived. My own view is that the rot started when Tony Blair took us to war in Iraq – that is where we lost the trust of many voters.
That does not mean the Blair/Brown governments did not do great things. I once had the chance to ask Gordon Brown what his greatest achievement in Government was. Although he did not take personal responsibility, he did list a doubling of NHS spending and lifting 2 million people out of poverty.
At the same time in Scotland we had a Labour Government that reformed the NHS, rebuilt schools on an industrial scale and banned smoking in public places. What have the SNP and Tories done since then to match our transformative zeal?
In the most recent Holyrood election the electorate listened to our message, but it was overshadowed in the closing weeks of the campaign by the threat of a second independence referendum. The rest is history, a horrible history.
Despite this setback, we should not forget that in the early stages of the debate Kezia Dugdale set the agenda with a cohesive narrative built around progressive policies based on Labour values. This was a policy platform which enabled me, on BBC Radio Scotland, to expose just how close the SNP and the Tories were in tax policy.
Six months after our defeat, the support we lost to the nationalists is beginning to wake up to the SNP’s indifference to social justice, but the constitutional arguments and a lack of trust in Labour remain barriers to them supporting us. There is no sign of the tide of popular support returning as quickly as it left us. Indeed, the real risk now for Labour is that when we expose SNP failings the Tories and the Greens will benefit.
If everyone in Scotland is to have the chance to reach their full potential, we can’t afford to fail or weaken further. We can’t let the challenges we face wear us down. We can’t abandon the people the Labour party was established to protect who are trapped right now between two forms of ugly nationalism.
Although their politics are dissimilar, both the SNP and Tory brexiteers are fighting for different forms of independence at any cost using turbo-charged nationalist rhetoric. Like Trump, both are intent on blaming others for the problems they face. Both assume the moral high ground. Both will destroy public services and hold back a generation to reach their hollow ideological goal.
The need for a Labour Government in London and Edinburgh has never been greater. Like Kezia Dugdale said in her IPPR talk:
“The Tories want Scotland in the UK and out of Europe, and the SNP wants Scotland in the EU, but out of the UK. Continuing to pull our country in each of these directions risks breaking the Union once and for all. Only Scottish Labour can stand up for what the majority of Scots want – maintaining our relationship with Europe and securing our place in the United Kingdom.”
We have no option to do anything but build support around our excellent elected members – from our UK and Scottish leaders down to our councillors who are at the frontline of defending public services against Tory/SNP cuts.
To do this the party must fully engage with ordinary members like you and I to ensure we can make an effective contribution at all levels to the Labour movement’s fight for social justice. This will be my goal if I am elected to the SEC. I will aim to change it from a body which members often don’t understand into one which we can engage with to support and inform our party’s leadership.
If elected, I pledge to deliver the following for you:
- Transform the SEC’s relevance by consulting directly with members on the decisions it makes.
- Publish my notes of each SEC meeting – I’ll summarise the discussion and tell you how I voted.
- Engage your CLP and Trade Union branch by offering to attend its meetings and involve it directly in policy making.
- Convert the lessons we learn from our successes and defeats into winning tactics.
- Do all I can to ensure Labour is returned to government in London and Edinburgh.
We must remember that being part of the Labour movement is only the start. Success will only come when we work together.
A list of my supporters can be found here.