The below was sent out as an email letter to all members on 24 June.
I grew up in Kelty, Fife where my Dad was a miner and my mum worked in factories and when she was not working there she was working in the fields picking potatoes or planting trees to earn money. I left school at 16 and worked as an assistant gardener and became a NUPE Shop Steward at the age of 18 and Branch Chairperson when I was 20. It was through the progressive education programme run by NUPE that I developed my education being sponsored by my union to go to Newbattle Abbey College at the age of 24. I then went to Edinburgh University where I graduated with an MA Honours Degree in Sociology and Politics and completed an MSC in Community Education.
It was the Trade Union movement that gave me the chances in life to get a good education and to work with some very amazing people who were committed to advancing life chances for working people.
I worked as the Scottish Coordinator for a national poverty organisation and then became full time Leader of the new Fife Council. I then worked as General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party before going on to work as Learning Manager for the TUC for 6 years before returning to Scotland and working for Gordon Brown MP. I returned to serve my local community becoming full time Leader of Fife Council having spent five years in opposition and then taking control of the Council with Labour going from 24 seats to 35 seats in the 2012 council elections.
Labour moving forward – A strategy for Labour in Scotland
I believe that the most important challenge facing our Party is to set out a compelling and confident strategy which can engage the people of Scotland and hold the SNP to account. While I believe we must have an open debate about a more autonomous Party the challenges facing us are greater than an organisational solution. We must focus our attention on the real debate about our values, strategy, policy and message.
That’s why I’m reaching out to you today.
The Labour Party in Scotland must lead – once again – the movement for Home Rule in our country. Keir Hardie first stood for election on a platform of Home Rule and it is a debate that has travelled with our party throughout its history. We now arrive at a point where we must re-define Home Rule for the 21st century. I propose that Home Rule involves changing the system in which we operate and not the borders within which we work. Home Rule is not an independent Scottish Labour Party, but a party that operates within the framework of UK Labour representing the views of the people of Scotland even if distinct from policy at a UK level. Devolution is a journey and we now find ourselves at an important juncture in that voyage. So we need to have a vision which presents ourselves to the Scotland of today and also the Scotland ten years from now and beyond as powers increasingly get devolved. This must involve having more control over economic and taxation levers in our country including the devolution of housing benefit, the minimum wage and areas of employment law. We need to lead the debate on the Scotland we want to create for future generations and be clear on the issues which are best reserved through pooling resources at a UK level such as pensions, areas of welfare, foreign policy and defence.
Constitutional debate will not alone solve some of the issues facing Labour in Scotland; we must also re-evaluate the position of Labour’s relationship with Scottish society as a whole. This will involve building new partnerships with business, industry, trade unions and the public. Labour must become the party of inclusive debate. This means opening up further dialogues with communities in order to achieve the end goal of full employment. We must hold open conversations with business and industry in order to create more jobs. We must involve trade unions in these processes to ensure the voices of workers are well represented. Most importantly, we must involve the public to ensure their faith is restored in Labour being the party of job creation. It is time for Labour to form a new partnership with Scotland, drawing on our principles, but updating them for the world we now find ourselves in.
The need for a strong and confident Labour Party in Scotland has never been greater than it is today. So Labour’s message in Scotland must be one based on values but we need the political conviction to follow it through. We must renew our historic mission to be the champion of ending poverty, inequality and unemployment. But we must also deliver on our environmental obligations, equip our young people with the skills of the future through education and apprenticeships, address chronic underinvestment in housing and confront the problems facing our NHS. These are the issues which matter most to the Scottish people. The SNP has failed in every single area. It’s time to hold them to account.
So our task is to fashion a credible social democratic project for our country that can compete with the SNP and effectively challenge them on their weaknesses in rhetoric and reality. Nationalism has been mobilised effectively by the SNP but we know it is also the source of their single greatest weakness. The SNP obsession with national sovereignty has resulted in everything being framed in terms of independence. This has resulted in an insular economic policy which has ultimately little to say about the forces shaping the future prospects of existing companies and their workforces, and, supporting new businesses that will create the jobs of the future.
Labour’s links with progressive forces as part of the UK in this future becomes our source of strength and we can mould the mood for change in Scotland towards that bigger vision for our future. We know the SNP can’t do both. It’s time we deliver a strategy that holds them to account while capturing the confidence in Scotland.
If you agree with me, lend me your support. You can find out more about my vision for Scotland in detail in the coming weeks at http://www.alexrowley.organd I am keen to come to your community to speak with you and friends about the future of our party and our country.
Alex Rowley MSP