This wee blog documents my time at the 2015 Scottish Labour Party Conference. It is an important conference for the Labour movement as it is the first since Kezia Dudgale and Jeremy Corbyn won their respective leadership roles, and it comes it a time when Labour’s vision for a fairer and more equal society is being reviewed after the party was rejected at the poles.
The conference is also important for me as it is the first one I have attended since joining Scottish Labour in October 2014.
One week to go
My delegate pack has arrived. This is quite exciting, but there are two problems – no lanyard and no “How Conference Works” document. Nonetheless, the key document in my pack appears to be the “Report of the Scottish Policy Forum 2015”. This document sets the broad context within which the Scottish Labour manifesto will be drafted. It contains few surprises, but does bring together themes and ideas which reflect our values as a party. For example, this paragraph reflect something many people in the movement feel strongly about:
The delegate pack contains one last surprise – there is it be a disco at the conference. What would Keir Hardie have to say about that?
Two days to go
All Scottish Labour CLPs were given the opportunity to submit a motion to conference. My CLP’s was quite concise: “The conference agrees that the proportion of social or affordable housing in new developments should be increased to help tackle the housing crisis and improve social cohesion.”
With two days to go I get confirmation that our motion has been accepted, but will be composited with similar motions from CLPs across Scotland. I have to meet with these CLPs on Friday evening to agree on the wording of the “composite” motion.
Friday – Conference begins
The train reaches Perth a little late (why did the SNP not agree to consider Labour’s proposal to bring ScotRail in to public ownership?), but I have time to dump my bag at my hotel before walking to the conference venue.
The conference itself is structured around the “Report of the Scottish Policy Forum” document, with resolutions proposed to strengthen the content. The first session dealt with “Public Services and Wealth Creation”, with resolutions to give extra support to shop workers, fairer procurement and the buy-back of PPP/PFI/NPD debt.
During this debate two things were clear – there was some concern about the levels of abuse shop workers in Scotland are receiving and anger that the SNP’s unwillingness to support calls to give them more protection in law. Similarly, there was a feeling that the SNP were offering steel workers “warm words”, but had not supported the industry via their procurement strategy. Indeed, it was noted that the SNP Government make no mention of the steel industry in their “Economic Strategy“.
The debate surrounding NPD/PFI/PPP debt was also interesting as many in Scotland think that PFI is a thing of the past. The reality is that Scotland is still servicing PFI debt and the SNP are allowing it to grow via their version of PFI which they call NPD – it makes “PFI a bit more politically acceptable without changing any of the economics“. The conference overwhelmingly agreed that a future Labour Government should use Holyrood’s borrowing powers to buy back this debt.
Friday – Lunchtime Fringe
With the morning session over, the lunchtime fringe begins. On the way out of the venue Nigel Griffiths (my old MP) is handing out “Labour Leave” leaflets – perhaps a sign of future battles.
I attended a fringe event hosted by the “Labour Movement for Europe“. The focus of this was the role Labour should play in the coming EU referendum. This was chaired by George Foulkes, with significant contributions from Catherine Stihler MEP and Community.
Friday – Afternoon
After lunch we had a keynote address from Ian Murray MP, the core of this was his story and how he was able to move from one of the most deprived areas in Scotland and go on to start his own business . His conclusion was: “that is why we wake up every day, frustrated at our UK and Scottish Governments abdicating their responsibility to level the playing field – failing to make sure we really have equality of opportunity. ”
Like many other speakers, Ian Murray referred to the Trade Union Bill. However, his anger was directed at the SNP and the Tories: “While Labour have been fighting for the rights of workers and unions across the United Kingdom what have the SNP been doing? They have gone through the Trade Union Bill, opting Scotland out. Just Scotland. How’s that for solidarity? Live in England? Tough. Live in Wales? Tough. Live in Northern Ireland? Tough. Conference, Let me be absolutely clear. The Labour Party will oppose the Trade Union Bill for every worker, everywhere.” Ian won the first standing ovation of the day.
Next came an address from Jeremy Corbyn. His speech focussed on Labour as an internationalist movement and its links with the human rights campaigning. He used this narrative to make the case for Labour being the only true left-wing alternative to the Conservatives – “Friends, if you want socialist change, if you want a left wing alternative, you have to vote for it. If you’re satisfied that nearly a million people in Scotland are in fuel poverty or that half of all housing in Scotland falls short of official quality standards, then Labour isn’t for you. But if you’re not content, if you won’t walk by on the other side, then vote for a party next May that is a democratic socialist party in both our words and our deeds. Vote Labour.”
During the speech the enemies of Jeremy Corbyn’s arguments were quick to try to undermine him by questioning Labour’s left-wing credentials. David Torrance summed up the hypocrisy at the core of these criticisms:
Friday – Evening
I skipped the EU session to check into my hotel, but retuned in time to attend a evening fringe on the attainment gap. The discussion was good, but there was an appreciation that this is not a simple problem and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
I then attended a meeting to agree the wording of my CLP’s composite motion. This proved to be a little painful, but very worthwhile. The agreed wording was:
Conference believes that everyone deserves a warm, secure home where individuals, families and communities can thrive and that a decent standard of housing is crucial to the development and well-being of children, the health of the nation and an efficient workforce.
Conference recognises the acute shortage of affordable housing across Scotland; that it is currently estimated by Shelter Scotland that there are over 150,000 households on local authority housing waiting lists; that the primary tenure for households in Scotland is still owner occupation, however 13% of households now live in the private rented sector which has more than doubled in the last ten years and notes the increase in the cost of rents; that according to the Scottish Government’s latest figures by the end of March 2015 there were 10,488 households in temporary accommodation in Scotland and there were more than 35,000 homeless applications in 2013/14; overall house building levels in Scotland are currently well below their 2007 peak levels and social housing completions have fallen by 44% from 2010 to 2014. Conference understands that of Scotland’s housing stock over 1 in 10 households in Scotland are affected by dampness, condensation or both, 940,000 are in fuel poverty and roughly 75,000 households are overcrowded.
Conference believes that this points to the clear failure of the Scottish Government to tackle Scotland’s housing crisis.
Conference calls on an incoming Scottish Labour Government to commit to backing Shelter Scotland’s for a radical programme to build more affordable and social rent homes, including co-operation as a model, council and third sector building; calls for a fair deal for private sector tenants through rent controls and adequate housing standards with enforcement powers.
After this, I attended the conference reception (overcrowded and stuffy), went for a meal with the Edinburgh South CLP (overcrowded and stuffy) and then attended the Conference Quiz (overcrowded and stuffy). On the way out, I had a minor brush with an online celebrity – BuzzFeed’s Jamie Ross: