By Neil Findlay MSP
The inboxes and the doormats of Scottish Labour members will be starting to see an all too familiar arrival from today: ballots to elect our seventh leader in 14 years. No wonder the first day of voting for a leader leaves a sense of déjà vu.
Having stood for the leadership in 2014 – I know exactly what is going through the candidates’ minds at every stage of the process.
Interestingly enough though, there are a few other similarities with the 2014 leadership race which I found myself in. Back then we had the sitting leader leaving suddenly after a prolonged and public period of orchestrated attacks and anonymous media briefings. Sounds familiar?
As the 2014 race started, a made-to-measure campaign which already had its cloth cut well in advance was unfurled for the anointed candidate of the UK party leader.
But perhaps the most damaging thing for us is the potential outcome of having another leader take the same tone-deaf approach to the Scottish public.
Just as we were told in 2014 that Jim Murphy, was a “big hitter”, a “credible leader” and an “excellent communicator” the same platitudes are rolled out from the same people that this Anas Sarwar is the saviour, as he takes the same failed approach of ignoring the growing disdain for Tory Westminster across Scotland’s working-class communities.
Just like Jim, Scottish Labour members are being told by the establishment’s candidate that Scotland’s right to choose is a choice for Westminster.
Labour can’t win the respect of people in Scotland if we continue to tell them their democratic ideals are wrong or misplaced.
Unlike a rehash of the Jim Murphy campaign, one thing that would be worth making a comeback is an acknowledgement of the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs.
That was the commitment made when Labour signed the Claim of Right for Scotland in 1989.
Thankfully, Monica Lennon has brought an honesty and authenticity to the leadership debate which has been a breath of fresh air.
Like me, Monica doesn’t support Independence. But we recognise people feel cut adrift by the status quo, which is further compounded every time the Prime Minister opens his mouth.
Monica understands that we need a positive alternative to the constitutional dogfight, which puts Labour back into the game and gives us an opportunity to get a hearing when we offer credible change for our communities. If the electoral aftermath of the 2014 referendum has taught us anything, it’s that people expect more than a shiny red bus as Labour’s vision for Scotland.
It’s not just about the constitution where Monica offers the change Labour needs. Her leadership would mean a fresh approach to rebuild our Party from the grassroots up, not some top-down reorganisation imposed from London.
You only need to look at the support for world-leading legislation to end period poverty that Monica delivered, bringing disparate groups together in common cause in the parliament, engaging with people in a way that reached beyond the tarnished Scottish Labour brand.
I’ve been further impressed today, as voting opens, with the raft of ideas to raise workers’ pay and improve rights at work that she launched today.
She has set out an ambitious but essential target for eliminating child poverty by the end of the 2020s and is passionate about tackling Scotland’s drugs deaths emergency.
All this and more promises to breathe fresh life back into our party – without that, Scotland will continue to be a country pulled between the unsustainable status quo of the Tories and undesirable independence of the SNP.
So, while Scottish Labour members might all be familiar with some of the elements in this leadership election, we actually need something new, we need genuine change. We need to win again. Monica gives us that chance.
Neil Findlay MSP has been a Member of the Scottish Parliament for Lothian since 2011. He was runner-up for the leadership of the Party in 2014.
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