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  • Labour Friends of Scotland

Labour Friends of Scotland goes to Brighton

More than 100 people packed a room in the Labour Conference hotel in Brighton on 26 September to hear Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar MSP and Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham discuss why Labour matters to Scotland, and why Scotland matters to Labour.

Anas emphasised that Scotland had been Labour’s first red wall, and that achieving a UK Labour government depended upon winning back Scottish support. He was open and honest that Scottish Labour had not been good enough in recent years, but was clear that he was not leader in order to manage decline. He noted how Labour in Wales had been proud of where it come from and its distinct achievements – something former First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones confirmed from the floor. Young Scots needed a clear vision from Labour of Scotland in the UK, including the international dimension.

But alongside rebuilding Scottish Labour, Anas said that people in Scotland needed to believe that UK Labour could win. Noting the SNP’s attempts to capture Scottish identity, he warned colleagues in England against allowing the right to define Englishness. He praised the strength with which Andy Burnham had stood up for his city, lamenting the failure of SNP-controlled Glasgow Council to do the same.

Respected journalist Helen Lewis – not a Labour Party member – had set the scene with an exploration of the politics of identity. In England, young people were voting Labour and older people Tory, but in Scotland national identity cut across this. But she noted feelings from within the pro-independence camp that their movement had become bitter, authoritarian and inquisitorial with a disposition to centralise, including civil society.

Andy Burnham began by noting that the SNP had imposed its travel ban on Manchester without consultation or even notification – exactly the kind of conduct they are quick to complain of. It had real impacts on people’s lives, and gave people a taste of the division that an independent Scotland could mean. Andy spoke about the benefits of devolution and decentralisation, of basing politics on place and of celebrating diversity in identity.

The meeting closed by noting a tentative resurgence of social democracy elsewhere in Europe, giving hope for positive change.


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