The Scottish Fabians enjoyed a pre Scottish Labour Conference breakfast with former MP and MSP Lord Foulkes on Saturday.
The informal discussion focused on the pressing challenge of how Labour should best deal with the electoral threat presented by the SNP.
Lord Foulkes got the meetup underway with some opening reflections on why the Nationalists are currently so popular. He argued the SNP had successfully cast the idea of independence as the solution for every political grievance. Though Labour had helped secure a No vote last September, the party was now regarded in negative terms, as against things and not for them, a defender of the status quo, whereas the SNP has been able to continue to present itself as a party of radical change.
He believed Labour should seek patiently to expose the Nationalist’s social democratic pretensions. The SNP is a centrist, not a left wing party, as evidenced by its rejection of proposals to introduce a living wage, a mansion tax, the return of rail services to public ownership and bus regulation.
The discussion moved on to the question of how Labour can re-present itself as a progressive party capable of radical thinking. The Yes movement had succeeded in re-engaging many who had given up on mainstream politics. New groups like CommonWeal and Radical Independence are still somewhat chaotic, but exciting to be part of.
It was noted that Labour during the 1970s and 80s was itself a diffuse, open party with a lively grassroots democracy. The imposition of discipline on policy making from the later 80s onwards – not least to address the infiltration of the Militant tendency – had stifled much of that creativity. Labour needs to think carefully about how to enfranchise its members, while maintaining professional policy making processes.