Is it all bread and roses in Scottish Labour? – CFS Scottish Labour Conference report-back


“As much as the leadership tries to beat the left down with their metaphorical stick, the left is still standing up for our socialist beliefs and values.”

By Scott Hartles, Campaign for Socialism

So as Scottish Labour Conference for 2023 comes to an end we have to ask. Is it all bread and roses for the working class under Scottish Labour?  One thing is certain, Union and CLP delegates come to conference to take an active part in debates whether that’s at fringe meetings or in the main hall.

As you may know, February is the month in which Scottish Council’s set budgets. Throughout the conference, a lot was made of Glasgow Labour group making a strong stand against the disgraceful cuts. The actual reality of the cuts made by the SNP group, whilst Labour stood outside with striking workers and protesters, are terrifying and they will have a massive effect to the people of Glasgow. One example is the 800 odd teachers and teaching assistants that will be affected by these cuts. The Glasgow Labour group stood up for the people that make Glasgow.

Campaign for Socialism and Red Paper Collective’s fringe was standing room only at the Hanover Tap. The theme was ‘The working class strikes back, Rebuilding the Labour Left.’ There was an excellent panel of speakers – Pauline Bryan, Mercedes Villalba, Matt Kerr, Ronan Burtenshaw, and Shami Chakrabati. Speakers spoke about the current position of the left in Labour but also the hope that there is for the left.  

Tribune editor Ronan Burtenshaw speaks at the at CFS fringe at Scottish Labour ’23.

As much as the leadership tries to beat the left down with their metaphorical stick, the left is still standing up for our socialist beliefs and values. Times are definitely tough for the left, but we can’t keep ignoring the attacks. We have to organise and give each other the solidarity and support we all need against these attacks. It won’t be a surprise that at the fringe meeting there was a strong sense of solidarity and support. There was even an opportunity to disagree, something that was a rarity in the conference hall.

The feeling of delegates that I spoke to throughout the weekend was that conference time was taken up by too many grand speeches with the new tagline ‘The change Scotland needs.’ There was also a feeling amongst delegates that there should be more time for debate. A perfect example of this was the constitutional amendments where delegates were not given the opportunity to debate important rule changes; they might be boring, but they do matter.

Policies that passed at the conference were largely positive across the party. Scottish Labour has backed a government led four day working week trial in Scotland’s public sector and Labour will offer their/our support to companies and organisations also making the transition to a 4-day 32 hour working week with no loss of pay. The motion submitted by ASLEF (the train drivers union) focused on the need to bring the Caledonian Sleeper train into public ownership, but also to campaign for a publicly owned freight railway company. ASLEF are fighting alongside the RMT for a fully publicly owned railway and although it’s a long way off, ASLEF’s motion is a step in the right direction.

Another motion that is important to bring to your attention was from the Scottish Women’s Conference and Unison Labour Link (Scotland) on Scottish Labour’s opposition to the Right to Strike bill, which recognised that the majority of trade union members in Scotland are women and that workers in the health and education sector are more than 80% women. The motion called on Scottish Labour to add their voices to the campaign against the bill, to support and publicise the STUC campaign to protect the strike and work with Labour politicians to maximise opposition to the bill. This motion was passed with mention of the many striking workers in Scotland.

The final to mention is from the CWU on community wealth building. Community wealth building proved to be successful in North Ayrshire when the council was under Labour control with the group led by Joe Cullinane. It also proves to be working in Preston with Labour in control of the council led by Matt Brown. The motion calls for a training programme to be created by the party, alongside the CWU and other unions, for politicians to develop a more democratic economy at a local level which supports democratic ownership and control; as well as to help tackle the ongoing cost of living, the wages, and earnings crises in Scotland and throughout the UK. I look forward to seeing Scottish Labour councils implement a programme of community wealth building for the people of Scotland.

On Sunday, Sir Keir Starmer took a break from attacking the socialists in the party and spoke at the conference, where he spoke a lot about himself but failed to mention the 10 pledges he was elected on. One of the interesting parts was him speaking about GB energy which will be under public ownership, where there will be good, secure, well-paid jobs, but he did not mention unionised jobs. He spoke about the NHS and how the SNP are failing the people of Scotland and how Labour cannot stand for that. He finished his speech by saying “If you place your faith in Labour this is the change we offer to you to Scotland and Britain.

The case for a new Britain, the case for change, a country where working people succeed, aspiration is rewarded, public services raise you up, communities control their own destination, climate change is defeated, politics is a force for unity and for good, a Scotland that is proud, confident, ambitious and successful thriving in a fairer, greener, more dynamic Britain a Britain where all our great nations rekindle the shared hope that can as it has in the past drive us towards a better future that’s the change we need that’s the chance we have.”

I find it fascinating how Starmer talks of unity for obvious reasons. I find it fascinating that he mentions communities controlling their own destinations after what has happened in Edinburgh Council’s budget meeting, which is an out and out attack on trade unions and workers. Trade unions must unite against this attack. I was also very disappointed that in the vote of thanks there was no mention of the British sign language interpreters. These workers do an incredible job, and they deserve the recognition that they failed to get.

Scottish Labour are, as a Scottish Councillor I’ve spoken to put it, “the best, or least worst” vehicle for change. The left of the party is not going anywhere, and we will continue to fight for a socialist agenda that works for the many, not the few.

Featured image: The campaign for socialism fringe at Scottish Labour Conference 23. Photo credit CFS/Twitter

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