It seems that the latest Scottish elections weren’t won based on issues such as affordable housing, the NHS, a decent working environment or qualitative education. The elections were based on the Constitution itself and in the eyes of many, Labour couldn’t make up its mind. At least, this is what the election result, in which Labour came third after the Conservatives, suggests. In this blog, we set out some of Blue Labour’s central ideas within the Scottish context.
Localism instead of centralism
It’s no coincidence that Labour came third, since both the first and second party had a clear vision on how they perceive Scotland’s future in relation to the rest of the UK. According to the SNP, Scots are better off outside the UK. In their view, it therefore makes sense to strive for an independent Scotland. The position of the SNP is shared by the Greens, whose support also increased. This is in clear contrast to the Conservative’s point of view: the best future for Scots is inside a strong union with the UK. For them, it’s clear that the promise of more power for the Scottish parliament is fulfilled and the fact that Ruth Davidson already suggested that she might be up for a future Cabinet role in Westminster, emphasizes the unitary vision of the Tory’s.
In this discussion, most people were left in the dark as to what Labour’s position was in the debate. The party seemed to find itself in an uncomfortable position between more devolution and a strong British union. Although this pragmatic position might actually make sense, it is clear from the results that the people of Scotland demand clear answers from their representatives at Holyrood. Notwithstanding the dramatic decline in Scottish Labour’s support, we are convinced that the party is best placed to offer Scotland a vision that is radical, tangible and stable.
As Jeroen Jans argued in a previous blog, both the SNP and the Scottish Conservatives only offer ever growing centralism, whether it be vested in Holyrood or Westminster. In this debate, they are utterly ignorant of the essential role of local councils and communities. However, only by offering local government more responsibility, and therefore both tax collecting and distributional powers, will governmental power be closer to the people. It’s not just about Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales, but about Dundee, Hawick, Breamar, Inverness, Edinburgh, Oban,… The argument behind this vision is that there are no good reasons to act on a “higher” level, when something might just as well be properly decided and executed by a more local level. This idea, which Blue Labour fully embraces, is called subsidiarity. It can best be defined as follows:
[I]t is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them. The supreme authority of the State ought, therefore, to let subordinate groups handle matters and concerns of lesser importance, which would otherwise dissipate its efforts greatly. Thereby the State will more freely, powerfully, and effectively do all those things that belong to it alone because it alone can do them: directing, watching, urging, restraining, as occasion requires and necessity demands (Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, §79-80.).
Similarly, Labour can no longer afford itself not to participate in the debate on federalism. This is not to say that it should definitely walk this road, but it should at least publicly scrutinize this option by debating on it with its members. Scottish Labour seems to be more sympathetic towards this option due to the growing likelihood of a new independence referendum. The outcome of such a debate, whether it is in favour or against federalism, will give Labour a clear mandate to present its policies at the next Scottish election.
In the end, both an emphasis on localism and federalism hold a substantial advantage to the position of the other parties. It is abundantly clear that there is no longer a majority support for the status quo. Although the Conservative Party made impressive gains, it’s support in votes is not half that of the SNP and Greens taken together. However, the ever present possibility of a new referendum on independence, is putting private investment in danger, especially after the vote on Brexit. Very few companies are interested in putting a money in a country of which the future is highly uncertain, since it brings with it unnecessary risks. What Labour can offer, whether it be in the form of both federalism and localism or only localism, is more tangible decision-making power for the people of Scotland, without putting private investment, which is indispensable for a healthy economy and a decrease in unemployment, even more at risk.
Respect for a diversity of communities
A centralised view is incapable of giving communities the credit they deserve. By communities we mean a whole range of organized people and institutions, who dedicate their lives to the wellbeing of others: unions, churches, voluntary agencies for the disabled and so much more. From a Blue Labour perspective, these communities, and not parliaments, form the basis for a just society. In a perspective from which a citizen is a mere individual contracted to its government, people are left powerless. But when they unite behind a common cause and defend their interests together, they are given a voice that is hard to ignore. The institutions of communities represent what is called a common good, meaning:
The principle of the common good […] stems from the dignity, unity and equality of all people. [T]he common good indicates “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily”. […] Belonging to everyone and to each person, it is and remains “common”, because it is indivisible and because only together is it possible to attain it, increase it and safeguard its effectiveness, with regard also to the future (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, §164).
Embracing the common good is the manner in which local libraries are saved, pensioners aren’t left to themselves, the disabled are given a perspective in life, the rights of the unemployed are defended,… Another argument in favour of local communities and institutions is that our society is growing ever more diversified, which can only be taken seriously when a diversity of groups exists to represent citizens.
Meaningful and dignified labour
Perhaps even more important in Scotland than in the other constituents of the UK, is the role of manual labour. Blue Labour is convinced that this kind of work should be valued more as a form of vocation. In this regard, the movement also speaks of the dignity of labour in which it recognizes that people do not only express themselves in their work. Part of people’s identity is formed at work, and they should be enabled to express who they are through the fruits of their labour. If people feel valued at work, these fruits give workers the opportunity to rise above themselves. As we argued, many such forms of work are to be found in Scotland. Examples like the world’s best whiskey’s, tweeds, handcrafts, bagpipes and shortbread immediately spring to mind.
Finally, Blue Labour is convinced that these workers’ rights should be protected through unions, which should be part of company boards. In our movement’s opinion, companies should be lead by a Trinitarian structure, in which leaders (and/or shareholders), workers and customers are represented. Blue Labour holds that this should not only be the case for private companies, but for institutions like hospitals and schools as well.
Something which Scottish Labour already does, and should keep doing, is emphasizing the need of healthy finances. The Scottish deficit is far more dramatic than that of the rest of the UK, and above all, in time unsustainable. If a government realises this too late, it are ordinary working people who suffer through increasing taxes and cuts in much needed services. It is therefore of utmost importance that the deficit is dealt with quickly and efficiently. Labour also has a long record of stressing that everyone should contribute proportionally and the strongest shoulders should bear the heaviest load.
More than progressivism
For Blue Labour, progress is not the same as progressivism. Many changes have been introduced by centralized parliaments under the promise of progress. Although it is fair to admit that many rights have been obtained during the last decades, ever more people do no longer experience much progress in their every-day-lives. Further, Blue Labour is not very much convinced of change just for the sake of change. Lots of people simply aspire a decent life, in which they can afford a place to live, are able to spent time with their family, have a decent job and can enjoy the little thing in life. For an increasing number of Scots, this is no longer the self-evidence it should be. It is therefore time to unite behind the common good and stand together for Scotland!
Ross Ahlfeld is a community worker who works in social enterprise projects in Port Glasgow. Ross is also a Blue Labour activist and supporter in Scotland and is married with two children, he is also a practicing Catholic of German Ancestry with an interest in Christian Democracy, Social Gospel, Post-Liberalism and fishing.
Jeroen Jans is currently a PhD student at the Radboud University (Netherlands), developing a thesis titled: “State without religion? Perceptions of young Christians, Muslims and humanists on religion-state relationships”. He is a Blue Labour supporter and is interested in UK politics, social thought and literature. In his free time, he likes to visit Scotland.