22 September 2009

“As autumn to winter resigns the Gray year” ...

Wendy was a divine gift. As luck had it, I managed to squeeze into one of the pokier old lecture rooms in Old College on St Andrews Day 2007, when she delivered her “New Agenda for Scotland speech. What do you mean you don’t remember it? Well, admittedly, speech’s rolling prose and themes might have commanded more interest – were it not for the fact that Alexander was befogged in suspicion in the small matter of £950 – and with arachnoid generosity, was blasting at any of her feet which strayed into view. As the beldam styled it, the speech was an attempt to “slay a few sacred cows”. Stilling cheek by jowl with the salivating hacks, however, one got the distinct impression that however showily Alexander sharpened her cleaver, the congregated jouros felt other questions knocking away in their skulls more sharply. Her policy steer was for a “new Scottish constitutional commission” – and given her bovine aspirations – it is perhaps appropriate that the plodding Calman Commission’s report is the blockish fruit of her butcheress impression.

Yet, to all things must come their end, and alas, a good measure of partisan fun was denied the rest of us, when Wendy hung up her blunted cleaver, folded up the gorespattered apron, and cantered back to liberty in June 2008. Sic transit gloria mundi. I don’t believe I’ve heard a peep from her since. Stowing the besmirched getup in a discreet filing cabinet in John Smith House, Scottish Labour tried on some other costumes – before finally settling on a new unmermaidlike figurehead of Iain Gray. Strapping him to their electoral sloop – and hastily navigating away from Alexander’s distinctly turbulent waters – as the Scottish Tory Boy has helpfully reminded us – the good barque Scottish Labour have now voyaged for a whole year under the baleful gaze of Cap’n Gray. And from the rocks, the sinuous sirens call, whither did you voyage? Where have you come?

(Admittedly, I’m not sure casting Angus McLeod as some sort of sea nymph is a terrifically probable exercise. À la Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, I suggest in the filmic rendering, we dab him with a spot of digital paint and the goggling punter won’t be able to discern the difference.) Recall, if you will, Gray’s ciceronian speech at his matriculation ceremony, including the rather curious, proletarianising section in praise of himself, uncorking – and one can’t help but notice, nastily recorking thereafter – a critique enswaddling the Maximum Eck in the apparel of a louche, self-indulgent bourgeois on the make…

"I want to begin by thanking the Scottish Labour staff for organising this election so efficiently, and to thank Cathy and Andy for the way in which the election campaign has been fought. I firmly believe that the best leadership is collective leadership and you have demonstrated over six weeks and 15 hustings why you should and will be a big part of that. I offer my wholehearted congratulations to Johann Lamont on her election as deputy leader and look forward to working with them in moving Labour forward in Scotland.

Thank you above all to the members of this movement who have engaged with the election campaign in greater number and with greater enthusiasm than I thank any of us could have foreseen. Thank you for the trust you have placed in me. This election is the beginning of a new conviction in Scottish Labour - united around our shared values and moving forward with common purpose. Thousands have not only voted, but taken part in hustings and other events during the elections. Some have said that it is the first time in a long time they have had the chance to look the party leadership in the eye and tell them what they think. I promise them it will not be the last. I am heartened by the determination of those party members. We know that this is a difficult time for Labour.

It is sometimes said that Labour has governed Scotland for 50 years. Well I joined the party in a council scheme in a city, Edinburgh, which had been ruled by the Tories for centuries. It did not feel like Labour was in charge.

We won that council and we won that country. We did it by uniting around our core values. We did it by standing shoulder to shoulder, MPs, councillors, trade unionist, party members. We did it by addressing the things that really mattered to the people we sought to serve, and telling them what we wanted to do with conviction in language which made sense to them. It is time to do that again. The cost of living, health services, housing, education, the care of our elderly and disabled, the eradication of poverty, the quality of our local services. That will be our focus. Labour is best when we look outwards and align our values with the people's aspirations. Not just listening but hearing. It is time to do that again. I promised a fresh start. It is time to close the manifesto on which we ought the 2007 election, and begin to write our programme for 2011 and beyond. I will appoint a senior colleague of my shadow cabinet to drive policy development. To work with the policy forum process. To engage early and directly with affiliated trade unions, and with young Labour and Labour students.

They will be charged with reaching out beyond the Labour party to develop policy in line with our values but in partnership with wider Scotland. This will include building on initiatives like our literacy commission, and the wide coalition of support we already have for the right to an apprenticeship for every qualified school leaver. It will also mean defining exactly how we should reform the council tax to make it fairer, while protecting local services. I have been asked, how we respond to the loss of Glasgow East. This is what we do. We embrace the message of that defeat into the heart of our campaign in the forthcoming general election and we write it into every line of our programme for winning in 2011. It will be a programme developed in Scotland, carrying the endorsement of Scottish Conference and the conviction of every party member. It will be a programme which speaks to the concerns and aspirations of Scots.

I want Scottish Labour to be Scotland's Labour Party again. We should be proud of what Labour has achieved. But we must be passionate about what we can do now. Proud of free bus travel for pensioners. But ready now to take steps to give communities the bus services they need. Proud of our action on anti-social behaviour, but ready now to press for jail sentences for those who carry a knife on our streets. Proud of 35,000 apprenticeship places. But ready now to create a guaranteed place for every qualified school leaver. Proud of the Scottish Parliament we delivered. But ready now to develop its powers in the light of the Calman Commission. Our devolved parliament is a powerful instrument for progress, and a powerful devolved parliament is what the people of Scotland want. The Calman Commission is the outstanding achievement of Wendy Alexander's leadership of this party and we will finish its work. Another commission reported last week. Half a million pounds of public money spent on a broadcasting commission. Which concluded that the future of Scottish broadcasting depended on it being part of the UK broadcasting market. Just as Scottish banks benefit form being part of a market of 60 million not 5 million.

Just as Scottish energy companies benefit from being part of a UK-wide grid linked into European markets. Just as our shipyards benefit form access to multi-billion pound MoD contracts for aircraft carriers. Scotland's future lies in using our parliament to leverage those opportunities by raising the education, skills and aspiration of our people. There is no limit to the untapped potential of our people, and no limit to our ambition neither nor anything else which divides us. I started this campaign with a simple statement. I am as Scottish as Alex Salmond. But our story is different.

While Alex Salmond was studying the dismal science - economics - in the academic birthplace of Thatcherism, I was studying natural science in the academic home of the enlightenment. While Alex Salmond was an official in the Scottish office, I was learning to be a teacher in a tough school and a community activist in the biggest council house scheme in Edinburgh. While he moved to the Royal Bank of Scotland I moved to Mozambique where I taught for two years in a country literally fighting for its life. While he spent the eighties and nineties developing the tricks of politics in Westminster, I spent them developing my values working for Oxfam.

In 2001 when he abandoned the Scottish Parliament I served it as minister for social justice and enterprise, transport and lifelong learning, delivering £1bn of housing investment to this city and seeing more Scots enter higher education than ever before.

We don't need a first minister whose pride is putting people down. Scotland needs a first minister whose passion is lifting people up. I am Scottish and my story is a Scottish story. But I am also Labour and my story is a Labour story. Woodrow Wilson said "absolute identity with one's cause is the first and great condition of successful leadership". I was born in the NHS labour created, a child of the health services first decade. I was the first in my family to be able to go to a university, opened up to the likes of me by a Labour government. I was a teacher in schools Labour had made comprehensive and open. For 12 years I campaigned for debt relief, a landmine ban and increased aid - issues Labour brought to the global stage. I was a founder member of the Scottish Parliament Labour created and my name is on the first legislation it ever passed. To be given the chance to serve this movement as leader of Labour in that Scottish Parliament is a precious privilege.

But the real prize we seek together is the opportunity to serve Scotland and make it all that it can be for every one of its citizens. Thank you."

As I prophesied, the salivary glands of the press are dampening in anticipation for 2011. While none of the quillscratchers has prodded the Sclabourites on Curran’s departure and the conspicuous absence of formulated, alternative policy – one can glimpse fleeting motes of that spectre through the dead trees. Still, happy one year anniversary, Mr Gray.