This article presents the case for the Labour left and why it is important to vote for Labour, with a focus on policy and the current political circumstances within which those policies are placed. It’s not about my candidacy or campaign. It considers wider policy commitments from Labour – but the selection decision by local Labour members is a legitimate part of the wider context I will address.
I come from a working class family, rooted in the working and cultural traditions of the mining communities of Fife. A grassroots activist for Labour all of my adult life, I have no background of privilege and have had to work hard to get on. Like so many families across the country, we were substantially impacted upon by economic policy and circumstances of recent years. The fallout of the run on Northern Rock put our home into negative equity and left us abandoned by mortgage providers.
The rising cost of living hit our household hard, with a fixed income, a young family and as a public sector worker; our household faced a freeze on wages at the same time as a reduction in our eligibility for tax credits. Yet my family consider itself lucky. We are in work, can afford to get by and, unlike so many other families, do not have to rely on food banks or have to constantly face the choice of paying the heating bill or the pay day lender.
Through my professional and political life, I have witnessed first-hand the impact of Tory austerity on families on low wages or without work, the disproportionate impact of cuts on women and people with disabilities – and as a local councillor, I have had the privilege, but also faced the significant challenge, of working to support people through these times.
My selection as a parliamentary candidate is, I believe, a positive vote in favour of working class representation, highlighting a broader sense within the wider labour movement of a need to once again ensure that politics in general, but Labour in particular, is representative of and connected to the realities of life in our communities. This in itself is a positive step forward for Labour and for working class influence.
There is no doubt that for a variety of reasons, ranging from the impact of the referendum to the way the Party is structured and how it should be led, that the past year has been one of the most turbulent in the Scottish Labour’s history. While the challenge faced is clear and present, I firmly believe that the current political climate offers us a once in a generation opportunity to re-engage with our communities about the change we want to see in Scotland, Britain, Europe and the world.
The reawakening of citizenship and political activism across Scotland over the past eighteen months has been exciting and positive for democracy. We must maintain that momentum and work hard to once again reignite the hope of change for a better future through a progressive policy offer from both Labour and the wider labour movement. I am proud of and committed to maintaining the Labour-union link. The unions were integral to founding Labour and I believe firmly their role is as critical to Labour’s future as it has been to its past.
Labour’s existing policy framework for government provides a number of important levers to help enable this vision of a better future. The introduction of a lower ten pence starting rate of tax, the commitment to implement a mansion tax, a bankers bonus tax and re-introducing the fifty pence top rate of tax will start to bring about a clear progressive shift in the balance of economic power away from private interests and super-rich individuals, and towards the vast majority of people in our communities.
The commitment made in Scotland to fund 1,000 new nursing posts for Scotland’s NHS via the mansion tax is a clear example that we are serious about pulling and sharing resources to where it is needed most and to focus on priorities which will help to achieve social justice and investment in public services.
Labour’s commitment to an energy price cap holds firm as a key pledge despite the recent shift in wholesale energy prices globally – the current savings for energy companies continue not to be passed to consumers and yet we see scandalous rises in profits and salaries within the biggest energy firms.
Labour’s plan will offer protection to some of the most vulnerable individuals in our community. It’s plans to allow a state-owned train operator to bid for rail operator franchises is an important intervention in a key part of our transport infrastructure which is vital to economic and social development.
Labour will also scrap the bedroom tax and put a stop to any Tory moves to further attack and demonise working people who need time, help and support – not benefit sanctions whether due to drug and alcohol issues or obesity. By cutting back on tax relief for the highest pensions, Labour will fund a guaranteed youth job scheme within which those who can work will be offered support and opportunity. Ending of the brutal Tory sanctions regime with the introduction of the youth job guarantee will offer confidence that Labour is committed to full employment while at the same time offering the right support and social security protection to those who need it.
While Labour can and should be bolder on a minimum wage, the commitment to raise it to £8 per hour alongside the campaign for a Living Wage over the course of the next parliamentary term is positive. Plans to end exploitative zero hours contracts, support union backed proposals on health and safety, and scrap the Tory imposed fees on Employment Tribunals are further important commitments to begin to create fairness again in the workplace.
Labour will implement a range of specific measures to deal with tax avoidance which will include a combination of legislative and process changes to bring about more rigorous enforcement and penalties for both businesses and individuals. Revelations on the scale of tax dodging are shameful but unfortunately not surprising. Dealing effectively with tax avoidance and evasion is critical to creating a fairer country, given that the £34bn in unpaid tax could single handedly wipe out the Tories public plans for £30bn of further austerity cuts beyond 2015.
The election’s outcome will have far reaching implications for devolution in Scotland. Labour is committed to implementing the Smith Commission recommendations in full which will enhance the powers of the Scottish Parliament, bringing £3bn of welfare powers to Scotland for the first time.
Further commitments to enable Scotland to top up reserved welfare areas such as child benefit and state pension, and devolving housing benefit will provide Scotland with additional tools and flexibility to promote equality and social justice. It is important also to recognise Labour’s commitment to ‘double devolution’ ensuring local government once again will have more levers of control and democracy at its disposal so that councils can take decisions at a local level which suit local circumstances.
As the party of working people, Labour can and should go further in government. After five years of austerity with dogmatic attacks on the welfare system, huge cuts to public sector funding, and tax cuts for the richest, it is our responsibility to do everything in our power to be on the side of the many not the few. Despite all the Tory rhetoric, public sector debt has increased, economic and social inequality has risen to scandalous levels, and executive pay has soared at an ever faster rate while the vast majority of workers have faced pay freezes and cuts.
Frequent warnings about failing to invest in public services and infrastructure during the recession to stimulate economic growth were not heeded, and we are now seeing the inevitable outcome of this approach – slower than anticipated economic recovery in spite of, not because of, Government economic strategy and an economy which is balanced in favour of the elite minority, not the working majority. Britain is a rich country. Labour must focus its efforts in government on harnessing and redistributing that wealth and power to communities, and to protect and improve our vital public services.
By tackling tax dodging, re-balancing tax in favour of workers and investing in public infrastructure to grow the economy, there is a path out of the current depression of austerity so we can create a fairer and more equal society, offering hope and a vision of positive change for working people.
Kenny Selbie is the Scottish Labour Party candidate for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. He is an Equalities Policy Officer in local government and a Labour councillor in Kirkcaldy.