The recent local council results made for good reading for Labour politicians, supporters and activists.
It was great to see so much hard work rewarded, and I am pleased that Labour has decisively maintained control in battleground seats such as Glasgow and North Lanarkshire, and retained a substantial controlling presence in South Lanarkshire and Falkirk. And it would be remiss to omit the power sharing arrangement between Labour and the SNP in Edinburgh; a good example of politicians putting rivalries aside and the people first.
Whatever the SNP now claim, they will undoubtedly be disappointed with how things went. That they believed they could take Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, and a host of other councils was an open secret; but, in the event, Labour’s simple message of more jobs and better local services resounded with the electorate.
The week before the election I observed that the SNP was becoming complacent, a view perhaps shared by some voters. It is essential that, having made good progress, Labour does not fall into the same trap.
We must deliver on our election promises, and continue to listen to, and learn from, the electorate.
Over the past few weeks, I have been struck by the number of constituents, in Central Scotland and elsewhere, who have expressed real concern about the provision of bus services within local communities.
Studies have shown that bus journey’s account for approximately 85% of all public transport journeys taken in Scotland, and that access to local bus services is especially crucial for the elderly and those on low incomes.
I recently visited a group of constituents in Airdrie whose travel opportunities are limited by irregular service along daytime routes, and scant provision of evening bus servies. They also expressed concern about recent price rises along certain routes.
That is why the decision by the SNP Government to cut the Bus Services Operators’ Grant by 20%, and to change the way in which it is calculated, is so misguided. Formerly, the grant was calculated accorded to fuel expenditure; now, following the recent rise in fuel duty and prices (average diseal prices increased by 14.7% last year), the grant will be calculated according to mileage.
In addition to this, the Scottish Government’s decision to impose a cap on the National Concessionary Travel Scheme will place further pressure on bus operators, especially given that current projections suggest that this year’s scheme will exceed the £180 million budget by around £6 million.
I and my Labour colleagues believe that the Scottish Government should be investing in the public transport infrastructure. Instead, it has chosen to reduce a grant that helps to maintain local services and prevents fares from escalating.
Sadly, it is likely to be passengers that bear the brunt of the SNP’s folly, and that is why Scottish Labour is backing the numerous campaigns that have sprung up throughout Scotland to support local bus services and condemn SNP cuts.
I am extremely disappointed that, despite my pleas to SNP Members to vote with their consciences, and in the face of widespread political and public opposition, they voted on masse to pass the Scottish Government’s deeply flawed Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications Bill.
As I pointed out in my speech during the Stage 3 Debate, the Bill fails to offer any definition of what constitutes sectarian or offensive behaviour. It is far too narrow, and does not advance any strategy for dealing with sectarianism in a broader societal context.
One requires only the most cursory knowledge of Scottish football to appreciate that whilst some songs, chants and slogans are brazenly aggressive and discriminatory, others are not. The police already have powers to arrest people for offensive acts at football games; powers which they repeatedly fail to exercise.
Whatever new powers we grant them, the police will never eradicate sectarianism in football grounds, as they are dealing with symptoms, not causes. Until we recognise that sectarianism is a societal problem that requires a sophisticated response, we will never overcome it.
In stark contrast to this Bill, Scottish Labour’s 11 point Action Plan features a raft of innovative proposals, including a comprehensive review of how educators can promote religious and cultural tolerance.
Perhaps we could start by not denying football supporters their democratic right to sit in the public gallery of the Scottish Parliament Chamber for the innocuous offence of wearing t-shirts bearing the collective slogan “Fans not Criminals”. I do not know who was responsible for this outragous decision – although I have my suspicions – and I will be very interested to see what the Presiding Officers have to say for themselves.
The only way that we will rid ourselves of sectarianism is to broadcast the message, loud and clear: in 21st Century Scotland, sectarianism, like racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia, is utterly unacceptable.
The debate can be viewed in full here.
On Monday I attended the official launch of Johann Lamont MSP’s campaign to be elected as the next leader of Labour in Scotland.
I am delighted to say that the launch, held at Stirling University, was a great success: Johann spoke with passion and eloquence, and her speech was well received by the many MSPs, MPs, Union officials and party members who turned out to support her.
During her speech and the question and answer session that followed, Johann outlined her vision for Labour over the next few years and, whilst she did not shirk the many challenges that face us, both as a party and as a country, her message was one of hope; hope of what we can achieve if we unite in our commitment to make Scotland a fairer and more equal society:
“I believe we must change as a party if we are to once more earn the right to serve Scotland.
We must listen and learn, show humility and seek again to talk for and to people’s ambitions and concerns.
We must rediscover our story of a party created out of a vision for a fair society, sustained by our aspiration to serve all of Scotland.
In that way, in embracing change, we seek the opportunity to represent the people of Scotland, refreshed and renewed and ready to serve.”
Having known Johann for several years, I can testify to her passion for politics and her commitment to social justice. Since becoming an MSP she has worked tirelessly in service of the causes she believes in, and she has the knowledge, the strength and the talent to achieve her aims.
Johann spent many more years as a teacher than she has as an MSP, and this experiennce has and will continue to serve her well. She is well known as a champion of single parents and carers, and is a natural communicator with a gift for empathy and understanding.
I can honestly say that I believe she is, without doubt, the right candidate for the job. If, like me, you want to see a strong and united Labour party in a strong and equal Scotland, than I urge you to join me, and support Johann Lamont MSP for Labour leader in Scotland.