Speech by Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland Ian Murray MP

Sunday August 2nd 2015

Ian Murray MP

Thank you Cat for that introduction. A fantastic candidate and Edinburgh Western’s next Member of the Scottish Parliament.

And I want to begin by thanking Rev Derek Browning and the congregation here at Morningside Parish Church for accommodating us this morning.

This church stands at the heart of Morningside, in my constituency, and is a real example of an institution grounded in the community it serves.

But this Church is also significant for the Labour Party not just here in Scotland, but across the UK, as the place where our country’s political leaders gathered to say goodbye to John Smith.

Many of us will remember watching on television as the great and the good waited, queuing on Cluny Drive, to get into the church, as two thousand people crowded in the streets outside.

Foot, Kinnock, Blair, Brown.

A roll call of Labour’s then past, present and future.

Donald Dewar, in his eulogy, summed up the mood:

“What has been striking over the last dark week has not been the tributes of the great and the good – handsome as they have been – but the sadness, the dismay, the sense of loss across the range of our community. The people have lost a friend – someone who was on their side and they know it.”

Labour had lost a leader. Decent people across the whole country had lost a champion. Politics had lost a great Prime Minister in waiting.

I was eighteen in 1994, half way through my degree at Edinburgh University. I remember feeling, first, sadness and shock at John Smith’s death, but then anger that again, the possibility of victory had been snatched away from us.

Here we were, three years from the next election, just getting over a defeat that we hadn’t expected, facing yet another leadership election, emerging from a bruising internal fight over party reform.

This was Labour at a low ebb, at a time when we could have easily descended into chaos.

John Smith knew the Labour Party had to change, he had to continue the reforms started under Neil Kinnock and that huge baton of responsibility had now been passed to the next generation of reformers.

21 years ago we said goodbye to John Smith from this church, but three years later we went on to win the first of three historic election victories.

Not just that, but we started one of the most sweeping periods of reform this country had seen. Transforming every corner of the UK.

Lifting millions out of poverty with the minimum wage and tax credits, changing public attitudes towards gay and lesbian people with civil partnerships, and concluding the work that John Smith had begun in the 1970s by establishing a Scottish Parliament.

Our lowest points can be the catalyst for our greatest victories.

That’s what I want to talk about this morning: how we change to win again. How we start the work to restore the faith that people once had in the Scottish Labour Party. How we once again put our values at the heart of everything we do.

Because if John Smith’s life, and death, taught us anything, it is that the public respond when politics has principles that espouse hope. Politics has decency at heart. And politics puts the needs, ambitions and everyday concerns of ordinary people first.

The generation of politicians who came here to Cluny Parish Church have now all left the front line of politics. The big beasts of the party have moved on. And it is time for the Scottish Labour Party to move with the times with a fresh start, and new ideas driven by our values. Values shared down the generations of Labour politicians and supporters.

We can’t draw on the same solution they did to get the party back on its feet, but we can seek some inspiration at the same time.


I want to start by telling a little about my story and why I’m Labour.

I grew up in Wester Hailes during the Thatcher years in a family that had some strict conditions – you would be a patriotic Scot, a passionate Hearts fan and a defender of all things Labour.

It’s a combination that has provided unbridled joy and uncontrollable tears in equal measure over the years.

Some would suggest that social work should have been involved.

I stand here today as a Member of Parliament and the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland.

My story is the epitome of the idea of social mobility that the Scottish Labour Party has always championed and must do so again.

From a traditional working class family, brought up on a council housing estate, educated at local schools, the first in the family to go to University, the first to set-up their own business and the first to go into public service.

This is what the Labour Party is about – using education as the escalator of opportunity –because too often talent is universal but opportunity is not.

That should make us angry and determined to change it forever.

And that is why I joined the Labour Party. It is the movement for social, economic and cultural change delivered by working people in Government. No other party offers or can offer that, but we have lost our confidence in championing those values.

I learned the value of hard work from my mum, who was left to look after my older brother and I after my dad died when I was just nine.

She worked all hours, patched things together, grabbed opportunities when she could, made her own luck and always raised me to believe I could achieve what I wanted if I worked hard.

She didn’t do that because she was Labour – she probably didn’t even equate the two – she did that because it was not only the right thing to do but the basic values of wanting your children to do better than you.

That cemented the values that have stayed with me for the rest of my life – fairness, equality and hard work. No limit on ambition and no barrier to opportunity.

Like the majority of Scottish people – they aren’t values I learned from a pamphlet, but learned from my family, my friends and from the people who made up the community I called home.

They’re the same values that guided me when I set up my own business.  Businesses that always rewarded people well, provided training and looked after the most important asset – the staff.

I should say not businesses that were always successful.  Broadcasting live video on the internet when most people only had a 28k modem was always going to be a challenge.

What I learned from my experience of running my own business was that the wealth creators aren’t just the employers. They are also the employees, and the contribution those employees make back into their communities.

These values – of fairness, equality and hard work – and the fight for social justice brought me into public service where my priority has always been to put the people I represent first and foremost every time.


While those values remain constant – as they should – the party didn’t change as Scotland changed.

Let’s be under no illusions. The Scottish Labour Party’s defeat on May 7th was catastrophic.

Fewer than 1 in 4 Scots voted Labour.

This was not a blip, a one off or a protest vote. This was people the length and breadth of Scotland looking for something completely different.

Even after five years of opposition, with a Tory Government that has waged an ideological war against much of what Labour built in Government, we still couldn’t convince people that we were the best option.

In fact, even after eight years out of power in Holyrood and five years out in Westminster, for too many people we were still the party of the establishment.

Not only had we lost the mantle of standing up for Scots and defending Scotland but we were viewed as having lost the mantle of standing up for anyone.

Some have said that this is the election where Labour’s base in Scotland crumbled. But the truth is even more daunting than that. We lost the broad coalition of voters we had built up over the course of years.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

We still won 700,000 votes across the country, even in the face of our worst defeat.

Our activists have been out campaigning in by-elections in Lanarkshire, in Glasgow and here in Edinburgh with our super candidate Marion Donaldson, continuing to put the Labour case. I’ve never known our activists to be so engaged to be up for the fight, hungry to win again.

Our membership is growing fast (and not just for the leadership elections).   Party members and activists – some who have been members for over 50 years and those who joined more recently, there is a place for everyone to contribute to the party’s renewal.

The stakes now are higher than they’ve ever been. We have a right wing Tory government with an outright majority for the first time in 18 years.

We have an SNP Government that talks a good game, but whose record on the things they are responsible for like schools, hospitals, policing and housing is frankly woeful.

And we have the constant drumbeat of constitutional politics in the background.

There are plenty of things the Labour Party has to fight for over the coming months and years.

Not a single party member, councillor or MSP I’ve spoken to thinks that this is a time to be backing down. Scotland needs and wants a strong opposition – not just to the Tories at Westminster – but to the Scottish Government at Holyrood.

And not just a strong opposition for oppositions sake but a party with the energy, vision and positive policy platform to be a new Government in waiting.


We can’t forget why this is so important.

The Scottish Labour Party needs to win again not because we want power for powers sake.

It’s because we look around and see too many things we want to put right.

We have unfinished business that frustrates and angers us all:

Low pay and the blight of poverty on too many communities.

Educational opportunity based upon where you were born rather than the talent you have. For a kid with my background, growing up today in Wester Hailes, they would have even less of a chance than I did of going to university – that can’t be allowed to continue;

And creaking public services from a GP and NHS crisis to the shambles of Police Scotland that nobody in powers will take responsibility for.

But like so many problems in Scotland’s public services, time has passed and nothing has changed.

We need a Government that isn’t just using Holyrood as a platform for independence, but as a way to change the lives of the people of Scotland.

The weekly stories of concern should be a wakeup call to everyone who cares about Scotland’s public services.

This is what the Scottish Labour Party will be ruthlessly focussed on. And we won’t shy away from the big questions that we need to answer, not just as party but as a society.

When the challenges of reduced living standards can’t be solved by higher levels of public spending, how do we make the vast majority of the population better off?

How do you provide the hope that drives the next generation to do better than the last?

When the right wing is on the rise, how do we make a case for defending the institutions that the left built and protected, whether that’s the social security system or the National Health Service?

And crucially for us in Scotland, when the future lies in working more closely together, how do we make the case for collaboration – whether it’s in the UK or the EU – when often the reaction to hard times is to retreat?

We can’t hope to answer all these questions now but we can look to experiences from this constituency to find a starting point.


So how can we get back on our feet again and start on the road back to power?

How can do we become the political equivalent of a tech start-up company? Bristling with ideas, excited about the future, thinking differently about how we deal with social problems.

In the three months since the election two things from my own experience have shaped how I’ve thought about how we win again.

The first is my own campaign here in Edinburgh South, where we managed to buck the trend.

The second is my experience out of politics with Hearts Football Club.

The former has taught me about the importance of building a broad coalition of voters.  The latter about how to turn round an historic institution that shaped the lives of thousands over generations – but lost its way.

As I said at the outset, the result in May was so devastating not just because of the overall result, but because it marked the end of the steady loss of the coalition of voters that had been years in the making. People who had placed their trust in our party.

The only way we are going to win again is by appealing to the vast majority of voters across the country.

That’s how we won here in May.

And it starts from the principle that our politics has to be about bringing people together around common interests.
This goes to the heart of what progressive political parties, not just in the UK, but all across Europe need to grapple with.

Our party was born out of bringing together a coalition based in organised labour, fighting for the rights of those workers and their families and, ultimately, winning and using  political power.

But there are now fewer heavy industries, organised workforces, and membership of trade unions is falling.

This is despite the efforts of the trade union movement who have reached out to new industries to build their membership and show their relevance in the modern workplace.

Work is still an important place for finding and learning about politics, but it’s not the only place.

Today, people are more likely to work away from the place they live. The place you are from and the community you live in is more likely to shape your politics than the work you do.

Your first experience of politics is more likely to come in the form of a campaign in your street or neighbourhood.

Or increasingly political activity is something found and then undertaken online.

The pace and scale of these changes has been rapid.

The way people engage with politics has changed, but the way the Scottish Labour Party has worked hasn’t kept pace.

That means our politics has to be community based, bringing together a broad range of people across the constituency.

There can be no no-go areas.

That is what we did here and given this constituency is a microcosm of Scotland, with both wealth and deprivation, we can use this as the blueprint for the future.

We spoke to people in the Inch about their lives on zero-hours contracts and what Labour would do to fix it. About increasing the minimum wage. About dealing with anti-social behaviour. And giving their kids more opportunities.

But we also had something to say to people in Fairmilehead about defending the valuable greenbelt from inappropriate developments and supporting small businesses and in Marchmont with the relationship between a transient student population with settled residents.

That’s because we need to show that we are on the side of people who want to get on, the people who aspire to get a better job, a bigger house or start their own business.

Underpinning all this was a community-based approach that we had built up since 2010, responding to what the local community wanted and the issues they raised with me.  Giving them the ownership of the problem and support to access the solutions.

We campaign here to build real relationships with voters. Showing people that we didn’t just come to their door at election time but we were listening all year round.

And that is what I will try to do in every corner of Scotland as the Shadow Secretary of State.  Listening to communities and responding with Labour solutions.

From my own experience I see the way the Scottish Labour Party has to renew – as a community based movement in every street, town and city across Scotland. It’s easy to say “stronger for Scotland” but we need to be stronger for our communities.

By being rooted in the communities we seek to represent, we will begin to once again win the trust of voters.

Recognising that the majority of people see politics through the prism of the place, the town or city they’re from and the conversations they have with neighbours and friends.

I also think we can draw a real lesson from what happened at Hearts Football Club. A living, breathing example of how that community based solution can work. And it also shows how you can take an organisation that has lost its way and set it on the right path again.

Hearts – an institution with a proud and unique history. They have been an integral part of people’s lives for generations. They have always been innovative and driven change both within football and in the wider area – but they lost their way – within days of disappearing forever.

The club was saved and revived not by a top down solution, but by a large grassroots movement that pulled together. Thousands of supporters deciding that the way forward was for them to take charge of the situation.

It saved the Club but, more importantly, changed the culture. A new, fresh leadership team, led by someone engrained in the passion for the club, immediately setting a different direction.

Paying everyone the Living Wage, respecting the centenary commemorations of the Great War, communicating properly with the customers, entrenching charity in the Club and providing a platform for “Save the Children” rather than Wonga.

Not only did that fundamentally set a new direction but fans responded. The main response being that they felt they had their Club back and pride in their club – sharing the club’s values.

They felt that again they could place trust in the club. The Foundation of Hearts motto was “Own the history. Shape the Future.”

Giving supporters ownership of its proud heritage and story, while taking responsibility for the future.


So this is – and has to be – a new start for the Scottish Labour Party.

We are a proud party with a great history. But we have to put the past behind us and keep firmly focussed on the future.

We will elect a new leader and deputy leader in a matter of weeks and the hard work will begin.

A fresh team, a fresh approach, a new generation. I’ll play my part in whatever way I can.

A party which takes inspiration from those Scots who went before – Smith, Dewar, McConnell, Brown.

All of them made their own unique, positive and lasting contribution to our party and to our country.

But the Scottish Labour Party can no longer turn to the big beasts. It falls to a new generation to take the Scottish Labour Party forward.

I want us to look back twenty years from now, in government in the UK and in Scotland, and be able to say that when the burden of responsibility passed to the next generation we were up to the challenge.

In his final speech before his untimely death, John Smith said:

“We will do our best to reward your faith in us, but please give us the opportunity to serve our country. That is all we ask.”

Today, I say to people across Scotland, every day we will listen to you, talk to you, work with you.
This will be the work of a new generation.

Let me say this.

If you share our values and want a strong Scottish Labour Party come and join the new generation that will help shape the future.
A new generation that will change the party so we can change the country.

A new generation that will give people the confidence to place their trust in us again.

A new generation that will give us the opportunity to serve.

And a new generation that will win for Labour and win for the Scottish people again.

*Check against delivery* Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray MP delivered this speech in Morningside Parish Church in his constituency Edinburgh South on the 30th July 2015.

Article first published on http://www.scottishlabour.org.uk/


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