“In ancient times, the Persian army’s arrows were so numerous it was said the sky was blotted out. The Spartan reply was “good – then we will fight in the shade”. This analogy from Iain Gray in his speech to annual conference summed up perfectly the struggle facing Scottish Labour to win the forthcoming Holyrood election. But the party is not cowed by the prospect nor the challenge. It leaves Oban in good spirits and in good heart. And ready to take the battle to the SNP and onto the doorsteps.
For this will be a doorstep election where Labour members will visit thousands of homes over the next few months, taking our message directly to the people of Scotland. That they deserve better – Scotland deserves better. Better than the Tory/Lib Dem cuts that will hit too soon and too hard, hurting the poorest the hardest. Better than the SNP which has squandered resources and failed to keep its election pledges. Scottish Labour will be doing what it has always done best: engaging with families and communities in locally led campaigns. And following the general election, we have thousands of new members whom we know are keen to get involved and make their mark.
Opposition has given Scottish Labour the space to examine and renew how we campaign. Following the SNP’s victory in the Glasgow East by-election, we piloted changes to our campaigning techniques in the subsequent Glenrothes contest. Of course, change can be difficult when you are working with what is essentially an army of volunteers. But success builds confidence in new methods – and Glenrothes was a huge success for the Labour Party.
Many of these campaign techniques – which were developed further during the 2010 General Election – are at the cutting edge of campaigning and compete with anything found in other countries. Local parties across Scotland have bought into the new methods. They know how to connect effectively with people in their areas and have confidence in the systems that support them. These new approaches have reinvigorated our activist base, enabling us to maximise the involvement of our members at all levels across Scotland, not least the thousands of new members whom we know are keen to get involved and make their mark. Best of all, they have enabled us to build a genuine team Labour.
We’ve worked hard to achieve a team ethic under Iain Gray and it has paid off, delivering an effective opposition in the Scottish Parliament and of course, those stunning by-election victories in Glenrothes and Glasgow North East. But there is no room for complacency and we know there is still much work to be done. We have to earn every vote in next year’s election. We know that there are disaffected voters out there – people who voted SNP for the first time in 2007 and feel let down by their broken promises and in particular, LibDem voters who didn’t expect to be voting in a Tory Government.
Of course we live in an uncertain period but our conference in Oban has shown that Scottish Labour has a positive message and lots of fresh ideas to take to the people of Scotland on the doorsteps. We will use the next seven months to show Scotland that we are a party who will stand up for them and their families in these difficult times. That will be the focus of our campaign.
There is humility, discipline and a renewed purpose to our efforts. We will fight in the shade and do everything we can to win.