Monday, 3 November 2014

I'd like Sarah Boyack for Scottish Labour leader, please

When I joined Labour a few weeks ago in the wake of the referendum out of a desire to be part of the new engagement in Scottish politics, I'd no idea I'd get this involved this quickly. But I'm so delighted that Sarah Boyack is standing for Scottish Labour leader that I'm writing my first party-political blog post.

Sarah Boyack is probably top of my list of reasons for choosing Labour when I decided to join a party.

I've seen her portrayed as the mid-point on a spectrum of views. One reason I support her is that she understands what those who suggest this do not: that politics, is - must be - more than just series of battles on one-dimensional spectra.

Sarah Boyack is the four-dimensional candidate in this contest. Even in her short statement announcing her candidacy, it is clear she understands the ecology of politics in the world of 2014:

"We need to move the political debate on to how we use power. [...] to make sure that power is used in the interests of the people of Scotland. [...] Our mission must be to deliver social, environmental and economic justice."

Never mind historical baggage. Never mind left-right opposites. The four complex processes which a political leader in the twenty-first century needs to understand are society, environment, economy and power, and Sarah Boyack knows this.

"We need to reach out not just to those who have traditionally supported us but to build a coalition to tackle social and environmental injustice and to create a more equal, prosperous economy that works for people."

Sarah Boyack's aim is not "the voter's interests" or "economic growth", but "justice" and "prosperity". This is no compromise, cynical, vote-winning aim. This is high-minded, idealistic politics: the vision of a politician whose satisfaction comes not from winning power, but from making the world a better place. She writes more on this in an article on the Labour Hame blog today.

Are her words rooted in practice? Yes. Sarah Boyack's career has been shaped by Holyrood: the parliament designed for coalition and collaborative discussion instead of Westminster-shaped confrontation; the system designed to stay close to voters, with ecological not reductionist politics. Her work as Environment minister was acclaimed by environmental groups, and her introduction of free bus travel is one of Holyrood's best example of political power not as a blunt instrument, but as powerful lever for good.

Does she have the vote-winning charisma required of a party leader? My perception is that she combines this intelligent understanding of power and high-minded idealism with a memorable approachability and charm which comes across in person and on camera. I hope the media will show us much more of it.

Does she have the strength for it? Or will she be squashed or corrupted, as we see happen to politicians again and again? Well, who can tell this of any candidate? She has experience of office and of defeat. Her idealism today is not naivety: it has survived intact the messy politics of Holyrood's history. I think Sarah Boyack has a pretty large supply of toughness and integrity.

Am I biased? Yes, of course I am. Sarah Boyack has been the most important personality in persuading this disaffected voter that politics could be relevant, could be collaborative, could make a difference and could be more than a confrontational, partisan and elitist debating society. Of course she is the kind of person I want shaping the new political landscape of Scotland. Any individual is unrepresentative, but I believe I'm typical of many in my generation who have always been passionate about political issues but cynical about party politics and politicians. In Sarah Boyack, Labour has the chance to elect a leader who could win back many more of us back.

After I wrote this blog I saw Lesley Riddoch's fuller article which discusses all the candidates and concludes that Sarah Boyack provides the opportunity for Labour to "find its moral core". Yes, that.

I invited Sarah Boyack to present our church with both its two (choir-led!) Eco-Congregation Awards: taking environmentalists in cassocks in her stride...


  1. Interesting and good luck. The commentators who list so many of the issues you list and then say "Well it has to be Jim Murphy, then" don't seem to be aware of the disconnection they are making.

  2. Nice blog! I like Sarah too but as a socialist I could never join the labour party. I'm afraid they are too right wing for me (like a tory lite party). Also I cannot forget Iraq, their support of nuclear weapons or the way they behaved as a narrow minded British nationalist party during the indyref. Maybe you'll manage to help steer them back to their founding principles!

  3. One of the reasons why I've finally come round to supporting Boyack's candidacy (having initially been somewhat ambivalent about the whole leadership shenanigans) is her erstwhile career in planning - something of a niche interest for most politicians these days. She is also the only member of Donald Dewar's first cabinet to still remain in parliament. I wouldn't be terribly disheartened were Neil Findlay to win, however; for that reason I've cast my second preference vote for him.

    Your adoption of a four-dimensional nexus as a means of understanding Scottish politics is interesting; it echoes comments made (in a completely different context) by Robin McAlpine at the Radical Independence conference a few days ago about the 'physics' of the post-referendum political landscape. Westminster, though, has to fit in this somewhere; it remains to be seen how any Scottish Labour leader can hope to maintain the party's interests in such issues north of the border while remaining complementary to those of the UK party. Skilful diplomacy and mutual understanding are needed: if Boyack and (presumably) Ed Miliband were to achieve a relationship on just such a basis, then that would be an achievement worth having. Incidentally, this is something Jim Murphy *cannot* do - a worse fit for Miliband one could not hope to find.

    On only one point do I disagree: the likelihood that Scottish politics will, in the short term, become less confrontational and partisan is somewhat remote, and I doubt the force of any one political personality can change that. The existence of the 'national question' creates the conditions for irreconciliable conflict; indeed, it seems to be reinforcing the kind of political divisions that I had the hoped the more pluralist parliamentary system in Scotland would diminish. This is not simply a dig at the SNP: all parties (including ours) have their crosses to bear. I would say we're learning faster, though; perhaps this is because we're having to.