During the election we spoke about our desire to build a progressive alliance at Westminster to lock the Tories out of office. While Scotland voted for that change, Labour failed to win sufficient support in England – which is a matter of regret.
Those now arguing that Labour needs to be more Blairite to return to power are deeply misguided – they need only look at the huge success of the SNP in standing on a platform which was unequivocally anti-austerity.
Indeed, I note that Diane Abbott, in the days after the election, said that Blairite critics of Labour’s election campaign ‘dismiss the fact that the majority of the Scottish electorate voted emphatically for a party with clear left wing policies on, among other things, austerity and scrapping Trident. We are asked to believe that Labour voters in the west of Scotland voted SNP because of a mysterious mystic nationalism’.
We are disappointed with the Tories’ return to power, but our determination to work with others of progressive opinion across the political spectrum, in and out of parliament, remains undiminished.
Over this Westminster Parliamentary term, we will build alliances to argue for the protection of the vulnerable against deeper welfare cuts, we will seek to defend our human rights protections, to halt further privatisation of the NHS and to safeguard the UK’s place in Europe.
We will be a constructive, principled, determined and effective opposition to the majority Tory government – and we will seek to be so on behalf of people, not just in Scotland, but right across the UK.
We have wasted little time in this. Within a week of the election result, the First Minister had held her first bi-annual meeting with the STUC. A new Memorandum of Understanding was agreed which reflected our commitment to work together to make Scotland’s opposition to further austerity heard.
The STUC also agreed to join with us in calling for powers over the minimum wage, trade union and employment law, health and safety law, equalities legislation and for greater responsibility on welfare to be devolved as a matter of priority to this Parliament.
For Scottish Labour to want to leave these powers in the hands of a UK Labour government was perhaps understandable – albeit not a position I agreed with – but for Labour to argue that these powers should remain in the hands of a majority Tory government with no mandate in Scotland would be inexplicable to most people across Scotland.
Yes, we can try to mitigate the worst excesses of the Tory governments attacks on the poorest in our society as we have done with the bedroom tax, but surely it is better instead to have the powers over welfare here in Scotland so we can abolish the bedroom tax once and for all.
Scottish Labour needs to decide whether it will put aside the tribal politics of the past and join with us in demanding these key powers are transferred to the Scottish Parliament, so we can build a successful and fair economy that benefits the many, continue to invest in our public services and protect the vulnerable by providing the support they need, which is the hallmark of a socially just society.
Shona Robison is Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport. She is the MSP for Dundee East.