Lauren Gilmour: The crucial difference between Kerr and Baillie in this contest
Lauren Gilmour, co-chair of Matt Kerr’s deputy leadership campaign, sets out her opinion on the crucial difference between the left-winger and MSP Jackie Baillie
During a doorknocking session on a cold November night, a team of around 10 Labour activists were invited into the front room of Drumoyne resident, Catherine. She had recently lost three family members as a direct result of NHS cuts and mismanagement. She had just lost her mother who she had nursed through dementia, was facing almost £1000 of rent arrears and battling a welfare system that had been created to set people up for failure from the get-go.
For people like Catherine, her immediate issues weren’t centredaround Brexit or Scottish independence. She didn’t have that luxury. She needed to know there was going to be a party of government who was on her side, fighting to transform the lives of people in situations like hers. We listened to her story. It made us upset, but it made us angry too. Catherine’s situation isn’t unique. There are thousands of people across the country like Catherine who have been left behind by a political establishment that is more concerned with debates about the constitution than it is with transforming people’s lives. If Catherine’s story was able to do anything, it encouraged us to fight harder for a Labour victory.
As the candidate for Glasgow South West, Matt Kerr showed that his campaign went beyond the constitutional quagmire that was being waged across the rest of the UK. He pledged to take a worker’s wage, he condemned the number of food banks being used in society and he consistently showed the people of Glasgow South West that he was on their side. He took time out of the general election campaign to deliver toys for the GovanToybank so that children wouldn’t go without Christmas presents. His authentic brand of socialism, his genuine commitment to his constituents; his absolutely boundless optimism and of course, his good humour attracted people from across Glasgow and beyond to pour into the constituency to help elect him. The campaign was bolstered by an early morning speech by Jeremy Corbyn on the eve of the election where around 200 people turned out to see him and Matt speaking on a cold Wednesday morning in Govan.
In the end, around 150 activists were out on the streets or on the phone for Matt Kerr on polling day in numbers that had never been seen before. For people who had been directly involved in Matt’s campaign, the result was particularly devastating due to the sense of camaraderie, comradeship and optimism that had developed over the course of the election. Having come just 60 votes away from winning the seat in 2017, the result was even more crushing.
The team did not let the result bother them. Instead of mourning, Matt has got the band back together to fight the next battle: his campaign to be deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party. While all attention is focused on the UK party’s respective leadership and deputy leadership contests, the Scottish Labour deputy leadership election is also important because it plays a key role in rebuilding the electoral fortunes of Scottish Labour.
In electing Matt Kerr, it would ensure that the shift away from being a party that simply manages capitalism towards being a party that gives genuine power back to people is continued. Matt is someone who has ideas underpinned by a clear socialist ideology. He has been leading the conversation around the idea of a universal basic income, safe consumption spaces for drug users and a green new deal. There is conviction in what he says. As a councillor, his voice is what is sorely missing from the senior leadership team within Scottish Labour. Councillors are often at the grassroots and know their communities like the backs of their hands. They are often forced to make decisions that will have devastating effects on their local communities. Many councillors cite that they feel they have not been listened to within Scottish Labour structures. It is time for that to change.
Matt’s campaign chimes with the increasing diversity of Scottish Labour’s new activist base. Young and diverse, activists who were part of Matt’s general election campaign do not tend to engage with CLP structures because they do not feel welcome at meetings or by the local leadership. Because of this, they have turned to their own forms of organising through building community campaigns and networks of solidarity with each other, many of whom have met as a direct result of Matt’s general election campaign. It is unsurprising that Matt’s opponent, veteran Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie, is in the lead in terms of CLP nominations. The people attending these meetings make no real effort to engage with the wider Labour movement and are often wary of new members.
Matt’s campaign is about making sure our CLPs engage with the wider Labour movement and new forms of organising. It is about making sure being involved in campaigning for Scottish Labour is as exciting and engaging as being involved in Matt Kerr’s campaign was. In order to do this, we need to make new, younger activists feel like their talents and experiences are valued and their voices are heard. I have seen first hand how dedicated Matt has been to building up young activists, exploring new ways of campaigning and looking at how we can use these to take the party forward, instead of backwards.
The crucial difference between Matt Kerr and Jackie Baillie is that he has a plan for a grassroots revival of Scottish Labour. Baillie and her supporters claim she is the change candidate but she simply identifies problems, rather than solutions. Matt Kerr has honestly identified the problems and has offered solutions to overcome them. If members put their faith in Matt Kerr on April 3rd, I am confident that we will be looking towards a more positive future and it is for the reason, I am delighted to be co - chairing Matt Kerr’s campaign to be Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party.