Neil Findlay: Labour is bigger than ever, and we're focussed on winning
Writing for The Red Robin, Scottish Labour MSP Neil Findlay tackles the week of speculation about Labour's membership, is it really a party in decline?
Labour are now the biggest political party in the UK, and on some estimates we are the biggest political party in Western Europe. Not bad for a party on the brink of extinction - if you believe what the press and our political opponents have to say.
That is a fact I am very proud of, and it is due to the committed efforts of all members that we have achieved such growth.
Despite this success, we have seen repeated claims about the decline of our membership in Scotland and beyond recently. There’s no doubt membership has decreased but in the context of our previous growth, it would be surprising if it didn’t.
As my colleague Paul Sweeney MP stated at the weekend, this decrease is part of the natural ebb and flow of politics, not evidence of a party in decline. People join political parties at times of greatest media attention and when they feel the best opportunities for change are present.
Naturally, from year to year that intensity varies.
During a leadership election, many people become enthused by one view or another and want to see that view take hold of a party they traditionally support. As a result lots of new members join the party but drop away in the months and years following. If you look at leadership contests in Labour, one of the few parties to have a truly democratic system of electing their leaders, this has always happened.
Towards the end of 2017 we had a vibrant and engaging Scottish Labour leadership contest, won by Richard Leonard on a platform of real change and radical redistribution of wealth and power. In that same year we also fought one of the most important elections in decades, managing to win back seats in Scotland and deprive the Tories of a majority across the UK. All this whilst the media and many others seemed convinced Labour was dead in the water.
Well we are not.
Scottish Labour are steadily climbing in the polls after a very dark period following the 2015 UK election and 2016 Scottish Parliament elections where we seemed to be struggling to stay afloat. Since the 2017 election when we left the pundits and pollsters sobbing into their Chablis. And since the EU referendum across the UK we have held our position in the polls during a time where the country has become deeply polarised and our communities divided.
After the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, our membership sat at half of what it is now. The reason we have built our membership is precisely because of the party’s determination to oppose austerity and welcome the new politics of change led by the authentic voices of Jeremy Corbyn and now Richard Leonard.
The UK party’s total membership under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn has rocketed to well over half a million people – leaving us in a strong position to take the fight to the Tories and win a general election. This increase is over double what it was in 2015, whilst Tory membership is estimated to be about 70,000 for the whole of the UK . Labour has more members in London alone.
If our membership is in ‘terminal decline’ then those in the blue corner are on life support.
The SNP in Scotland know that their claims to be standing up for Scotland are being seen as bogus when all they do is take Tory cuts multiply them and pass them on to Scotland’s councils. What better way to avoid the truth than to focus on internal party politics of Labour, and deflect from their cut first, worry later, approach to governance.
I believe Labour have a tremendous opportunity to win the next UK election and many more seats in Scotland, around 20 Scottish seats have SNP majorities of less than 3000. That’s the real story. Scottish Labour are building, we are working hard, putting in the heavy lifting – we won the last Council by election in Coatbridge and our members are out campaigning in key seats week in week out. We want to win power so we can genuinely govern for the many not the few.
Of course, we always want our party to grow and include as many varied and experienced voices as possible, but like any other party, the individuals who do so are always liable to change as the tide of politics moves.
I know from getting out there and talking to the public that people are excited by Labour’s policy agenda– a party with a distinctive offer that does not seek to dodge the serious issues of wealth, poverty, and power. A party that will invest in our people, our communities and our society.
Join us in this fight and be part of the biggest movement in decades to change the status quo and bring power back to the people.